Organized labor is always a powerful force in Philadelphia-area elections, whether they’re city specific or congressional races.

In 2019 alone, in the Philadelphia primary, where dozens of candidates have collected nearly $9.1 million, unions are the second-largest donors, making up almost 23 percent — or $2 million — of total campaign contributions, according to the left-leaning, volunteer-run group Philly Power Research. The only sector that outspent organized labor is the real estate and building industry, which has dropped $2.1 million on candidates so far.

This comes at a time when federal corruption charges loom over labor leader and politico John J. “Johnny Doc” Dougherty of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98. The local has contributed to campaigns in the primary, and candidates have accepted the money.

Here’s a look at whom unions are backing, in terms of money and endorsements. We’re focusing on the Council at-large race since so many people are running. In the at-large race, unions have spent $941,770 across 17 candidates in 2019, according to the Philly Power Research analysis.

One note: While traditional unions are the powerful majority of the Philadelphia labor movement, smaller, upstart groups, sometimes called alternative, or alt-labor — which win rights for nonunionized workers in other ways, like legislation — have proliferated in the last few years. Think: One Pennsylvania, which was behind Fair Workweek scheduling legislation; the Pennsylvania Domestic Workers Alliance, which is lobbying for a domestic worker bill of rights; and Jobs with Justice.

So far, those alt-labor groups have not gotten deeply involved with elections — at least by giving money or endorsements. Candidates, though, like Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and at-large candidate Erika Almirón, have campaigned on alt-labor issues.

Also, we’re looking at money raised in 2019 and will follow up once the primary reporting period ends. And some union money is harder to track: For example, the Steamfitters union contributed $10,000 to a PAC called Philly for Growth that’s also backed by real estate developers. Philly for Growth backed several at-large candidates, such as Derek Green and Katherine Gilmore Richardson, but those dollars aren’t accounted for in our breakdown.

Union favorites

When it comes to campaign contributions and endorsements, Democratic incumbents Helen Gym and Green are far and away the Philadelphia labor movement’s favorite at-large candidates. In 2019, Gym raised $184,810 from unions and union-related PACs and received at least 15 union endorsements, while Green raised $107,100 from labor and received at least 10 union endorsements.

The other apparent favorites in the Democratic race are:

  • Isaiah Thomas, a community advocate who has the backing of powerful political and labor leaders like Ryan Boyer of the Laborers District Council, a construction union, and Chris Woods of District 1199c, a health-care union. Thomas raised $106,350 and got at least 13 union endorsements.
  • Gilmore Richardson, a longtime staffer for Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. Richardson raised $72,700 and got at least seven union endorsements.
  • Ethelind Baylor, a VP for city employee union AFSCME District Council 47. She raised $15,250 from unions and got at least eight endorsements, though not from her own union.
  • Incumbent Allan Domb raised $19,161 from unions and got at least five union endorsements.

Republican favorites include:

  • Dan Tinney, a union steamfitter and ward leader who’s raised $87,750 from the building trades. (Tinney also raised $74,100 from unions in 2018.) A Billy Penn report described Tinney’s campaign as a bid to unseat Councilman David Oh, who is unpopular with Philadelphia Parking Authority Chairman Joseph Ashdale, who is also a leader in the Painters union.
  • Councilman Al Taubenberger, who raised $46,550 from the building trades. He’s on the board of the PPA.

What do the union favorites have to say about workers?

Gym has a track record of supporting worker-friendly legislation: She introduced and championed Fair Workweek legislation aimed at largely nonunion, low-wage retail, fast-food, and hotel workers. She also supports the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights and the recently passed “just-cause” legislation against unfair firings for parking lot workers.

Green and Domb both supported Fair Workweek. Green also supported the parking lot worker bills and helped secure funding for the city’s effort to teach local businesses about worker co-ops.

Others haven’t said much about what they’d do for workers, and if they did mention workers, they didn’t share specifics.

Thomas has said he would “provide educational and training opportunities for young people," as well as “advocate [for] removing barriers to higher education and other pathways to family-sustaining careers.”

He tried to distance himself from being branded as the “union candidate" in an interview with Philadelphia Magazine, saying, “While those union endorsements are something I value, I pride myself (and my campaign) on being a coalition-builder, bringing Philadelphians together from many parts and communities throughout the city, as you can see from the groups who support me.”

In an interview with the magazine, Gilmore-Richardson mentioned “living wage" as a major issue to be addressed in City Hall and said that if elected, she’d focus on “prosperity” and “workforce development.”

Baylor, in her survey for Reclaim Philadelphia, said, “I understand that we need more champions of workers’ rights, as well as human rights and economic justice for all.” When asked what “white supremacy” and “patriarchy” mean to her, she brought up the wage gap and sexual harassment in the workplace. She said she’d commit to achieving “racial equity” among workers and department heads in the City of Philadelphia.

Tinney has said he’d support workers by attracting businesses and creating jobs. Taubenberger did not support Fair Workweek legislation or the parking lot worker bills.