Pennsylvania’s attorney general is investigating whether Philadelphia’s most powerful union, a prominent backer of Hillary Clinton, has engaged in threats and intimidation against its foes.
The state-level grand jury investigation of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, first reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer and confirmed to Heat Street by two sources, has been ongoing for at least three months.
On Friday, as part of a separate investigation into the union’s finances and political spending, federal agents raided several locations tied to Local 98 and its boss, John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, collecting truck loads of potential evidence.
No state or federal charges have been filed.
“Any allegations that the union engaged in threats or intimidation are utter fabrications,” said Local 98’s spokesman, Frank Keel, in an emailed statement. He added that it was “troubling and inappropriate that the State Attorney General’s office is talking to media about an open, ongoing investigation.”
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office declined to comment and would not confirm or deny any ongoing investigation.
As the Philadelphia Inquirer noted, the allegations of Local 98 intimidation and threats are hardly new. As of 2013, the Center for Union Facts had tallied multiple complaints filed against Philadelphia electricians’ union members, including allegations of “coercive statements,” “harassment,” “threatening statements” and “violence/assault.” And as early as the 1990s, the National Labor Relations Board said the union’s leaders were “masters when it comes to unlawful… conduct, intimidation, and coercion.”
As Heat Street reported earlier this year, Local 98 spent $10,000 on three drones, which it deployed at the work site of a builder who had not yielded to its demands for 100 percent union labor on a hotel project. Use of the drones prompted concerns about intimidation. And in February, a nonunion worker claimed Johnny Doc punched him in the face.
The parallel state and federal probes may have implications for the 2016 election in Pennsylvania, given Local 98’s increasingly influential political role.
In addition to leading Local 98, Johnny Doc is also head of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council, an organization representing nearly 40 construction unions, and he was a major behind-the-scenes player at the Democratic National Convention. Working with DNC chief executive Leah D. Daughtry, Johnny Doc negotiated a project-labor agreement that ensured the use of union labor throughout the convention.
Earlier this spring, Johnny Doc gained an audience with Clinton herself, attending a meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Congressman Bob Brady and discussing labor issues. After the meeting, Johnny Doc vowed to “work my butt off” to ensure Clinton gets the “white 50-year-old labor guy” vote in Pennsylvania.
Already, under his leadership, Local 98 has exercised outsized political heft in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania. Kenney rode to mayoral victory after collecting more than $500,000 from unions allied under Johnny Doc’s leadership.
Similarly, last year’s Pennsylvania Supreme Court elections broke records for political spending—driven in large part by union campaign contributions to Johnny Doc’s brother, Judge Kevin Dougherty, who ultimately won.
Johnny Doc’s influential support for Clinton comes just as the presidential race in Pennsylvania looks increasingly competitive. In the first three months of 2016, the state’s Republican Party gained 128,000 members, many of them from blue-collar union homes.
Already, Federal Election Commission filings show that Local 98’s political-action committee spent more than $1,250 on enormous banners in support of Clinton—one 26 feet tall and 35 feet wide, the other 15 feet tall and 44 feet wide.
Just last week, Johnny Doc was detailing his wish list should Clinton win the presidency, saying he planned to lobby for a union-built “subway from here to the Navy Yard.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.