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Philly mayor’s race: More labor unions are throwing their support behind Helen Gym and Jeff Brown

And the union that represents about 6,000 municipal workers said last week that it is getting behind Gym.

Unite Here Philly and unions that represent hospitality workers gather to endorse Helen Gym for mayor of Philadelphia on Feb. 15, 2023.
Unite Here Philly and unions that represent hospitality workers gather to endorse Helen Gym for mayor of Philadelphia on Feb. 15, 2023.Read moreAlejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia mayoral candidates Helen Gym and Jeff Brown have each garnered coveted endorsements from organized labor over the last week as a handful of unions pledged their support — which will likely come with money and manpower ahead of the May primary election.

On Wednesday, hotel and food-service workers who make up the union Unite Here Philly announced they’re backing Gym, a progressive former City Council member. The union, which has about 6,000 members across three locals, has in recent years led one of the city’s most visible ground operations and has supported Democrats with a robust door-knocking program.

“I have witnessed Helen go all out for working people and give us a voice,” said Earlene Bly, an organizer with Unite Here. “Other politicians are all for the bosses, and some are bosses themselves.”

The announcement came days after the union that represents about 6,000 white-collar municipal workers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ District Council 47, announced it will also back Gym.

Its sibling union — AFSCME District Council 33 — endorsed Brown last month in an unscheduled vote that caught several other contenders off-guard. Last week, a regional Council of Teamsters backed Brown, a grocer who has never held elected office.

Support from organized labor has historically been impactful in Philadelphia’s municipal elections, and Gym’s and Brown’s recent endorsements could give them a leg up in this year’s crowded mayoral field.

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Robert Harris, vice president and legislative director of DC 47, said organized labor is understandably split, in part because of the sprawling field of nine Democrats vying for the nomination. He said the union picked Gym after a committee interviewed seven candidates who sought the nomination.

Harris said Gym has been “a strong supporter of labor for a very long time” and he noted that she appeared in person at the Philadelphia Museum of Art last year when workers were on strike.

“A majority of our members who work for the city have to live in the city,” Harris said. “It is important to them to work for and find candidates who would make their working conditions the best for them.”

Gym was also recently endorsed by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Teamsters endorse Brown

Brown has garnered support from a handful of labor unions, most recently from the Teamsters Joint Council 53, a council of 29 locals representing 60,000 members from South Jersey to Harrisburg. In addition, he’s supported by unions that represent grocery-store workers and transit employees.

» READ MORE: Philly’s largest municipal union has endorsed Jeff Brown for mayor in a surprise vote

Bill Hamilton, president of the Pennsylvania Conference of Teamsters, said he personally interviewed Brown — the only candidate he did so with — and the executive board decided Brown would be the best candidate for the job. Hamilton said he was impressed by Brown’s work opening grocery stores in underserved communities and his efforts to use local businesses as suppliers.

“His actual participation in the community, you don’t see that very often. You certainly didn’t see that from the last mayor,” Hamilton said. “He’s hands-on.”

Hamilton said Brown’s outspoken opposition to Mayor Jim Kenney’s signature sweetened-beverage tax was a factor. The Teamsters were vocally opposed to the tax, which they said hurt jobs in the beverage industry. Brown said the tax caused the closure of one of his grocery stores.

Since announcing his run for mayor, Brown has said that pushing City Council to consider repealing the tax — which took effect in 2017 to help fund pre-K and parks upgrades — is not a top priority. Still, Hamilton said Brown’s position contributed to the Teamsters’ endorsement.

“He spoke out at a time when we needed him to,” Hamilton said.

A handful of major unions have yet to make endorsements. The Philadelphia Building Trades & Construction Council, which represents dozens of locals that have varied interests, has interviewed candidates but has not made a decision if it will make an endorsement.

Unions that represent Philadelphia police and firefighters are expected to decide later in the campaign cycle.