Philadelphia area builder dies

April 15, 2008 2:09:07 PM PDT
J. Leon Altemose, a building contractor known for clashing with unions over the use of nonunion labor, has died. He was 68. Altemose died Friday at his Malvern home from multiple sclerosis, which he had for many years. His death was confirmed to The Associated Press by Cornerstone Church in Skippack.

Altemose gained national attention in 1972 when unionists attacked his building site in Valley Forge. Unionists destroyed $400,000 worth of equipment and materials in a coordinated attack that the handful of police officers on site were helpless to stop, according to a Pennsylvania Crime Commission report.

A judge responded with a court order banning pickets within a mile of any Altemose project, leading to a protest by tens of thousands of unionists who marched from Plymouth Meeting to Norristown and back.

Not long after, Altemose was attacked outside a downtown Philadelphia bank.

Altemose paid lower hourly wages than union scale, but said his workers made more annually because they had steady work throughout the year, as opposed to the seasonal layoffs union workers faced.

His company built the Valley Forge Convention Center and several hotels, among many other projects.

Geoffrey Eh, president and chief executive of the Southeast Pennsylvania chapter of Associated Building Contractors, said the attacks on Altemose and his work sites were among the last of their kind.

"The physical violence associated with union construction activity disappeared to a significant extent," Eh said.

Altemose remains a controversial figure.

"He was about destroying the standard of wages and driving them down," said Patrick Gillespie, the head of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, a union group. "That was his brand of economics."

Altemose is survived by his wife of 44 years, Carol, a daughter and son, a sister and two grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for Saturday morning at Cornerstone Church.