In cities like Philadelphia, trade union picketing of a non-union construction site is common place. Mostly the picketing is tame,. Occasionally, the unions step it up a notch and bring out a rat or two. However, sometimes, like in the Goldtex dispute, these protests become rowdy, disruptive, and violent. Often the owner of the non-union project is required to obtain an injunction to stop the picketers from destroying property or prohibiting access to the job site. However, much to the chagrin of the project owner and the non-union contractor facing the pickets, rarely are any members of the picketing trade unions held criminal responsible for their actions. In fact, in a city like Philadelphia it would be unprecedented if the District Attorneys Office brought criminal charges against union leaders who organized a protest of a non-union job site.
Not so in the City of New York, as reports the New York Times, where two members of the local Laborers Union were recently indicted on charges of coercion, inciting to riot, and unlawful assembly. According to the Times, “[t]he indictment of the two union organizers is the latest chapter in a six-year battle between the construction unions and a prolific hotel developer and his contractors over substandard wages.”
The Manhattan District Attorneys Office’s decision to prosecute raises the question as to whether prosecution of organizers of over the line union protest should be more common place. Obviously, prosecution of persons for activities which are in part protected by the First Amendment is concerning. However, it often appears that unions are given a free pass for actions that would otherwise land someone in jail. This case is worth following for those two competing concerns. Moreover, if the DA is successful this case could represent a further shift in public opinion against unsavory union tactics.