PMA Bulletin - March 17, 2014

Miller’s Legislation Clears House

A February indictment of ten self-proclaimed union “THUGS” on federal conspiracy and racketeering charges turned out to prove what State Rep. Ron Miller (R-York) had been identifying for years.  The graphic descriptions of deplorable behavior in the indictment provided the final boost for Miller’s legislation that brings a “measure of civility” to labor negotiations.

In Pennsylvania’s criminal code, there are carve-outs that allow stalking, harassment, and even threatening the use of weapons of mass destruction, so long as the parties are involved in a labor dispute. Rep. Miller’s legislation would end this exemption. The House took action last week, passing the bill 115 to 74.

“It’s about preventing certain activities allowed under the law that ultimately lead to violence,” Miller said. “The bill accomplishes this without infringing on anyone’s right to free speech or lawful union activities.”

A report by the U.S. Chamber in 2012 revealed this bizarre exemption. When Rep. Miller learned of this exemption, he quickly drafted legislation to correct the code. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the federal indictment of ten leaders of Ironworkers 401 that at least 102 votes could be rallied.

“Violence and destruction of property occurred for years because we as a commonwealth have allowed these situations to escalate,” said David N. Taylor, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association (PMA). “To change the culture of violence, we must start by changing the law. Representative Miller’s House Bill 1154 does just that.”

U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger directly supported Mr. Taylor’s argument in his indictment, which stated: 

Many of the defendants and their associates’ picket lines used violence and threats of violence to force and illegally extort contractors into hiring members of the Ironworkers Local 401… if the threat… did not force the contractor to accede to the defendants’ demands, defendants and their associates would assault employees of the non-union contractor and destroy property… assaulting non-union employees with baseball bats, slashing tires, smashing vehicles with crowbars… and otherwise sabotaging the construction site.

Miller’s legislation will have a broader impact than bringing proper justice, business leaders say. The bill is ultimately about competitiveness. Businesses should not have to worry about legal exemptions that threaten the well-being of their executives and employees.

“This is real life for many contractors doing business, especially in the Philadelphia area,” said Carl A. Marrara, Director of Government Affairs for PMA. “What I can’t believe is that there were 74 elected officials that chose to look the other way. Representative Miller deserves all the credit in the world for fostering this important bill through the House.”

News of the bill’s movement in the General Assembly bill came as a great relief to Sarina Rose, Vice President of Development at Philadelphia-based Post Brothers Apartments. The firm occasionally intermixes non-union labor to refurbish residences and commercial properties in the city, and it has paid the unfair and unfortunate price.

Over the past three years, Rose has been stalked, had her children followed and photographed, and, in an incident last year in a Philadelphia diner, was called names “that can’t be printed in a story.” In the same incident, she was pinned up against a cashier station as she was paying her bill and was blocked from going to the restroom.

But this past November, Ironworkers Local Union 401 Business Agent Ed Sweeney was found “not guilty” on counts of harassment and terroristic threats.

In his decision, Judge Charles Hayden, Jr., said that this was clearly a union issue and that it wasted the court’s time. The legal exemption for harassment was argued in the proceedings. The Judge also told Ms. Rose that she should be more discerning about what restaurant she enters because there might be union members present.

“You can’t imagine what it feels like looking over your shoulder all the time, everywhere you go,” Rose said. One of the times she looked over her shoulder in the incident that went to court, she found Mr. Sweeny staring her down with black gloved hand pointed in a gun shape, as he mouthed, “bang, bang, bang.”

Rose says she’s certain Post Brothers, a thriving business, would have expanded even more rapidly without the union harassment. The Miller legislation will give Post Brothers and thousands of other businesses the freedom to expand without fear of intimidation and violence.

More indictments are likely. On Friday, March 13, at a pretrial scheduling hearing in the case, federal prosecutor Robert Livermore said the ongoing investigation of the Philadelphia union has led to new complaints that could generate more charges.

 Write a letter to your Senator and urge the swift passage of HB 1154. To send a letter, click here.