Sarina Rose remembers the day well. It was about three years ago, and her company, Post Brothers Construction, was in the middle of building the Goldtex apartment building in Philadelphia — using some non-union labor.
“I walked into a restaurant,” said Rose, “and a business agent from the Iron Workers Union started an altercation with me and yelled and screamed and assaulted me at the counter, and he also made motion his hand at me with like a gun shape. Bang bang, that kind of thing.”
Shaken, Rose, the vice president of development for Post Brothers, took her story to the police. But when it went to court, the judge said he was powerless to do anything.
Up till now, Pennsylvania’s Labor Anti-Injunction Act shielded union members from prosecution on charges of harassment, stalking, or threats with weapons of mass destruction if they were engaged in a broadly defined “labor dispute.”
Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill Thursday that ends that protection.
Construction Lawyer Wally Zimolong says it was a good law back when it was passed — in 1937.
“The purpose of these exemptions originally was to prohibit the criminal codes from being used to thwart labor organizing efforts and to bust strikes,” he said.
In the 30’s, the nascent labor movement was frequently strong-armed by powerful industrialists, and members were often brought in on trumped up charges of harassment. In 1937, ten unarmed union demonstrators in Chicago were shot and killed by police in what would come to be known as the “Memorial Day Massacre.” But Zimolong says those days are long gone, and the Anti-Injunction Act is now used very differently.
“Over the years, they’ve evolved into a sword that organized labor wielded in order to sanction various conduct that otherwise would have been considered criminal conduct,” said Zimolong.
Labor leaders disagree. “What societal cure is this going to provide us?” asked Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia and Construction Trades Council. “Is there this rampant anarchy that’s running around and these hordes of people out there assaulting people in the name of — no, there’s nothing like that.”
Gillespie says the law signed by Gov. Wolf rolls back protections for workers that are still necessary.
“This is owners and management who are very abusive toward their employees, and those employees have a right to stand out in the public square and tell that person that. And let them know what they think of him,” said Gillespie. “By Wolf signing this, he will stifle that.”
Wolf released a statement saying “I believe it is important to allow men and women to come together and have their voices heard. I also believe that any form of harassment by employees or employers is unacceptable.” Most in his own party voted against the bill.