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J. Leon Altemose
Roger Altemose
J. Leon Altemose

J. Leon Altemose, a building contractor who fought to work open shop in the shadow of Philadelphia's union labor stronghold, died April 11 in his home in Malvern, Pa., at age 69. The cause was complications of multiple sclerosis.

Altemose became a national figure in the budding battle by "right to work" construction contractors to win competitive legitimacy and market share in the 1970s and 1980s as his projects in suburban Philadelphia faced union-led violence. Altemose himself was assaulted by union supporters in the city's downtown.

Altemose's fight to have his firm, Altemose Construction Co., use both union and nonunion construction workers thrust him into a national spotlight and earned him recognition as ENR's 1972 Man of the Year.

A mechanical engineering dropout from Pennsylvania State University, Altemose opted to start a construction firm in his parents' home in 1961. He learned construction skills from his father, James, a high school mathematics teacher who built houses during his summer breaks. Company employees included his wife, Carol, and cousin, Roger. The firm had revenue of $17 million in 1972, taking advantage of a building boom in Philadelphia's expanding western suburbs.

An editorial that accompanied the Altemose profile in ENR noted that the contractor "stands for something large and vital that's happening in construction. He is not anti-union. He simply wants and deserves the chance to prove the merits of working nonunion."

A memorial service will be celebrated on April 19 at Cornerstone Church in Skippack, Pa.

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