Post Brothers veep recalls 'frightening' incident with Ironworkers

MATTHEW HALL / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Workers at the Goldtex apartments at 12th and Wood streets put out signs to counter other signs placed by union members that discourage people from renting there.
MATTHEW HALL / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Workers at the Goldtex apartments at 12th and Wood streets put out signs to counter other signs placed by union members that discourage people from renting there.
Posted: February 28, 2014

A YEAR AGO, Sarina Rose, vice president of development for Post Brothers Apartments, went for breakfast near the upscale Goldtex apartments being built by her company.

Inside Jany's restaurant on 12th Street near Wood, just north of Center City, Rose saw Edward Sweeney, a business agent of Ironworkers Local 401, sitting at the counter. "He just starting yelling, 'F---ing scab bastard!' at me," she said yesterday.

After a while, she saw Sweeney getting agitated, so she tried to pay for her order before the food came out. She said Sweeney came up behind her and pinned her against the counter.

" 'F---ing c---,' " she said he called her. One of her bodyguards, Patrick Steffa, 36, put himself between them.

"It was very disturbing," she said, adding that it got even more "frightening" when about 10 other union men from various trades surrounded them.

Things de-escalated after Sweeney left, she said. But later that morning - Feb. 26, 2013 - when another bodyguard drove her away from the Goldtex site, she saw Sweeney walking on Vine Street, where union men were picketing.

Sweeney formed the shape of a gun with his black-gloved hand and mouthed, " 'Bang, bang, bang,' " said Rose, 42. "We did a U-ey and went to the police station."

Sweeney, 55, of Northeast Philly, was one of 10 Ironworkers charged in a federal indictment last week, accused of violent acts against contractors who didn't hire union ironworkers.

After the incident involving Rose, he was charged with terroristic threats, simple assault and harassment. He did not return a call to his home yesterday.

During a two-day trial in November, Municipal Judge Charles Hayden heard testimony from Rose and her two bodyguards - and from two union workers friendly with Sweeney who gave versions that differed from those of the prosecution witnesses. Hayden acquitted Sweeney on all counts.

According to the trial transcript, Hayden said the behavior in the restaurant did "not rise to the level of a crime," as Sweeney's lawyer, Joel Trigiani, argued. As for Sweeney allegedly making the shape of a gun with his hand at Rose, the judge said there were only "two witnesses" to that - Rose and one of her bodyguards.

After the first day of the trial, Trigiani argued before the judge that harassment did not apply in this case, pointing to an exemption in the Pennsylvania crime code. "Everyone can take judicial notice of the fact this has been a labor dispute," Trigiani said. "It is about union and nonunion."

"OK, I see his argument," the judge said. "I see his argument."

Under state law, harassment, stalking and threats to use weapons of mass destruction are crimes - except when the alleged conduct is by someone involved in a labor dispute.

House Bill 1154 seeks to remove that exemption. "It's just a nonsensical law," state Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, the bill's main sponsor, said yesterday.

Miller gave an example of a threat to use a weapon of mass destruction. "If you threaten to bomb my house, you can be charged . . . unless we were engaged in a labor dispute, then you can't be charged," he said.

David N. Taylor, executive director of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association, which supports a worker's right to decide whether to join a union, said he believes the loophole in the state law led the ironworkers to escalate intimidation to the point where they felt they could commit violence alleged in last week's federal indictment.

"The existence of this carve-out should be disturbing to everyone," he said.

Neil A. Morris, a labor lawyer in the Center City office of the firm Offit Kurman, said that based on what he heard yesterday about the allegations in the incident between Sweeney and Rose, there clearly was harassment and stalking, "but a judge could say this was a labor dispute" and acquit Sweeney of the charges.

The 49-page indictment accused ironworkers of committing arson at the site of a new Quaker meetinghouse under construction in Chestnut Hill in 2012, and of beating nonunion workers with baseball bats at a Toys "R" Us under construction in King of Prussia in 2010. It also said the defendants committed other destructive acts including "slashing the tires of vehicles, smashing vehicles with crowbars, cutting and changing the locks on construction sites [and] filling the locks with superglue."

On Twitter: @julieshawphilly

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