On January 20, after several days of deliberations, a federal jury in Pennsylvania convicted Joseph Dougherty, the former boss of Philadelphia-based Local 401 of the Ironworkers Union, of leading a conspiracy to extort and commit violence against union-free construction employees and businesses.
Prior to Mr. Dougherty’s trial last month, 11 of his paid subordinates and militant followers had pleaded guilty to resorting again and again to assault, arson and vandalism to bring independent employees and employers into line.
At trial, the jury listened to testimony from several of Mr. Dougherty’s former lieutenants, as well as multiple wiretapped phone calls, including one in which he asserted that “[y]ou should be able to do whatever you want” to people who dare to operate union-free “and it should be legal.”
In the end, the jury convicted Mr. Dougherty on 25 counts of conspiracy to commit arson, property destruction and assault. The crimes were all carried out at construction sites in the Philadelphia area from 2008 to 2013.
Scope of Enmons Loophole Was At Issue in Pennsylvania Case
After being indicted for extortion, racketeering and conspiracy in early 2014, Mr. Dougherty and his cohorts first tried to get the charges dismissed based on the precedent set by a controversial, 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Their motivation when ordering and committing assaults with baseball bats and tire slashings, smashing vehicles with crowbars, damaging construction equipment, and stealing construction materials, insisted the Ironworkers Local 401 defendants, was to advance “legitimate union objectives.”
And according to the High Court’s 1973 ruling in U.S. v. Enmons, union lawyers pointed out, threats, vandalism and violence perpetrated to secure “legitimate” Big Labor goals may not be prosecuted under the federal Hobbs Anti-Extortion Act.
But U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson, while agreeing that the use of “strike-related violence” to secure “legitimate” union contract demands does “not constitute Hobbs Act extortion,” found that Enmons did not protect Joe Dougherty et al, because their targets were nonunion.
National Right to Work Committee Vice President Greg Mourad commended the judge for rejecting union lawyers’ contention that Enmons must be applied even to extortionate violence committed against nonunion business owners who aren’t legally required to negotiate with union bosses over anything.
But he also noted that, now that Joe Dougherty has been convicted and faces a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison for his crimes, his lawyers may appeal the conviction by claiming that Judge Baylson interpreted the Enmons precedent too narrowly in rejecting their motion for dismissal.
After the jury announced its guilty verdict in U.S. v. Joseph Dougherty, prosecutor Robert Livermore declared that a message had been sent that “[e]verybody has to follow the law.” But unfortunately, as long as the Enmons precedent stands, that’s just not so.
Freedom From Union Violence Act Would Close Enmons Loophole
“As Judge Baylson himself acknowledged just last summer, union thugs who target non-striking employees or the property of a unionized business whose owner refuses to acquiesce to Big Labor demands don’t have to follow the law,” explained Mr. Mourad.
“They can orchestrate and/or commit acts of extortionate violence without facing prosecution under the Hobbs Act as long as they have ‘legitimate union objectives.’
“Fortunately, pro-Right to Work Congressman Steve King [R-Iowa] recently let Committee legislative officers know he would soon introduce in Congress a measure to overturn Enmons and hold union bosses who orchestrate threats and violence accountable under the Hobbs Act.
“Because Enmons was a matter of statutory, rather than constitutional, interpretation, Congress retains the power to reverse it legislatively. And that’s exactly what Mr. King’s soon-to-be-introduced bill, the Freedom from Union Violence Act, would do.”
Mr. Mourad vowed that Committee members nationwide would fight hard to build Capitol Hill support for this much-needed reform.