John Dougherty announced his resignation Tuesday as business manager of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, ending a nearly three-decade tenure at the helm of the city’s most powerful labor union a day after his conviction on federal bribery charges.
In an interview with The Inquirer, Dougherty — widely known by his nickname “Johnny Doc” — said he shared his decision with the union’s executive board Monday afternoon, within hours of the jury’s verdict. The board selected Mark Lynch, the union’s safety coordinator, to serve as Local 98′s interim head until new elections can be held.
Dougherty also said he intends to step down as head of the Building and Construction Trades Council, an umbrella organization of the city’s trade unions that he has led since 2015, at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday.
“Based on what occurred yesterday, I thought it was the right thing to do to protect the integrity of the union,” Dougherty said.
Of Lynch, he added: “He’s the right choice at the right time. He’s above reproach. I expect big things of him.”
Dougherty, 61, will remain a member of his union and said he’s available to help advise Lynch on anything he might need. But he will lose his $298,000-a-year salary with Local 98 and the $178,000 he pulls in annually in his role with the Building Trades.
“To protect my family — my personal family, my family at Local 98 — I was already in the process of setting up my retirement anyway,” he said. “Of course, yesterday put me in that position a little quicker.”
He cast the decision to give up his leadership role Tuesday as one of his own making. In truth, his hand was forced.
A federal jury concluded, after a six-week trial, that Dougherty had bribed City Councilmember Bobby Henon, also a Local 98 member, with a $70,000-a-year salary and then repeatedly leaned on Henon to advance his own personal and professional interests on Council.
Dougherty’s conviction on multiple counts of conspiracy and honest services fraud Monday not only threatens to send him to prison for two decades on the most serious charge at his sentencing scheduled for February, it also made his future as the union’s head untenable.
The U.S. Department of Labor prohibits anyone convicted of certain crimes — including bribery — from holding elected union office for 13 years after their conviction or their imprisonment.
Still, Dougherty’s resignation marks the end of an era in which he transformed Local 98 into not only one of the city’s most influential voices for workers but also a political powerhouse and the biggest independent source of campaign money in the state.
The union’s money and manpower have helped elect mayors — including Jim Kenney — as well as City Council members, county commissioners, members of Congress, state legislators, governors, and more than 60 judges, including the union leader’s brother, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty.
Countless Philadelphians have seen Local 98′s inflatable rats at picket lines at nonunion building sites across the city.
And with Dougherty at the helm, Local 98′s membership has more than doubled, while wages and benefits have nearly tripled, from roughly $38 an hour in 1994 to $106 today. It’s also one of the most financially successful IBEW locals in the nation.
But his tenure was shadowed by controversy. Dogged for years by federal investigations, Dougherty is now facing two more trials on separate charges in the coming months — the first on accusations that he and five other Local 98 officials embezzled more than $600,000 from their union to cover home repairs, shopping sprees, travel, and dozens of mundane purchases for items like diapers and cereal. The second is tied to threats prosecutors say he made to a union contractor who employed his nephew.
Meanwhile, the Department of Labor sued his local last year, seeking to force new leadership elections based on allegations that Dougherty and his allies improperly sought to intimidate those who wished to challenge them for their posts.
Lynch, the man chosen to replace Dougherty by Local 98′s executive board on Monday, features in some of the Labor Department’s allegations. The 35-year-old joined the union in 2006 and was appointed to its executive board in December of last year.
In deposition excerpts filed with the court earlier this month, union member Timothy McConnell said he reached out to Lynch, a member of Dougherty’s inner circle, to let him know he was considering running for a leadership position.
Lynch, McConnell said, handed the phone to Dougherty, who spent the next 45 minutes berating him.
“It’ll be a long three years if you lose,” McConnell recalled Dougherty saying — a statement McConnell took as a threat suggesting he’d have a hard time finding work with the union should he go through with his campaign plans.
Dougherty handed the phone back to Lynch, McConnell testified, before grabbing it once again.
“If you ain’t with me,” the union leader said, “you’re against me.”
Filings in the Labor Department’s case are short on other details on Lynch’s involvement in the incident, but Dougherty and the union have repeatedly denied the intimidation allegations.
Speaking Tuesday, Dougherty said he felt Lynch, 35, was the perfect choice to succeed him at the helm of the union. Within the industry, he’s been cited as an expert on job safety challenges and compliance regulation and has helped oversee those issues at Local 98.
“I wanted [my replacement to be] young, aggressive, and willing to commit for the next decade,” he said. “The local is so financially stable, and the members have so much work, I think he’s going to ride the success we’ve already built.”
As for the vacancy left by Dougherty at the head of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, there are two options, according to the organization’s bylaws: The business manager — currently Dougherty — can appoint a replacement who must be approved by the executive board, or the organization could hold a special election by secret ballot.
Council officials did not immediately respond to calls for comment Tuesday.