Watchdog Highlights ‘Union Thuggery’ for Labor Day

Extortion, arson, embezzling, and other union misdeeds counted down

Lonzo West, President of Local Union 732 Ironworkers, yells in support of unions during The Rally to Defend the American Dream

Lonzo West, President of Local Union 732 Ironworkers, yells in support of unions during The Rally to Defend the American Dream / AP


From racketeering to bribery and money laundering, 2015 has been a banner year for union malfeasance, according to a top labor watchdog.

The Workforce Fairness Institute is celebrating Labor Day by counting down 2015’s best examples of "union thuggery."

Topping the list is former Ironworkers Local 401 honcho Joseph Dougherty, who was sentenced to 19 years in prison for racketeering, arson, and extortion in connection to burning down a Quaker church that employed non-union labor.

Dougherty and nine other union executives were indicted for the Christmas season arson. The FBI said that the leaders used the union as a vehicle to enrich themselves, rather than represent the interests of 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."

Local 401 did not respond to request for comment.

The ironworkers weren’t the only Philadelphia labor group on the list. A suburban city council president was sent to prison for political money laundering through a local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

The union allegedly poured money into the campaigns of Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer (D.). Spencer then gave large donations to Philadelphia politicians in order to skirt campaign finance laws, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Francisco Acosta pled guilty to accepting a $1,800 bribe in exchange for backing the repeal of campaign contribution limits. Union president John Dougherty was not charged in connection to the case. IBEW Local 98 did not return requests for comment.

"Local headlines from coast to coast show that union bosses and organizers continue to foster violence in the workplace, bribes, embezzlement and money laundering. Yet, the union led NLRB continues to gift unions with more power over American businesses through ambush elections, micro unions, and most recently ruling against small business owners in the joint employer decision," watchdog spokesman Heather Greenaway said.

Sometimes union officials are on the receiving end of bribery schemes. The Oakland United Food and Commercial Workers official in charge with organizing marijuana dispensary employees has been charged with accepting $600,000 in bribes to undermine those efforts. The union fired top official Daniel Rush when the charges were announced. The UFCW did not respond to request for comment.

Sometimes union members themselves were the victims of union actions. Cops in Riverside California saw hundreds of thousands of dollars in dues money embezzled by a union employee, who used the money to finance lavish Italian vacations, her husband’s child support payments to an ex-lover, and tattoos. Former Riverside Police Officers Association secretary Alis Archibeque pled guilty to stealing about $350,000 from the accounts and was sentenced to more than three years in prison. The association did not return request for comment.

A Broward Teachers Union president in Florida is now on trial for stealing $300,000 from union coffers, as well as illegally taking contractor kickbacks and using the union to launder money. Former president Pat Santeramo pled not guilty to the charges. The teachers union did not respond to request for comment.

WFI spokesman Greenaway said the cases show union officials take advantage of the trust of members when given the opportunity. This should disturb workers, given the National Labor Relations Board’s new election rules that force employers to hand over sensitive personnel information to unions seeking to organize a workplace. Employees do not have the option to opt out of the system.

"Employee personal contact information will now be handed over to these union organizers, and who will oversee the use of this information and look out for employees? Certainly not the union-enabling NLRB," Greenaway said.

Bill McMorris   Email Bill | Full Bio | RSS
Bill McMorris is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He joins the Beacon from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, where he was managing editor of Old Dominion Watchdog. He was a 2010 Robert Novak Fellow with the Phillips Foundation, where he studied state pension shortfalls. His work has been featured on CNN, Fox News, The Economist, Colbert Report, and numerous print publications and radio stations. He lives in Alexandria, Va, with his wife and three daughters. His Twitter handle is @FBillMcMorris. His email address is

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