One of the more sought-after endorsements in the Philadelphia mayor’s race came Wednesday morning in a parking lot off Woodhaven Road in the furthest reaches of the Northeast.
The Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council – a group of dozens of well-funded local unions – has coalesced around Democrat Cherelle Parker, a recently resigned City Council member and former state representative.
Ryan Boyer, the Building Trades Council’s leader, said the endorsement will shift the tide of the race, which, on the Democratic side, features 10 candidates. Support from the coalition helped power Mayor Jim Kenney to two terms.
“The Building Trades have never been a thermometer where we measure stuff,” said Boyer, who also serves as business manager for the local Laborers’ District Council. “We’re a thermostat, and we’re going to turn it up.”
Parker, of East Mount Airy, said the construction-related unions would factor heavily into her administration’s plans: helping residents find high-paying jobs; working to build 30,000 units of affordable housing; and assisting Philadelphians in repairing their existing homes.
She also vowed to tighten enforcement on unlicensed builders and those who pay workers under the table.
“I don’t want to see a crane in the air, a nail in the piece of wood, and/or lights on in any building here in the city of Philadelphia unless that work is being done by the Building Trades,” Parker told a crowd of union officials following the endorsement.
Boyer declined to answer questions about the exact financial support Parker will receive from the unions, except to say: “Financially, she’s going to be okay. That question is answered today. Cherelle now has the resources.”
During Kenney’s run for reelection in 2019, Building Trades Council member unions and related political action committees made up many of his campaign’s largest donors. More than 40% of his contributions came from unions of all stripes, according to the city’s campaign finance dashboard.
Financial reports indicate Parker entered the year with $460,000 in her campaign account. She has already benefited from sizable contributions from the sprinkler fitters’ and carpenters’ unions – both part of the Building Trades Council.
Boyer said the council met with each of the candidates, bringing three back for more extensive interviews. The decision to back Parker was unanimous, he added.
Two unions – the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees – abstained from the vote because they need time to confer with their members, Building Trades Council spokesperson Frank Keel said.
Local 98’s former leader, John Dougherty, was head of the Building Trades Council until being convicted of federal bribery charges in November 2021.
He led the drive to rally support for Kenney, and Boyer defended the council’s decision to endorse Kenney, as well as the current mayor’s record.
“Jim faced COVID and the problems that COVID brought to all major cities, but I think on balance Jim Kenney was a good man for the city,” Boyer said. “He moved it forward.”
While the Building Trades have united behind Parker, other major unions have sided with her competitors in the Democratic mayoral primary.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, AFSCME District Council 47 and UNITE HERE have endorsed progressive former City Councilmember Helen Gym, while grocer Jeff Brown has received support from Transport Workers Local 234, AFSCME District Council 33 and the United Food and Commercial Workers.