Much ink has been spilled (and even more resources spent) on the federal corruption charges facing John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, leader of IBEW Local 98, and Bobby Henon, member of City Council and staff person at the same union. While most of what the media has focused on is the individual charges that this pair faces, I’d like to focus on their political relationship, and their relationship to their union.

Unions exist to advance the well-being of workers and their families. They bargain with employers for better wages and they advocate for pro-worker policies in government. Bobby Henon, before becoming a member of City Council in 2011, was a union electrician who eventually became a union steward and then the union’s political director. In that role, Henon obviously lobbied for the issues that mattered most to the union and its members. When he ran for Council, he focused on bringing manufacturing jobs back to the city and specifically his district in the Northeast. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Henon, one of the only councilmembers to come from a union background, advocates for his brothers and sisters. But now, due to both Henon and Dougherty’s federal indictments, his advocacy is being painted as criminal.

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Every elected official represents a coalition — the people they come from, their social networks, their donors, and their constituents. If you look at our City Council business interests dominate these coalitions. Henon is different: he comes from a union, still works for a union, and has the union’s interests in mind. However, his relationship and employment with his union has come under fire, viewed by some as a conflict of interest or even sheer corruption. Yet there is no law against councilmembers having other jobs and Councilmember Henon is certainly not the only member with outside employment.

As recently as this year, Councilmember Brian O’Neill worked as an attorney with Fox Rothschild and Councilmember Derek Green served as counsel at Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell and Hippel (both of these firms offer “union avoidance” work for their clients), and of course, “Condo King” Allan Domb is bringing in a pretty penny from a vast real estate empire, plus rental income from condos he owns and income from being a broker.

Yet there’s been no media outcry about any of these other potential conflicts of interest — certainly not about Domb sitting on Council’s committee for housing, neighborhood development, and the homeless. And I’ve seen no mention of the fact that Councilmembers O’Neill and Green both work for law firms that help employers fight their workers’ unions — only Henon receives heaps of scorn. Let’s be real: This isn’t about members of council having other jobs — if it were, people like Domb or Green would be complicit too. Instead, it’s another campaign to demonize organized labor, union members, and their political allies.

Businesses, community groups, unions, and even individuals lobby for their interests at Council, both formally and informally. It’s seen as perfectly normal for Comcast and the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania to lobby against worker-friendly legislation. Comcast spent $100,000 lobbying against the Fair Workweek bill, and both Comcast and CHOP fought a wage equity law that would potentially help close the gender and racial wealth gaps. Apparently, none of this is illegal, unethical, or even notable at all. When business groups lobby, wine and dine politicians at expensive restaurants, and yes, pay them “consulting fees” and other dubious “compensation” we’re expected to believe this is just “politics,” but when a union does it, it’s thuggery, corruption, and criminal influence.

Unions are working people’s best defense against corporate power — the power that we already see pulling the strings in City Hall. In the poorest big city in the country, with nearly a quarter of our residents living in poverty, we need more union power, not less. We need more people in our City Council fighting for union members’ interests. And if members of City Council can’t have outside employment, so be it — I’d support it. But if antiunion law firms can have their interests represented in City Council, why shouldn’t unions have theirs?

Mindy Isser is an organizer in the labor movement and a member of Philly DSA, the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. mindy.isser@gmail.com