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March 31, 2023

Philly mayor's race 2023: How to combat inflation locally; which candidates support recent labor organizing efforts

Those campaigning for the city's top office answered our questions about making Philadelphia more affordable and unions

2023 Election Mayoral Race
mayor candidates unions Kristin Hunt/PhillyVoice

There have been efforts to unionize employees working in different industries in the city in recent months, like the Starbucks workers pictured above. Philadelphia's candidates for mayor were asked if they support the workers' rights to organize and what they can do to stem inflation locally.

Jobs and the economy are top voter issues in most election cycles, but as Philadelphians continue to feel the weight of soaring consumer prices and local workers increasingly vote to unionize, both seem more important than ever.

Over the past year, Philadelphians have seen higher costs on gas and liquor, as well as everyday grocery items like eggs, which have reached nearly $5/dozen in local supermarkets. As the COVID-19 public health emergency comes to an end, so are boosted SNAP benefits and once-free medication.

Workers across the city have also been organizing increasingly for, among other benefits, increased wages. Baristas, medical school residents and museum workers have all unionized — and a few have even walked off the job to strike for better conditions.

Six candidates for mayor in the May 16 primary elections shared their plans to improve cost of living, create better-paying jobs and support workers via email with PhillyVoice, including David Oh, the former councilmember at-large who is the lone candidate on the Republican ballot. Warren Bloom, Amen Brown, Jeff Brown, James DeLeon, Cherelle Parker and Delscia Gray did not respond to requests to participate, but this article will be updated if any of these candidates opt to submit answers to our questions. (Editor's Note: Maria Quiñones Sánchez and Derek Green dropped out of the mayoral race after this questionnaire was published. The candidates' responses were lightly edited only for style and formatting.)

What will you do to address record-breaking inflation, and make basic expenses more affordable for Philadelphians? 

ALLAN DOMB: First, we must address the ongoing violence and sense of lawlessness in our city. If we don't get that under control, Philadelphia will not be considered a viable option for growth and job creation. Additionally, we need to fix our broken education system so that families want to stay, grow, and pay taxes here, and have confidence their children will receive a quality education.

I have three overarching goals for economic opportunity over the next decade: 

1. Increase our population by 100,000 new residents. 
2. Create 100,000 new, good-paying jobs.
3. Take 100,000 people out of poverty. 

This starts by making it easier to create jobs for city residents. Our current tax system is outdated and a burden to current and potential businesses and, therefore, an obstacle for workers and job seekers. We have the demand for work, we need to increase the supply of good, paying jobs. 

We also need to increase opportunities for entrepreneurs, and make real, meaningful investments in them, as well as small businesses in our neighborhoods, particularly those black-and-browned owned. Philadelphia's business ownership should more accurately reflect its population, rather than trail far behind as it does today. Business ownership is the best way to help lift Philadelphia residents out of poverty and build generational wealth. 

Finally, to prepare the next generation of entrepreneurs, I want our schools to teach financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and technology. I also support providing high school students the opportunity to work one day a week, get credit and get paid.

DEREK GREEN: Although inflation and high basic expenses are national and state issues that impact Philadelphia residents, the city can take steps to address poverty. As mayor, I will be proactive in developing and growing job opportunities in emerging industries that provide family-sustaining jobs. Industries like life sciences (i.e., cell and gene therapies) are growing rapidly in Philadelphia. Residents with a high school diploma and some additional skills will have the opportunity to work in new labs in this expanding industry. As a city, we need to capitalize on this growing job sector and develop the training opportunities for our citizens so that they can obtain family sustaining jobs that can offset current inflation pressures and high expenses.

HELEN GYM: Our next mayor needs to lead with a real anti-poverty mission where our government leans in and helps our most vulnerable residents overcome the burden of rising costs and access services that help combat poverty. 

It starts with the city budget. Our city and its residents need well-funded public schools, better sanitation services, and every resource at our disposal to keep communities healthy and safe. We need full-service libraries, parks, and recreation centers – all of which need to be open on evenings and weekends so our young people have safe havens outside of school hours. We need to deliver city services that do more than just meet needs — the lighting up and cleaning up of our streets, sealing of vacant lots, and beautification of parks and green spaces is a proven antidote to violence. 

The Biden agenda showed how the Child Tax Credit nearly cut child poverty in half. We should be exercising tax breaks to go to families in need. We can clear civil debt, provide care packages for new moms with guaranteed diaper banks and formula access, and better support food banks – because we have to end hunger. 

It's also about ensuring those in low wage work have access to things that have traditionally lifted people up, like unionization and stable schedules. We can build on my anti-poverty initiatives that we passed into law on City Council, such as my Eviction Diversion Program and Fair Workweek. As mayor, I'll deliver a real anti-poverty agenda and a promise for economic opportunity and livability for all Philadelphians.

DAVIID OH: The Inflation we are experiencing today is primarily caused by the excessive increase in aggregate demand resulting from too much government deficit spending. Reducing inflation is handled at the federal level, typically by raising interest rates higher than the level of inflation, exercising fiscal discipline, removing government imposed barriers to supply, and promoting faster growth in supply of goods and services. More government spending and more debt would increase inflation. 

The knee-jerk reaction by local politicians seeking popular approval would be to impose citywide price controls. This would make matters worse. As mayor, I will support the federal effort to reduce inflation and oppose local efforts to impose price control. I would convene a group of expert economists to advise me, my administration and City Council on the practical step we can take to curb the effects of inflation in our city and help those who need it in ways that do not increase or prolong inflation.

MARIA QUIÑONES SÁNCHEZ: The best way the Mayor can make basic expenses more affordable for Philadelphians is to make housing more affordable – in Philadelphia 40% of families are cost burdened due to increasing housing costs. 

In my administration, every city department will have an anti-poverty plan, and we will use every tool in the toolbox to create diverse, mixed-income neighborhoods with affordable housing, access to transit, good schools, and family-sustaining jobs. 

We will duplicate successful affordable housing models and develop our own voucher program, invest in housing preservation and scale up home repair programs, and expand income-based payments, benefits access, and basic income pilot programs.

REBECCA RHYNHART: I support an increase to the commonwealth's minimum wage so that one job is enough to support a family. The determination of the commonwealth's minimum wage is beyond the jurisdiction of the mayor of Philadelphia. However, it's beyond time that our state leaders increase the minimum wage so that our residents can earn a dignified wage for their work and as mayor, I would use my position to advocate for that change.

Workers across several industries have unionized in Philadelphia over the past year. Do you support their efforts, and how do you plan to tackle labor/workers' rights more broadly? 

ALLAN DOMB: I support the rights of workers across the city to unionize for better pay and an overall better quality of life. My entire platform is focused on supporting Philadelphia's workers, residents and job creators. I do not think of these groups as separate, siloed policy areas, because that too often creates conflicting promises. I am proud that in my private sector career, I have worked with unions and utilized union labor. 

As mayor, I will focus on creating good-paying jobs for working people and their families; working with labor to expand access to employment pipelines with an emphasis on increasing workforce diversity; building more quality, affordable housing; and improving our public education system beyond just classroom performance, but also building infrastructure and institutional support systems that aim to improve the overall well-being of Philadelphia's youth. 

As mayor, I will be a champion for unions because they play an essential role in our city's workforce development and economic opportunity.

DEREK GREEN: Yes. I am the beneficiary of collective bargaining, having grown up in the home of a public school teacher and seeing its value firsthand. Collective bargaining protects the needs of workers and empowers them to articulate their wants. By protecting the benefits of those jobs, collective bargaining is essential to sustaining our middle class. By creating a shared voice, average residents are better able to articulate their political needs. I have lived with the benefits of a union home and seek to preside with the benefits of a union city.

HELEN GYM: My legislative agenda while on City Council set a gold standard for how the City of Philadelphia can expand worker protections and stand with labor. I established a permanent City Department of Labor dedicated to enforcing worker protection laws and creating an open line of communication between the city and its unions and workers rights organizations. I passed the most expansive Fair Workweek law in the country, guaranteeing stable schedules, predictability pay, and a path to full-time hours for 130,000 hourly workers in the retail, restaurant, and hospitality industries. 

In the midst of COVID-19, I wrote and passed the Black Workers Matter Economic Justice package, ensuring 12,000 hospitality workers in hotels, entertainment venues, and the Philadelphia International Airport are given first right of return to jobs they held prior to the pandemic. To address the need to protect workers from unsafe workplaces during the pandemic, I wrote and passed the Essential Workers Protection Act, a first in the nation anti-retaliation law to protect workers seeking to uphold public health mandates in the workplace. This law prohibits retaliation — including termination, reduction in pay or hours, or other adverse actions — against all Philadelphia workers who report or disclose violations of a COVID-related public health order, or other public health orders, in their workplace. It also prohibits retaliation if workers decline to work in working conditions that they reasonably believe to be illegally dangerous and unhealthy. I successfully championed efforts to fund community organizations to help ensure workers throughout the city are informed and empowered to enforce their labor rights. 

I was also the forefront of supporting Local 397's fight for a fair contract for Philadelphia Museum of Art workers, leading City Council in supporting the union and convening special budget hearings to hold the museum accountable. I have been vocal in my support for worker organizing in Philadelphia, mostly recently in solidarity with TUGSA, and have stood in support of Starbucks and other food service workers as they demand recognition for their unions and seek to bargain fairly with their employers. 

I also have led legislation to ensure service workers employed in publicly-subsidized buildings qualify for the city's prevailing wage ordinance, and co-sponsored legislation to provide city contractors and sub-contractors with a $15/hour living wage. I have continually used my position to stand up for the needs of our public workers (from the Streets Department, to the prisons, to the libraries, to the 911 call center, and more) and their right to be treated with respect, be given just compensation, and have safe working conditions.

DAVID OH: Workers have a right to try to unionize. I support collective bargaining and efforts to unionize. However, that is up to the parties involved. As mayor, I will enforce the city's labor and employment laws.

MARIA QUIÑONES SÁNCHEZ: Yes, I believe that all workers have the right to pursue unionization. No candidate in this race has done more to raise wages and improve conditions for Philadelphia's workers. 

I co-authored Philadelphia's original 21st Century Living Wage Standard, which lifted thousands of workers out of poverty, raising wages to $15/hour for city workers and contractors and won wage increases and better work conditions for thousands of airport workers campaigning alongside SEIU and UNITE. 

I also co-sponsored Philadelphia's first, paid, sick-leave requirement, co-sponsored the Fair Work Week, and created the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. 

As mayor, I will make sure that the city workforce is fairly compensated and will negotiate contracts that reduce disparities between uniform and non-uniform union benefits.

REBECCA RHYNHART: I support workers' rights to unionize. Unions lead to employees having higher wages, better benefits and access to basic health and safety policies that create stronger working environments. The stability afforded by unions allow employees to plan for their futures and ensure their families can thrive. 

Additionally, I will also work tirelessly to create workforce pipelines and job training for the residents of our most disadvantaged neighborhoods. I will invest in the Community College of Philadelphia, a workforce development engine for so many Philadelphians, and I will make sure that publicly-funded workforce training programs are focused on measurable, skill-based outcomes. 

Our city is emerging as the epicenter for life sciences, a sector projected to bring thousands of jobs to our city in the coming years. We must create workforce pipelines and job training programs centered in our neighborhoods where we can upskill our residents, so they can access good jobs with family-sustaining wages. We can do this through technical training and scaling up the capacity of organizations already offering such training through partnerships with the city. 

Over the next 5 years, Philadelphia will have the opportunity to access approximately $735 million of federal funding. This historic investment from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) represents a once in a lifetime opportunity for cities to invest not only in infrastructure but in our local business economy and minority contractors. As a member of Accelerator for America, I have had the opportunity to work with and meet with mayors from across the country discussing the best practices for both the IIJA money and the American Recovery money. The IIJA money specifically calls for 10% of spending on surface transportation and transit programs to be spent on Disadvantaged Business Enterprises. Even without the direct mandate for energy, water and other projects, as mayor, I will encourage our utility companies and direct city departments to exceed that metric and have our minority participation in these projects reflect the rich diversity of our city. By identifying which infrastructure projects we will prioritize and setting minority participation goals we can create a new generation of minority owned construction businesses and an opportunity to build true wealth in our communities. 

To truly position communities to take advantage of the jobs created by this influx of money, we need to establish training hubs, such as the Laborers Training facility, in our neighborhoods to help upskill residents to be ready to fill the needed roles as the projects begin. This can be accomplished through apprenticeship programs, Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses in our high schools and partnering with trades and other organizations that can go directly into our different communities to train and develop a new workforce. As mayor, I will move to fund such programs and provide the support needed for their success.

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