Lou Barletta keeps coming to Philly.
He’s walked around Kensington to get a firsthand look at the drug epidemic there.
And on Monday, Barletta did something unusual for a Republican seeking statewide office in Pennsylvania: He marched in the city’s annual Labor Day parade. Supporters held “Barletta for Labor” signs.
“Not everyone gets an opportunity to do that,” Barletta, a former congressman from Northeastern Pennsylvania, said in an interview Tuesday.
Philadelphia is an overwhelmingly Democratic city, and its labor unions tend to support Democrats like the one Barletta’s hoping to succeed — Gov. Tom Wolf, who is term-limited and can’t seek reelection next year. But Barletta says former President Donald Trump’s 2016 win in Pennsylvania showed how the GOP can appeal to union workers.
“I can help create jobs for blue-collar workers in Philadelphia,” Barletta said of his message to organized labor. “That’s what they’re all about. They wanna take care of their families, they want good jobs. … President Trump did very well with rank-and-file union members and their families as well. I can put together a broad spectrum of supporters as well.”
Barletta said his relationship with organized labor in Philadelphia dates back to his tenure as mayor of Hazleton, when he supported an effort to fill abandoned mines with dredging material from the Delaware River.
“They had dirt, we had a hole,” he recalled. “It was a perfect marriage.”
The good vibes continued this week. Barletta said he was invited by nine union locals to march in the parade.
“It was a great opportunity to meet the members and talk about ideas on how to create more good jobs,” he said.
While its leadership certainly leans Democratic, organized labor isn’t a monolith. Trump made gains with members of predominantly white building trades. But some of the more influential labor unions in Philadelphia in recent years represent service workers who are mostly Black and brown, and they’ve helped elect progressives.
It remains to be seen whether Barletta or any other Republican gubernatorial candidate could make significant inroads in a general election.
Pat Eiding, president of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO, said he didn’t know who invited Barletta but heard the Republican is “a pretty decent guy.”
“I don’t ever remember a Republican governor candidate coming there,” Eiding said.
Other Republicans running for governor or widely expected to run include State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin), former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, and State Sens. Dan Laughlin (R., Erie) and Scott Martin (R., Lancaster).
It’s also not clear whether Barletta would actually support labor on some of its top policy priorities. For example, Barletta declined to say whether he’d support “right to work” legislation prohibiting unions from requiring workers to pay dues.
Fighting such laws in other states has been a top priority for labor unions.
“I’m not going to answer any hypotheticals … about issues that haven’t come up. We’ll deal with all that when I’m governor,” Barletta said. “It’s hard to say what’ll get through the Republican legislature right now.”
Barletta’s visit came a week after he attended a Shore fund-raiser for autism awareness hosted by Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Barletta praised John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty — the union’s business manager and head of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council — as “a great fighter for blue-collar workers over his entire career.”
Barletta said he’d welcome support from unions like Local 98, but added that wasn’t the purpose of the trip.
“I want to get to work on Day One if I’m elected governor,” he said. “That means having a close relationship with labor.”