Lawmaker targets loophole in Pa. labor dispute law

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A Pennsylvania lawmaker is hoping to repeal a state law that shields people involved in labor disputes from prosecution for stalking, harassment and making terroristic threats.

Rep. Ron Miller told The Philadelphia Inquirer in a story published Thursday that the exemption is a throwback to the 1930s and has no place in modern labor negotiations. His repeal bill is pending in the House Judiciary Committee.

“It’s a little bit like talking about gateway drugs,” said Miller, R-York. “If you allow certain activities to be immune, it just enhances that culture of conflict that leads to more dangerous behavior.”

But Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale said Thursday the exemption was created in 1993 with bipartisan support to insulate labor disputes from a then-new anti-stalking and harassment law designed to give police additional tools to stop domestic violence.

Bloomingdale said the exemption was necessary to protect the free-speech rights of both labor and management during labor disputes that often become bitter. Violence by either side remains illegal, he noted.

“We think the law works,” he said.

The exemption has come under new scrutiny in the wake of a recent federal indictment charging some members of Philadelphia Ironworkers Local 401 with crimes that included racketeering and arson.

Prosecutors say the union has waged a campaign of intimidation, assaults and property damage, including setting a crane on fire, to coerce building contractors into hiring them over non-union competition. Ten of its business officials and members were arrested Feb. 18.

In a grand jury indictment, prosecutors say the defendants helped create “goon” squads to carry out assaults and property destruction against non-union contractors in an attempt to force them to hire Local 401’s members. One such squad referred to itself as T.H.U.Gs, short for The Helpful Union Guys, the indictment said.

Miller’s bill has the support of nonunion builders.

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Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.inquirer.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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