Modern Labor Battles Are About Tech, Not Muscle

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 14 | Posted Aug. 15, 2012

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Work force: The union protesters at 12th and Wood streets are under constant surveillance.

In a makeshift office space inside the Goldtex construction site at 12th and Wood streets, lead construction manager Al McVicker opens a file cabinet drawer, pulls out a homemade weapon and slaps it on the desk. It’s a flat slab of metal the size of a brick, with seven crooked nails thicker than pencils welded to the base, jutting upward.

“How’s that for your story?” McVicker, 54, says to me, adding that he found the nail bomb stuck in the tire of a delivery truck a week earlier.

According to McVicker, finding the homemade weapon was just one of many such attacks since March, when Philadelphia’s trade unions began protesting outside the Post Brothers’ $38 million project to convert the old textile factory into a 10-story, 163-apartment complex.

McVicker rattles off the damage he attributes to union protesters: 28 slashed tires, two broken windshields, four shattered passenger windows and four rear-view mirrors so far. “Someone’s going to get fucking hurt,” he says. Men on both sides have already been injured. And they’ve told me that they won’t be surprised if someone winds up dead by the time the project is finished.

The fight is so intense because Goldtex is the biggest local labor showdown in 40 years. Some union workers compare it to the protests against developer J. Leon Altemose for hiring nonunion workers to build a hotel and retail complex that eventually became the Valley Forge Convention Center. In the summer of ‘72, Altemose offered unions a 70/30 split on the $18 million project, but the unions violently declined. That June, a thousand men in hard hats stormed the construction site, throwing fire bombs and hand grenades. But Altemose refused to cave.

Altemose’s success symbolized the end of Philadelphia’s unions’ power and influence on suburban development. Forty years later, Goldtex symbolizes the final frontier of union influence over development in the city. “This is on our doorstep,” said a protester who declined to give his name. “They think they can come right in here and bust the unions.”

Trade unions’ traditional war tactics rely on a balance of unabashed intimidation and harassment, murky political connections and public-relations campaigns that cast them as the victims. Historically, the unions have had complete control over developing that narrative. Union protest PR may be crude—fliers littered with misspellings, a big rat balloon (manufactured in a nonunion shop, by the way)—but they can be nonetheless effective at broadcasting the message that their opponents are “destroying the middle class” or “killing the American dream.”

Goldtex shows that control is gone. The modern labor dispute is fought with technology, not muscle. From the beginning, Michael and Matthew Pestronk, the real-life brothers behind the Post Brothers, simply set up a high-tech surveillance system that beats the union at their own PR game.

The Goldtex building is a panopticon; more than 30 video cameras stud its perimeter. At PhillyBully.com, they post videos, photos, updates and scans of fliers union guys allegedly circulated, including one that says “Carrie Pestronk likes to get hard with it!” next to a doctored photo of one of the developer’s wives made to look like she is holding a penis. According to McVicker, the Post Brothers have a “video team” that has collected countless hours of video and more than 13,000 photos of protesters.

McVicker, who sports a small video camera strapped to the side of his hard hat, says he has personally snapped 900 to 1,000 photos.

The high-tech surveillance seems to be not only winning public’s support for the Pestronks, but is also forcing authorities to take action. Several weeks ago, police made arrests after cameras caught a group of men assaulting a Post Brothers worker. In the video, the man is shoved until he falls to the ground. Throughout the assault, the victim’s wife is in the mix, holding up an iPad, recording. McVicker says that he expects another arrest soon: A protester was caught throwing nail bombs like the kind McVicker pulled out of his file cabinet.

“He’s on film kneeling down and throwing it in the street in two separate locations,” he says.

Several weeks ago, a delivery truck pulled into the site. As usual, union protesters gathered at the fence to heckle the laborers as they unloaded the truck. They taunted the workers, many who appear to be Asian, with racist insults like “Look at Long Duck Dong!” and various nonsensical jabs about eating noodles. When I pulled out my phone and started recording, a large young man cut in front of me, pushing his back into me like a wall. When I moved, he followed me and started calling me “corrupt” for taping the harassment.

On a different day, after another delivery truck pulled away, a protester exclaimed, “Did you see that? That was an 8-year-old!” The protester, who declined to give his name, insisted he saw an 8-year-old working. “Illegals and kids,” snorted another protester.

The man who claimed he saw a child working says he got it on his camera. But when he checked for the video, he discovered his phone battery had died. It didn’t record.

“Anyone take pictures?” asks another protester, looking around. “Somebody’s got to have a picture!”

No one did.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 14 of 14
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1. Normal Guy said... on Aug 15, 2012 at 08:12PM

“Why do the 100's of union men just stand around destroying my neighborhood property values? I have a rental across the street that I simply can not rent. My daughter is afraid to walk through the crowd.
GO AWAY!”

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2. Dave said... on Aug 16, 2012 at 07:30AM

“The problem is that Normal Guy's daughter fears hetrosexual men. She is used to the worthless excuse for men that frequent the Trestle Inn. A couple of weeks ago, a fire broke out in a building down the street from 12th and Wood. The union men sprang into action before the Fire Department arrived, banding on doors to notify the residents. They rescued several pets from one apartment as the fireman arrived. If not for the union men, the situation could have been much worse.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Aug 16, 2012 at 07:44AM

“@Normal Guy: Sorry to hear that. I'm in the neighborhood too. I own my unit around the corner from you. I'm frustrated, but know how bad it is for the people closest.

@Dave: You must be a union guy. Surprisingly, you can type. So, for the last 5 months, the union boys actually did something positive ONCE? They're a nuissance and need to go away. It's OUR neighborhood, not theirs. Post Brothers is improving it not hurting. GO POST BROTHERS!”

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4. Normal Guy said... on Aug 16, 2012 at 09:49AM

“Leave it to one of the thugs (Dave) to bring a comment to the level of union mentality. Why Dave a comment on sexuality?

The whole building and development process in Philadelphia is stagnant because of this type of thought process. What you union guys do is clearly illegal. Blocking trucks, beating up innocent workers, peeing in Janeys parking lot, hell, I even witnessed beer drinking behind cars.

The union higherarchy needs to do some community relations, build partnerships, goodwill, not these 1950 bully tactics.

I want my neighborhood back!!”

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5. H4zzmatt said... on Aug 16, 2012 at 12:41PM

“Unions had there uses, the five-day work week, vacation, minimum wage...but are they really needed today?

Maybe you can convince me the benefits of having Unions around today? Tell me one good thing Unions have done for the American work force in the last 30 years?

If you can't afford to work for the same wages as someone else maybe you need to find a different job? Do you guys even have jobs or are you just standing around Wood Street all day?

- H4zzmatt



Seriously you guys need to evolve or die.”

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6. H4zzmatt said... on Aug 16, 2012 at 12:59PM

“Just watched a bunch of the videos on phillybully.com Really, and you guys aren't ashamed at all?

Have to wonder where the hell the police are during all of this, oh, right, they are Union to.

- H4zzmatt”

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7. John said... on Aug 17, 2012 at 12:11AM

“First off, if it weren't for unions, you non union folks wouldn't have squat. Unions fought, and continue to fight for a better way of life. And their gains and efforts trickle down to those less fortunate (non union).

As for what's going on at that construction site. Those guys are pussies. They feed the media bullshit, and you saps gobble it up. Ask for the footage they're NOT providing. The crap those scabs pull that you don't see. You'll whistle a different tune after seeing that stuff alright.

The city is going to shit. And the biggest cause is non union, non skilled, non trained people doing the work. Unions don't just stick people on jobsites. They put trained people, skilled people on them. Why do you think every trade has to go through an apprentice program? To train them, so they become "skilled labor".

You non union, non american proud folks should all pack up and move to India. You can get outsourced non skilled, non trained work there easily.

PROUD Union Tradesman!!!”

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8. Dave said... on Aug 17, 2012 at 09:00AM

“If the the Union guys rode their bicycles to 12th & Wood, then maybe the progressive types who get on their knees for the Pestronk brothers would STFU.

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9. CallowhillResident said... on Aug 17, 2012 at 10:50AM

“@John: Actually, one of the reasons this "going to shit" as you put it is bloated union wages. You can't get anything done timely or reasonably at the Convention Center. Developers need state and federal loans and subsidies to use union labor (i.e. construction at 12 and Race) and for what?

Unions follow a business model from the 1950s. You people don't even bid on jobs. You just think you're entitled to them. That's the problem. The sense of entitlement. While the rest of us actually have to earn our jobs, you guys think you're entitled to them. They should just be handed to you. BS!

If the union boys actually road their bikes to the site, they probably wouldn't be putting down the homemade weapons on the road. I forget the actual name for it, but it's a bunch of nails welded together. It was found by a person who actually pays taxes to live in the neighborhood.

GO POST BROTHERS! The unions are petrified this will change the game... IT WILL!”

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10. Pissed in Philly said... on Aug 24, 2012 at 01:39PM

“@ Dave - You are an ignorant bigot!
@ John - You are an ignorant puppet!
Suck it up... all I see is fat, lazy, low life trash trying to get in the way of people trying to earn a living. You union guys don't even realize that guys like Fred Cosenza are getting rich off you and you fight his battles for him, stupid stupid stupid. Wake up! PA is a right to work state, you already lost the battle and now you stand in the way of those trying to clean up this shit hole. What's next, are you going to blame the Post Bros. for the crime rate here, are they pushing drugs on the street and shooting people in the face?!? Take some pride in yourself and your community and do some good, stop crying and go get a job! If you union jokers tried to pull your shit where I come from you would be locked up or six feet under.”

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11. Pissed in Philly said... on Aug 24, 2012 at 02:13PM

“Forgot to mention Gillespie, you sir are the worst of them all, basically advocating the shenanigans of your brute force trash team allstars. Someone tell me this, if unions represent a better way of life, why are most of the union guys toothless slack jawed lug heads with shitty tattoos?!?”

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12. Descent Wage said... on Sep 17, 2012 at 04:09PM

“After reading the posts here many of you who aren't associated with a union really don't have a clue,please get your facts straight....I've been in a local union for 30 years and work my ass off to make a descent wage with health benefits and a retirement thanks to a union,and guess what,all the contractors I know have done very well over the years paying a good wage,as compared to a non union job which typically pays its non union worker a lousy wage so that the owners of these companies keeps getting fatter,it's the ole screw the little guy deal,...well the union don't mind the owners making big money but pay the skilled worker a good descent wage”

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13. fuckthem said... on Dec 26, 2012 at 04:57PM

“These unions thugs are pahetic excuses for human beings. I would be ashamed beyond belief if one of them were my father, or god ofrbid, my son.

They are the bigest self-entitled whores I've ever seen, and literally the stupidest group of grown american men you could find. They absolutely could not exist without the extortion that keeps them alive.

They have no legitimacy whatsoever, and all deserve to suffer the effects of the life they have chosen.

P.S. They are also a bunch of "closet fags" as they would call it. I have a cousin who lives in south philly and works for John Dougherty. He said that he's witnessed several of them blowing the union bosses in the basement of Dougherty's house at union parties, apparently that's a fastr-track to the top in their industry. Doesn't surprise me”

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14. Landlord 777 said... on Feb 15, 2013 at 10:23AM

“Hey @descent wage.....u poor man this is America not socialism or communism...if business have easier ways to make money everyone gets better....the rich create jobs unions destroy them..we the rich have made America great so stop this bs of socialism...everyone will get richer and have jobs if u follow the free market system.”

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