February 19: 10 Ironworkers arrested, face federal charges for arson and violence | DA Williams on Buck Fire | 25th Street Viaduct demise | MADE Studios

Happy Wednesday, Streeters. Today promises slush thanks to a warm-up and rain, and then ice overnight. So clear your sidewalks while you can.

If you read about nothing else today, read about the federal charges brought against members of Ironworkers Local Union 401.

FBI agents arrested 10 union leaders and members of Local 401 Tuesday, after an investigation revealed union members acted as “goon squads,” intimidating employers into hiring union workers, and committing acts of violence like arson and assault. One goon squad even called itself as T.H.U.G. – The Helpful Union Guys.

Among the alleged crimes: The arson at the 2012 Chestnut Hill Meetinghouse worksite, which the investigation says was ordered by union business agent Edward Sweeney, and a 2010 incident when union men took baseball bats to nonunion workers and their trucks outside a Toys R Us near King of Prussia.

  • From the Inquirer: “Violence was not just a tactic in the ironworkers’ toolbox, prosecutors said. It is deeply ingrained in the structure of their organization. Members earned spots on the union’s board based on their involvement in work-site attacks, and leaders relished their reputations as strong-arm enforcers, according to the indictment.”
  • From the Daily News: Philadelphia FBI Special Agent in Charge Edward J. Hanko likened the defendants to the mob, saying the alleged crimes “are more reminiscent of indictments in organized-crime investigations than they are of investigations of trade unions.”
    [U.S. Attorney Zane David] Memeger noted that this type of alleged violence “was traditionally happening back in the ’40s and ’50s, and it’s unfortunately happening today in Philadelphia.” Even when contractors hired members of the ironworkers union, some members did not work, but just collected a paycheck, Memeger said.
  • From a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania: “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.”
  • Read the complete indictment [pdf]

In other news:

Karen Heller caught up with District Attorney Seth Williams about the grand jury report about the Buck Hosiery Fire. Williams for his part hopes that the “failure of government” detailed in the report will result in changes to agencies like L&I and the Fire Department. Heller writes: “He is frustrated at his inability to bring charges, not only against the property owners but also against negligent city workers, ‘but I can’t charge people criminally for being idiots.’ I remain less optimistic than the district attorney. In addition to money and cooperation, already in short supply, the grand jury recommendations require an embrace of progress, which has never been these agencies’ strong suit.”

Christopher Dougherty takes a long look at the demise of the 25th Street Viaduct for Hidden City Daily. It was born in 1928 out of a desire to modernize the city’s industrial rail network and remove the risks caused by at-grade crossings for other vehicles. But these days hunks of concrete routinely drop into the roadway below and CSX believes that the elevated track can handle 15 trains per day, a number that could well climb thanks to oil trains from the northern Midwest.

MADE Studios, a sewing workshop in Old City, is becoming a small-scale textile production hub and classroom. Grid explores how MADE Studios has grown, incubated small product lines, taught students at all levels, and hopes to help take young designers to the next level. One constraint: Getting people to want jobs producing craft garments. 

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