- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A union official’s testimony Thursday in a racketeering trial showed the sometimes desperate - and violent - measures taken by ironworkers to keep their members employed and keep Philadelphia a union town.

“This is not just a picket line, it’s a war,” local ironworkers boss Joseph Dougherty would tell members, according to testimony Wednesday from a top lieutenant, business agent Edward Sweeney.

Ironworkers picketed one construction site for nearly two years, tangling with nonunion workers at a downtown apartment building and causing “mischief” by knocking down fences or flattening their tires, Sweeney said.

Other times, they pressured contractors over work for a few men for just a few days.

“Every job counts,” Sweeney testified. “When you start giving away the pieces, then you start losing the big jobs.”

Occasionally, things got out of hand, and members who tried to make a name for themselves in the union went too far, he said. Three men have admitted they set fire - days before Christmas 2012 - to a Quaker meetinghouse being built with nonunion labor.

Rank-and-file members packed the courtroom to see Sweeney’s testimony.

He said he typically told Dougherty about the so-called “nightwork” after it was done. If a contractor succumbed to the pressure and hired ironworkers, Dougherty merely said, “Good job.” But on one taped phone call played in court Thursday, he used a string of profanities as he vowed the union would prevail, one way or the other, at a job site near City Hall.

On cross-examination, Sweeney acknowledged that Dougherty only learned of the Quaker meetinghouse arson after the fact.

Defense lawyer Fortunato Perri Jr. has said that Dougherty didn’t invent the practice of “nightwork,” and he isn’t responsible for other people’s crimes.

But federal prosecutors have charged him with being the head of a criminal enterprise. Sweeney has pleaded guilty to racketeering and arson.

Dougherty, who retired amid the indictment last year, could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

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