The federal government on Tuesday indicted multiple union members for burning down a Quaker church in 2012.
Ten members of a Philadelphia ironworkers union face charges of arson and racketeering in connection with a fire against the church, which was employing non-union workers.
“Ironworkers Local 401 [was charged] with allegedly participating in a conspiracy to commit criminal acts of extortion, arson, destruction of property, and assault in order to force construction contractors to hire union ironworkers,” the FBI said in a press release. “Specifically, the indictment charges RICO conspiracy, violent crime in aid of racketeering, three counts of arson, two counts of use of fire to commit a felony, and conspiracy to commit arson. Eight of the 10 individuals named in the indictment are charged with conspiring to use Ironworkers Local 401 as an enterprise to commit criminal acts.”
The group of self-described THUGS—an acronym for "Those Helpful Union Guys"—allegedly burned down the meetinghouse as part of a wider campaign of violence against non-union work sites across the city.
The indictment goes on to describe how the union used non-union point men in an effort to distance the union from allegations of violence. Those individuals served as scouts in order to identify and threaten any construction site that was not utilizing union labor.
“The defendants had a network of individuals, friendly to the Ironworkers Local 401, to help identify construction projects and job sites where work was being performed without using Local 401 members,” the FBI said. “The indictment alleges that business agents would approach construction foremen at those work sites and imply or explicitly threaten violence, destruction of property, or other criminal acts unless union members were hired.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Edward J. Hanko said that he hopes the indictment will serve as a warning to other unions that are engaged in violent pressure campaigns. He added that the FBI suspects that there are other victims out there who have been too scared to report violence to the police.
“The strong-arm tactics we have seen in this case are outrageous and brazen—and an unfortunate blow to the worthy intentions of unionism,” Hanko said. “The fight for workers’ rights may sometimes call for tough tactics, but violence, intimidation, arson, and sabotage are crimes which won’t be tolerated. This investigation has been wide-ranging, but it is far from over. Now that this indictment has been unsealed, we expect to hear from more victims and will aggressively pursue all other leads we receive.”
Robert Reeves, president of E. Allen Reeves, Inc., the firm building the burned down Quaker meetinghouse, told the Washington Free Beacon soon after the fire that union violence would not stop without direct political action.
“I think there’s a resurgence in violence because unions are contemplating their loss of market share,” he said. “I wish that leaders in the Philadelphia region would speak up against violence. They don’t tolerate it in schools, but they look the other way when it’s their supporters.”
Philadelphia police immediately suspected union members of perpetrating the arson, though no arrests were made in connection to the fire in the months after the incident. United States Attorney Zane David Memeger stepped in to help put the violent spree from the union to a halt.
“While unions have the right to legally advocate on behalf of their members, my office will not tolerate the conduct of those who use violence to further union goals,” Memger said. “Union officials and members who commit arson, destroy property, use threats of physical harm, and engage in other acts of violence to extort victims on behalf of their union need to be criminally prosecuted. Today’s indictment makes that clear.”
If convicted of all charges, four union leaders each face up to 130 years in prison, while six other alleged co-conspirators face 20-to-40-year prison terms.