On the first Wednesday of every month, the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council meets at its hall in the Northeast.
But this Wednesday was not business as usual.
Its leader, John J. Dougherty, was indicted on federal charges of embezzlement, bribery, and theft a week ago, and the 159-page indictment included transcripts of conversations between Dougherty and City Councilman Bobby Henon in which they discussed using legislation against the Plumbers and the Teamsters — both members of the Building Trades.
And then there was the letter.
The anonymous note on Building Trades letterhead suggested the group should be concerned about Dougherty’s ability to lead the coalition of 50 unions.
Still, at the unusually well-attended meeting — run by Dougherty on Wednesday — the Building Trades agreed to stand behind him.
“Nobody, and I clearly want to say nobody, asked for John to leave the Building Trades,” said Pat Eiding, the secretary-treasurer of the Building Trades and president of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO.
Eiding said no one discussed the letter, which was sent to a few of the group’s officials, one of whom shared it with him.
“It was put aside as a disgrace,” he said.
The possible strife between members of the Building Trades is the latest development after the indictment of Dougherty, Henon, and five other Local 98 staffers. Most in labor have remained tight-lipped about the charges against the region’s most influential union leader, and those who have spoken publicly have expressed their unwavering support, emphasizing that Dougherty is innocent until proven guilty. Local 98 spokesperson Frank Keel said the union’s membership stands “100 percent” behind Dougherty.
But there are signs of discord. On the day the indictment was announced, State Rep. Dave Delloso, a Democrat from Delaware County and a leader of the Teamsters, was furious to learn Dougherty was alleged to have pushed for the soda tax in part as punishment for the Teamsters for a TV ad portraying him negatively.
“If that’s the case, you know what? Let him burn,” Delloso said last week.
Still, on Wednesday, Eiding said he was thrown and frustrated by the letter because the Trades had met the day after the indictment was announced and the consensus was to make sure the Trades “stayed whole.”
Other union leaders with the Trades declined to comment or did not return calls.
Dougherty took over as head of the Building Trades in 2016. Eiding has championed Dougherty as a “tremendous” leader since then, securing Project Labor Agreements, which require union labor, and masterfully negotiating issues when there were problems at jobs.