Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Teamsters ask fellow unions to reconsider soda tax stance

Teamsters Secretary Daniel Grace sent a letter to the leaders of seven unions in support of Kenney’s sugary drinks tax asking them to reconsider in the name of union solidarity.

The Teamsters are feeling a little lonely in their union opposition to Mayor Kenney's tax.

Teamsters Secretary Daniel Grace sent a letter to the leaders of seven labor organizations in support of Kenney's three-cent per ounce sugary drinks tax asking them to reconsider in the name of union solidarity.

The Teamsters, who represent  drivers in the city whose jobs, Grace says, are at risk if the tax passes, have been a powerful voice against Kenney's proposal.

"If the city's labor community doesn't take a stand against this tax, knowing it will lead to significant job loss for Teamsters Local 830, then every union in the city, public or private, will be vulnerable," Grace wrote.  "Every union in the city will be fair game for the unwanted intrusion of city government into your business.

The email, obtained by the Inquirer was sent to leaders of District Council 33, District Council 47, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the local Firefighters Union, Hospital Workers Union, Teachers Union and the SEIU. All seven are listed as supporters of the tax on the Philadelphians for a Fair Future Coalition website. The non-profit has been the organizing and marketing arm for Kenney's proposal. IBEW Local 98 has also supported the tax.

The Gas Workers (Utility Workers Union of America Local) and the United Food & Commercial Workers have joined the Teamsters on the anti-tax side.

No word yet on what the Philadelphia Chapter of the AFL-CIO – representing 200,000 in the public and private sector and building trades thinks. The union's president, Patrick Eiding said Friday "We have remained open so we are able to be part of any ongoing discussion as the debate continues."

Of course, Kenney doesn't need union support to pass the tax, he needs nine votes on City Council.

Lauren Hitt, spokeswoman for Kenney disputed the threat to Teamsters' jobs.

"The Teamsters are being manipulated by the soda industry into believing their jobs are at risk," she said in a statement. "When this tax has been imposed in other places, over all beverage sales have gone up. So while Teamsters may be hauling less regular Coke, they'll be hauling more diet Coke and water. This isn't a tax on thirst."

In his email, Grace also slammed John and Laura Arnold, Houston billionaires who are supporting the pro-tax ad campaign on the basis of the tax's health merits. Grace says Arnold has a history of funding anti-labor ballot initiatives and anti-pension research. He called the contribution "blood money from a man who wants to destroy unions."

"Any local union that is supporting the Sugary Drinks Tax is now in bed with one of the nation's most notorious union-busters," Grace writes. "Arnold also is aggressively pro-school choice and contributes heavily to school choice legislative efforts around the country.  He is the enemy. This situation defies logic and it should not be allowed to stand."

The Arnolds did not immediately return request for comment.

Arnold, a former Enron trader, has helped fund research on the fiscal health of pension systems. He has fought back against arguments such as Grace's before (though perhaps not quite as harsh). In a 2014 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Arnold said, "The unions are very skilled at framing our intent as wanting to gut the savings of the middle class. We are just trying to get a better policy for America."

Earlier this month, when it was announced they would join former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in funding ad campaigns in favor of the tax they sent this statement:

"Philadelphia has a unique opportunity to improve the health and development of its youth with this innovative proposal. There is no question as to the adverse health effects of the high amounts of sugar in soda and sports drinks. Growing scientific evidence shows that an excess of sugar can overload critical organs over time, leading to serious diseases including heart disease, liver disease, and diabetes," the statement read.

"A yes vote by the city council will allow the city to begin battling the harmful effects of sugar. In addition, it will give every child in Philadelphia access to pre-K, and the community will benefit from greater access to jobs as a consequence.  We are pleased to support this courageous approach by Mayor Kenney to take on special interests and benefit the children of Philadelphia."

Click here for's politics page.