Reports on Growing Union Influence in Montgomery County

Today published an interesting article on the growing influence of the labor unions in the suburbs of Philadelphia, specifically Montgomery County. The article provides details on the potential for a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) to be put in place for Montgomery County’s now more than $400 million courthouse project in Norristown (if it goes up anymore it’s going to hit a half-billion dollars).

PLA’s are similar to the “Responsible Contractors” ordinances/policies that have been enacted by the Democratic Party controlled municipal governments in the Borough of Conshohocken, Whitemarsh Township, Plymouth Township, Colonial School District and West Norriton Township and others.

A PLA creates a set of standards for labor for a specific project, while a “Responsible Contractors” ordinances/policies are more broad to cover all public projects for a municipality or school district (usually a minimum dollar amount is established so it is limited to larger projects). Proponents argue that it provides the most professional labor force and opponents claim that it discriminates against non-union contractors.

What we found interesting, especially for, was it linking the implementation of these policies directly to the Democratic Party. From the article:

For one, PLAs follow political parties. Areas with more Democrats are more likely to be on board. The suburbs have been moving to the left for the last two decades; Montgomery County gained more than 7,000 registered Democrats in the past year alone.

In several Montgomery County towns, “responsible contractor ordinances,” which require contractors meet a number of standards, including running a government-approved “Class A apprenticeship,” recently have been adopted. Critics liken them to PLAs, saying they limit competition and divert work to unions. The Associated Builders – Contractors Eastern Pennsylvania chapter, a frequent and vocal critic of PLAs, has sued Plymouth Township; West Norriton Township; and Colonial School District, which includes Conshohocken, Plymouth and Whitemarsh Townships, saying the ordinances are discriminatory.

The article mentions labor leader “John “Johnny Doc” Doughtery’s Philadelphia Building Trades is lobbying county officials. Doughtery is under federal investigation. From the article:

The labor group, which comprises 50 unions and is run by the politically powerful electricians union head John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, is lobbying the Montgomery County Commissioners to approve a Project Labor Agreement for courthouse renovation in Norristown, a major part of a 10-year project that’s climbed in estimated costs to more than $400 million that includes renovating One Montgomery Plaza, constructing a new justice center, and expanding a nearby public park.

The article reports that according to campaign finance records, IBEW Local 98 (Doughtery’s union) donated $7,500 to the Montgomery County Democratic Committee in 2018. That figure likely doesn’t really tell the full story. It doesn’t report what the other unions that comprise the Philadelphia Building Trades may have donated.

In the suburbs, Bernard Griggs, Jr. is the representative of the Philadelphia Building Trades (basically Johnny Doc’s man in the suburbs). When “Responsible Contractor” ordinances/policies were being considered in Plymouth Township and for the Colonial School District, Briggs attended the meetings. Griggs is tight with the Democratic Party power structure in Montgomery County.

Below is a Tweet made by Griggs with PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh and failed candidate for State Representative Sara Johnson Rothman (she is on the Upper Dublin School Board).

Griggs pictured center with Val Arkoosh and Josh Shapiro to his far left. Picture:

In 2015, the Montgomery County Democratic Party even gave Griggs an award. From the website of the county party:

In accepting the Bob Cooper award, Griggs commented on how far Montgomery County Democrats have come in recent years, winning a majority on the Board of Commissioners in 2011 and in position to sweep county offices this year.  He promised strong support for Montco Democrats, whom he called “great friends and partners.”

Griggs (center right) with then Montco County Commissioner Josh Shapiro (now PA Attorney General) on far left, current Montco Commissioner Val Arkoosh immediate left), and current Montco DA Kevin Steele (on right) in 2015 during a Steele campaign event. Picture: Horsham Democratic Committee
Griggs (center right) at a campaign canvassing event with PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro (far left), failed candidate for State Representative Sara Johnson Rothman (immediate left). Photo: Sara for State Rep

In the article, Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh (D) states that nothing has been decided yet in relation to a PLA. What is interesting is that she mentions that the county has done other projects in recent years without a PLA and they have “worked well.” She also mentions that she wants to consider any legal challenges” that could result from approving a PLA.

As mentioned above, Associated Builders and Contractors – Eastern Pennsylvania filed lawsuits against Plymouth Township, the Colonial School District and West Norriton Township in 2018. It also filed a lawsuit in 2018 against Northampton County over the same issue.

2019 is an election year for Montgomery County’s Board of Commissioners. With a PLA at least potentially under consideration, it will be interesting to see how much money flows from the trade unions to the individual campaigns and the Democratic Party.

More to come.

Header Photo: Google