A Democrat-run union in central Philadelphia is under fire for allegedly interfering with the election by using back door intimidation tactics, according to a filing by First Assistant U.S. Jennifer Williams, Your Content has learned.
First Assistant United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of the U.S. Secretary of Labor (the “Secretary”) against the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 union (“Local 98”) for violating Title IV of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, 29 U.S.C. §§ 481–483 (“LMRDA”).
The United States alleges that Local 98, through its incumbent officers and their supporting members, intimidated and threatened other members who sought to challenge incumbent union leadership in the union’s June 2020 officer elections, causing these members to withdraw from nominations. As a result, incumbent union leadership ran unopposed and all officers – including the president and five executive board members – were declared reelected without opposition. The United States alleges that Local 98’s interference, threats, and retaliation against the intended challengers violated its members’ rights under the LMRDA to nominate, be nominated, and vote for candidates of their choice without improper interference or threat of reprisal.
The United States alleges that the Local 98 officers and members who subjected the intended challengers and their supporters to intimidation, harassment, and retaliation include Business Manager John Dougherty, Business Representative Robert Bark, and Business Representative Rodney Walker, among others. Based on the allegations outlined in the Complaint, the United States asks the Court to declare the results of Local 98’s June 2020 officer election void, and order Local 98 to conduct a new election with new nominations under the Secretary’s supervision as provided by the LMRDA.
“As alleged in the Complaint, entrenched union leadership engaged in a pattern of illegal interference, including threats and intimidation, to ensure it faced no opposition in Local 98’s June 2020 election,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Williams. “Not only were members in good standing allegedly intimidated out of exercising their right to seek union office, but the entire Local 98 membership was allegedly denied its right to nominate and vote for candidates of its choosing.”
According to the Complaint, on the evening of June 9, 2020, when nominations for the election were to be held, at least 150 people, primarily supporters of Dougherty and his longstanding slate of incumbents, gathered as a crowd on the grounds of the union hall. They refused to speak to one intended challenger or his supporters. Further, to get inside the union hall for the meeting, nominees and nominators allegedly had to walk through the crowd of Dougherty’s supporters gathered in the parking lot and down the steps to the basement, which one intended candidate and other witnesses described as like “walking the gauntlet.” The Complaint states that the intended candidate and his supporters found the atmosphere imposing and felt intimidated.
The Complaint further alleges that Local 98, controlled by a slate of officers that has not changed in years, has had a pattern of interfering with the efforts of rank-and-file members to run for local union office since at least 2014.
“Every union member has a federally-protected right to have his or her voice heard in a free and fair union election. It is protected by law. If union leadership interferes with anyone’s right to vote or seek office within the union, the United States will hold them accountable,” Williams said.
“Ensuring fairness and integrity in labor organizations is a major priority for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards. We will continue to work with our investigative partners to ensure that those who are affiliated with labor organizations adhere to the highest standards of conduct to protect the civil rights of union members,” said OLMS Northeastern Regional Director Andriana Vamvakas.
Separate from and unrelated to this civil litigation against Local 98, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania is prosecuting a 116-count criminal Indictment that charges Dougherty and several other union employees with federal crimes, including embezzlement of union funds, wire fraud, and public corruption offenses. (Cr. No. 19-64 EDPA). The criminal matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Richard Barrett, Bea Witzleben, Frank Costello, and Paul Gray. The trial date in the criminal matter is currently set for March 1, 2021.
The civil complaint contains allegations only, and not findings of liability.
The civil investigation was conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards. The civil litigation is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Lauren DeBruicker.