Carpenters Union Sued for Racketeering

The Pennsylvania Convention Center has filed a federal RICO complaint.

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

The battle between the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the ousted carpenters union has taken another ugly turn: Thursday afternoon, the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority (PCCA) filed a federal RICO complaint against the union, as a whole as well as against specific members.

Named defendants are Edward Coryell Sr., Edward Coryell Jr., J.R. Hocker, Richard Rivera, Ronald Curran, Kenyatta Bundy and Richard Washlick, as well as 10 John Does.

The complaint outlines the entire history of the conflict, starting with the carpenters’ initial refusal to sign the new customer service agreement that the other unions signed. (The carpenters later signed the agreement, but after a center-set deadline to do so.) The suit characterizes Ed Coryell Sr.’s negotiations as “belligerent brinksmanship,” and says when that failed, the union launched “a campaign of illegal violence and intimidation” including “illegal and disruptive mass picketing and protests; physical intimidation, harassment, stalking, and assault and battery; verbal intimidation, harassment, race-baiting, and threats; and the destruction of property.”

Such behavior, the suit alleges, did serious harm to the Convention Center financially “in the form of property damage, lost business, and added expenses for security, customer and exhibitor relations, and legal fees.” The center seeks more than $1 million and a total end to the union’s alleged bad behavior.

The carpenters wouldn’t comment on pending litigation.

So that’s the case, in a nutshell. But the complaint, as it must, gets into some pretty extensive detail about what, allegedly, the carpenters did. Let’s break down the allegations:

1. “Illegal” picketing: Protests are every union’s most effective tool, so what was wrong with these? Each instance cited alleges that these protests blocked intersections and disrupted pedestrian and vehicular traffic (including emergency vehicles) and prevented exhibitors, guests and employees from getting in.

2. Numerous incidents of intimidation and/or assault: The suit alleges several occasions when union members stood outside of the entrance and either physically assaulted or threatened or harassed those trying to enter—everyone from other labor workers to Convention Center management staff. The claimed intimidation included videotaping people, cursing at them and screaming into their faces, blowing air horns and whistles into their ears, stalking them, and generally “acting in a physically menacing and intimidating fashion, intentionally and maliciously putting PCCA management and employees in fear of bodily harm.”

 3. Organized chaos at the Auto Show: If you think of the carpenters as jilted lovers out for revenge, the Auto Show was like the Senior Prom. The charity event of the weekend, the Black Tie Tailgate, was on Friday, Jan. 30. The suit alleges that about 80 to 100 “belligerent” carpenters gathered outside around 5:30 p.m. near the valet parking stand. “Many of the Carpenters present appeared to be drunk,” the suit reads.

When attendees arrived, the suit contends, some of the alleged angry drunks surrounded the cars, pounded on them with their fists, and said vulgar things to the people inside, while other carpenters blocked the valet stand. Still others berated people as they walked in. Inside, during the day, roughly 200 carpenters—paying guests—allegedly organized themselves into three teams. Each team was assigned a separate set of exhibitors to disrupt. For instance, the “Orange” team was responsible for disrupting Mazda, Lincoln, Infiniti, Cadillac, Buick, Volvo, Audi, Land Rover, Jaguar, Nissan, Acura, Mini-Cooper, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus. This disruption allegedly consisted of carpenters locking themselves inside vehicles and refusing to come out; and damaging exhibitor vehicles by doing things like “removing engine covers and fuses, ripping out wiring harnesses and stealing oil and gas caps…jamm[ing] caps and fuses into vehicle engines, remov[ing] plastic engine covers, and in one instance jamm[ing] a Coca-Cola bottle into the hood of a Buick so that the hood could not be opened…damag[ing] the interior of display vehicles, ripping out black rubber trim and plastic coverings.”

The suit contends they also rained down disparaging flyers on the cars and stuffed them in every vehicular orifice, then got abusive and violent with exhibitors who asked them to stop. They behaved obscenely with customers and videotaped them. Cops and security were called numerous times, but conceded they couldn’t control them. So the Convention Center filed a civil action “to obtain emergency injunctive protection against further attacks during the remainder of the Auto Show.”

At the time, Martin O’Rourke — a spokesman for the carpenters union — denied anything untoward had happened. “No vandalism, no vandalism whatsoever,” he told Philly Mag in February“They were exerting their First Amendment right to protest. “

 There is more, as you can see from the complaint below.
It’s likely their defense will make use of the 1973 decision in U.S. vs. Enmons, which has made it difficult to obtain a RICO conviction against a union if the union can prove that its actions were part of “legitimate union business.” That may be a tougher defense to employ than it used to be, however, given the Ironworkers’ failed bid to use it last summer.