Saturday, April 1, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Beat-Down at Union Picket Line, Man Says

PHILADELPHIA (CN) — The owner of a small electrical-contracting business claims in a federal complaint that crossing a union picket line in South Philadelphia left him with a broken nose after a four-on-one attack.

Joshua Keesee blames his early morning beat-down on the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, with Local Union 98 business manager John Dougherty leading the pack.

"Dougherty, certainly aware of his reputation as a man not to be trifled with, introduced himself to an individual who witnessed much of the confrontation as 'John Dougherty,'" the Oct. 17 complaint states. "Defendant Dougherty shook the eyewitness's hand, told the eyewitness he was late for a meeting, and offered to the eyewitness that he (Dougherty) could not believe he had gotten into a fight before nine o'clock in the morning." (Parentheses in original.)

Dougherty's union has not returned a request for comment on the complaint filed in the Eastern District of Philadelphia. Oddly, the receptionist who answered the union's main telephone line said she had directed the request to Frank Keel, a spokesman whom reported Dougherty had fired in July.

Claiming to not know anything about Keel's firing, the receptionist said Keel was in the office this week.

Keesee says the physical altercation erupted on Jan. 21, 2016, after five months of intimidation by the union at a townhome-development project in Pennsport. The complaint calls it the 3rd and Reed Project for its location at 3rd and Reed Streets.

IBEW 98 leadership had been enraged, according to the complaint, that project developer Barry Sable was not using union labor. Known locally as "Johnny Doc," Dougherty was at the forefront of the union's "campaign of intimidation, threats and coercion against Sable, and the men and women who worked on the 3rd and Reed Project," the complaint states.

Though the development began in 2013, Keesee says he and his company, MCON Electric, came to the project in August 2015 — replacing a prior electrical contractor that the union had scared off.

"His guys no longer felt safe," the complaint quotes Keesee's predecessor as telling developer Sable.

Keesee says he endured harassment and pressure to join the union from the get-go.

Billing membership as "easy money," one of the union guys on the picket line "bragged to Keesee that he was making $140,000 annually, just for standing outside and guarding the 12-foot inflatable rat," according to the complaint.

Keesee says he later caught this same man, Christopher Owen, "rummaging through the passenger side of Keesee's work van."

The fight with Doughterty, Owen and two other union workers allegedly occurred less than a month later.

Things became heated, according to the complaint, when Dougherty used a racial slur against Keesee, who is Native American.

"We don't want niggers here," Dougherty allegedly said.

Keesee suspects that they were trying to bait him into throwing the first punch, but that he only laughed and called the union workers "cowards."

"Dougherty grimaced and stated 'do what you want to him,'" the complaint states.

As soon as Keesee averted his gaze to one of the men, who was wielding a knife, "Dougherty threw two (2) punches at Keesee, one of which broke Keesee's nose," according to the complaint.

Keesee says a fellow worker at the site managed to pull him away from the attack.

As he retreated to the job site, according to the complaint, Keesee heard his attackers laughing and hurling taunts.

Keesee says he again called the union workers "cowards," prompting them to charge at him and subject him "to a barrage of additional blows to the head and torso."

Though Keesee tried to return to the job site the next day, the complaint says the sight of 15 menacing faces on the union picket line got the better of him.

In addition to losing money on the 3rd and Reed project, Keesee says he cannot get other work because contractors perceive him as an enemy of the powerful IBEW 98.

Keesee's assault "received considerable media attention," according to the complaint, which notes that an union representative offered to compensate Keesee if he "was willing to 'forget about' the intimidation, assault and battery."

The Philadelphia man wants punitive damages, alleging violations of federal anti-racketeering law, aiding and abetting, battery, tortious interference, and civil conspiracy. Keesee is represented by Clifford Haines and Robert Mozentre.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.