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Ryan Boyer becomes first Black leader of Building Trades Council after John Dougherty’s conviction

It was the latest in the fallout from the verdict in Dougherty’s trial.

Ryan Boyer, leader of the Laborers District Council in Philadelphia, is the first Black business manager of the Building Trades Council.
Ryan Boyer, leader of the Laborers District Council in Philadelphia, is the first Black business manager of the Building Trades Council.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

Labor leader Ryan Boyer became the first Black business manager of the Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council on Wednesday afternoon, after John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty resigned from the labor organization’s top role, days after a jury found Dougherty guilty of federal bribery charges.

Boyer, 50, is the top official of the Laborers District Council — representing 6,200 members across four locals that are the only majority-Black building trade unions in the region — and was previously the Building Trades Council’s president.

The Building Trades Council, a consortium of politically influential unions, has long faced criticism for its lack of racial diversity.

“One of my leading priorities will be to build upon the progress we have made towards ensuring that our unions reflect the diversity of our region,” Boyer said in a statement.

The leadership change was approved by the council’s executive board in a three-hour meeting at the Sprinkler Fitters union hall in the Northeast. Boyer will finish the remaining three years of Dougherty’s term.

It was the latest in the fallout from the verdict in Dougherty’s trial. Dougherty stepped down as business manager of electrical workers’ union IBEW Local 98 and the union’s board appointed a successor, Mark Lynch, on Tuesday.

Boyer, who was called as a defense witness during Dougherty’s trial and testified about his long-standing relationship with the labor leader, makes $223,000 a year as head of the Laborers District Council. While his previous position as president with the Building Trades Council was unpaid, his new role comes with an annual salary. Last year, Dougherty made $178,000 in the role.

With Boyer’s ascension, some political observers see an opportunity to increase racial diversity in the white-dominated building trade unions. According to the few public analyses available, aside from Boyer’s Laborers, the other construction trade unions are largely white and suburban. Diversifying the ranks has been a perennial goal of city leaders, and Dougherty frequently clashed with lawmakers over efforts to boost minority participation in city-contracted union work.

U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, an ally of Boyer, said the new business manager has a chance to move the needle after decades of historically entrenched exclusion in the trades.

”It’s long overdue,” Evans said. “People are losing faith and hope that anything can happen with the lack of diversity in the building trades. He has a unique opportunity to change that.”

The position also elevates Boyer’s already considerable clout, and may put more attention on the otherwise attention-averse labor leader. While he and Dougherty have worked together closely for years, Boyer operates without the flamboyance of his predecessor. While “Doc” thrived in the spotlight — be it offering doughnuts and iced tea to reporters while FBI agents raided his Pennsport home or singing a jingle about mold to the tune of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in front of a nonunion construction site — Boyer prefers to work away from the cameras.

Allies view him as a methodical, no-nonsense operator.

”He’s a natural coalition-builder,” said City Councilmember Cherelle Parker. “He will not let his ego outweigh his responsibility to deliver for the men and women in the building trades.”

Earlier this year, Boyer abruptly stepped down as head of the Delaware River Port Authority, ceding the influential post to Parker, a rumored 2023 mayoral nominee. Politicians looking to replace Mayor Jim Kenney in two years have already been courting Boyer’s endorsement.

But Boyer said he didn’t give up the seat for Parker’s sake. He said he’d accomplished enough.

”I fundamentally believe that people in Philadelphia hold on to power too long,” Boyer told The Inquirer in August. “Sometimes you just gotta go. If I preach that, I have to do that.”

How long Boyer will wield his new position of power on the Building Trades Council — and whether he remains business manager after finishing Dougherty’s term — remained unclear Wednesday.

Staff writer Oona Goodin-Smith contributed to this article.