Monday, November 5, 2012

Busting union thugs

There's a very encouraging story at Philadelphia magazine about how two brothers fought back against union thuggishness and intimidation - and won - using technology and publicity.  Here's an excerpt.

Until this year, getting something built in Philly meant meeting union demands. No one had dared to challenge the power of this city’s Building and Construction Trades Council, a consortium of nearly three dozen unions representing 45,000 people. Then Matt and Mike Pestronk undertook the renovation of the old Goldtex ladies’ shoe factory in the Loft District part of the city, a 10-story building they planned to convert into 163 apartments.

A $38 million project, the Goldtex deal is just the sort of high-profile, good-money job this city’s unions have held a lock on since—well, forever. But the Pestronks first did the unusual: They bid the job out to both union and non-union contractors. Then they did the unthinkable: They awarded union contractors just 40 percent of the deal, including demolition and electrical work. The rest isn’t history so much as history in the making.

The unions responded to the Pestronks fiercely, declaring a mixed site of union and non-union workers a “disaster” and refusing what work they were offered. “All or none” went the battle cry, a herald of time-tested tactics.

As early as January, protesters began passing out fliers, chanting, and marching with signs. Eventually they blocked delivery trucks hauling in materials and equipment. They harassed non-union counterparts, daring them to fight. A few times, push came to shove. They poured oil across the site’s entrance. They printed fliers with a photo of Matt Pestronk’s wife superimposed with an erect penis and the oddly oblique message “Carrie Pestronk likes to get hard with it.”

They planted caltrops, old-school union contraptions made of nails and designed to flatten tires. And they uttered nasty, brutish threats. The brothers say that Building Trades business manager Pat Gillespie told them that unless they hired an all-union workforce, the project would “never get built.” Another time, as Michael Pestronk entered the worksite, voices cried out among the protesters: “You’re dead!”

There’s more, but all of it is typical of the rough-and-tumble sport of Philadelphia development. What was new was the response. Instead of cowering or capitulating, the Pestronks used batteries of video cameras to record the activities of picketing union members, which they posted online at YouTube and a website they dubbed “” And the effect was galvanic.

For many years, Building Trades has been criticized—usually in fearful whispers—for stifling development and economic growth, shutting out new investors, and undermining this city’s entire political process. But the videos shot and posted by the Pestronks provided something to go with all those allegations: evidence. Footage of leering, chuckling union men spitting profanities—so afraid of losing what they have, they can’t see what they’ve become.

Since the first videos went up in spring, the tide of public sentiment has turned, and the Pestronks won a court order restricting the picketers’ behavior. But in coming years, the Goldtex battle and the techniques employed there may be seen in grander, historical terms: as the moment that started the unraveling of Building Trades’ vast economic and political power, and perhaps of Philadelphia’s entire power structure.

So this is a story about more than how new-school technology defeated old-school bully tactics. It’s a story about how a single apartment building, and the two guys who wanted to build it, created the opportunity for an entire city to come unstuck in time.

There's much more at the link.  Interesting, encouraging and recommended reading.

I wish more people would stand up to thuggishness like this!  I'm not anti-union - in fact, I've twice belonged to trades unions, and have found that membership very useful on occasion - but I'm firmly against the protectionist, arm-twisting, self-interested behavior indulged in by some of them.  That sort of union - and its members - need to be brought to heel, at once if not sooner.  Kudos to the Pestronk brothers for their initiative in this case, and to Philadelphia magazine for publishing the story.

I'd also like to point out that union behavior like this appears to routinely occur only in cities and/or states dominated by union-dominated political machine(s).  If workers tried this in the city where I live now, they and their union(s) would find themselves in very serious trouble indeed, almost certainly involving (at the very least) both criminal and civil charges.  More . . . er . . . robust reactions to such provocation could not be ruled out.  That's one of the reasons I like it here.

(Oh - and do take the time to check out, if you're so inclined.  The reports - and particularly the videos - are infuriating!  I can only assume that the Philadelphia police are at least 'comfortable' with the union, due to their frequently-illustrated lack of decisiveness in acting against the perpetrators.  Note, too, the union's deliberate defiance of court orders.)



Jess said...

The pendulum swings the other way.

Locally, after a few murders, an attempted murder, a multi-million dollar law suit, which the union lost and the terrible economy due to their efforts, the citizens finally had enough.

We still have unions, but they don't control the labor force, have substantially less members and the average wage is higher for the non-union members.

Anonymous said...

In the 1990's the Electrical Workers local had a big shake up in the union.

The smartest thing they did, besides kicking out some major corruption, was to guarantee any work their members did.

It's not unusual for IBEW to win bids in the Philly area because of that. Their labor rate is high, but there work quality more than makes up for it.


Old NFO said...

Now if somebody in NJ/NY would ALSO grow some balls...

Wraith said...

Eventually they blocked delivery trucks hauling in materials and equipment.

Now, maybe I did the math wrong, but as far as I can see, there ain't no way you can pack enough union thugs onto one roadway to stop 80,000 pounds of truck. Mass and kinetic energy win every time.

Just sayin.' ;)

Sevesteen said...

20 years ago I started working at a still-under-construction Japanese company. Someone had left behind a copy of a union contract. Many pages long, and significantly over half of it boiled down to "There will be non-union workers on this project, deal".

Mikael said...

Where I come from the unions seem much more mild mannered. They have a few basic functions: they negotiate the standard yearly pay raise, and they act as workplace safety watchdogs.

The worst they can do if they don't get things their way is go on strike.