Joseph Dougherty rally a tough call for labor leaders
Patrick Eiding, head of Philadelphia's largest federation of labor unions, found himself facing a terrible dilemma. Should he attend a Monday morning rally to support fellow labor leader Joseph Dougherty? Dougherty, 73, has been convicted of racketeering, and on Monday will be sentenced by a federal judge. He could get 15 to 25 years in prison.
Patrick Eiding, head of Philadelphia's largest federation of labor unions, found himself facing a terrible dilemma.
Should he attend a Monday morning rally to support fellow labor leader Joseph Dougherty? Dougherty, 73, has been convicted of racketeering, and on Monday will be sentenced by a federal judge. He could get 15 to 25 years in prison.
Or should he stay clear of public association with Dougherty?
For Eiding, the predicament placed him at the crossroads of friendship and marketing, where public image challenges personal loyalty.
Dougherty, former chief of Ironworkers Local 401, is a longtime friend of Eiding's, and Eiding says he isn't convinced Dougherty is anywhere close to being a racketeer, despite a federal jury's verdict to the contrary.
But, as Eiding knows well, organized labor has had a hard time shedding a reputation for thuggery.
A jury in January found Dougherty guilty of racketeering conspiracy and related counts of vandalism and extortion - the culmination of a months-long investigation that led to the conviction of 11 other union members and the first reshuffling of the union's leadership in decades.
While Dougherty pleaded not guilty, business agents of the Ironworkers union admitted many acts of vandalism and arson in 2012 and 2013. They targeted construction sites across the region in a drive to get more work for union ironworkers.
So when Eiding received a phone call this month from Jim Moran, a well-respected figure in the city's labor movement, asking him to speak at Monday's rally to support Dougherty, Eiding was torn and didn't immediately reply.
"Joe's a good friend," said Eiding, 74.
"I'm trying to evaluate the whole idea of it," he said in a recent interview. "It's hard to turn my back on someone like Joe, who spent 45 years helping working people."
If he was the insulation installer he used to be, Eiding said, there wouldn't be a dilemma. He'd show up to support a friend.
But, Eiding said, he's no longer that guy with a lunch bucket.
As leader of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, Eiding is the face of Philadelphia's labor movement, a role that carries its own responsibilities and obligations.
Last Monday, at the AFL-CIO's regular monthly executive board meeting, Eiding posed the question to the board, hoping for an answer. The board didn't oblige, lobbing the decision right back at him.
Do what you think is best, board members advised.
"The rally could almost sound like a love letter for Joe," Eiding said. "Or it could sound like a bunch of thugs coming out to support a thug."
Eiding wrestled with the decision for more than a week and arrived at his conclusion early Thursday afternoon.
He has written a letter of support to the judge and he promised to publicize the rally, but "I won't be there Monday," Eiding said. "Not personally and not as the leader of the AFL. I don't see it helping Joe, and I don't see it helping the labor movement."
Jim Moran, who is organizing the public show of support for Dougherty, has no such quandary. Now retired, Moran got to know Dougherty when Moran was the director of PhilaPOSH, a labor-supported organization that focuses on job safety for union and nonunion workers.
Dougherty backed the organization in every way. "He's a giver," Moran said.
Moran said he sees what happened to Dougherty as part of a corporate attack on unions.
"What better way to attack unions than to come to one of the most strongly union towns in the country and go after one of the toughest unions in the town?" Moran said.
Moran thinks - as many of Dougherty's supporters do - that Dougherty essentially was convicted for cursing on a wiretapped phone. That Dougherty didn't know about, didn't authorize, and didn't approve of the "night work" of vandalism and arson orchestrated by business agents who were at odds with him in the union's political structure. The federal jury found otherwise.
Moran hopes to draw broad labor support, as well as backing from other parts of Dougherty's life - particularly from the youth sports associations where Dougherty was a longtime football coach.
Whether Moran is successful will be seen Monday.
Patrick Gillespie, who heads Philadelphia's Building and Construction Trades Council, said he'd be at the rally despite the image it may portray. "If the rally is a rally to support Joe, then never mind the consequences," Gillespie said.
John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, the influential leader of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said through spokesman Frank Keel that he'd be out of town. (He and Joe Dougherty aren't related.)
Stagehands chief Michael Barnes "is reviewing his schedule," Keel said.
Edward Coryell, head of the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters, was not invited and won't attend, his spokesman said.
The leader of another large building trades union said he planned to skip the event. "I want no part of that," he said, declining to speak on the record because he did not want his union linked in any way with the vandalism committed by the ironworkers.
New Jersey State Senate President Stephen Sweeney won't be there, either. Sweeney, a union ironworker and vice president of the union's national organization, was dispatched to Local 401 as a trustee after Dougherty and 11 other union members were indicted.
"It's a very sad time in the ironworkers' history," Sweeney said, expressing his respect for Dougherty. "I can't criticize people for standing up for a friend, but we need to renew our respect in the labor market as very hardworking people."
Local 401 ironworkers already have that reputation, said Joe Dougherty's son Joe Jr. His father, he said, designed union T-shirts that read, "Work Hard or Go Home."
Dougherty Jr. said he has a hard time squaring what he knows about his father with the word racketeer: "The way they describe him, I don't know who I'm reading about."
He said his father created a "job targeting fund," funded by union members through payroll deductions, to underwrite union contractors so they could submit competitive bids for work - landing the business the right way, not through intimidation.
"We do have sympathy for the victims," Dougherty Jr. said. "It's unthinkable what happened to them."
The rally will mean a lot to his father, who is in prison awaiting sentencing Monday, Dougherty Jr. said. "We appreciate the support."
Moran said that he and others worried that the rally could hurt Dougherty's chances with U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson, who will sentence Dougherty.
But then, considering Dougherty's age and ill health, even a minimal sentence will mean that Dougherty likely will die in prison, Moran said.
"A big part of this," Moran said, "is to let Joe, who gave his life to his work, know . . . we want him to know that he is deeply loved."