Much like Pennsylvania was the birthplace of America, it was also home to one of the very first chapters in the American labor movement’s history.
In the late 1700s, shoemakers in Philadelphia formed a “Society of Journeymen Cordwainers” – one of the first examples of sustained trade union organizing in the nation. The shoemakers advocated for increased wages, but were dealt a devastating blow when the Philadelphia Mayor’s Court charged eight of them with a conspiracy to raise their wages. While the cordwainers weren’t nearly as successful as they had hoped to be, the influence they had on the labor movement was significant nonetheless. Hundreds of years later, Pennsylvania unions play a key role in standing up for the interests of their workers, and hold immense power in the state’s political landscape.
City & State’s Pennsylvania Labor Power 100 recognizes labor leaders and workers advocates at the forefront of today’s organized labor movement. From efforts to increase pay and benefits for unionized workers to expanding workplace protections for public sector employees, the 2021 Labor Power 100 is a who’s who of leading figures in Pennsylvania labor.
1. Richard Bloomingdale
President, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO
Richard Bloomingdale was unanimously elected as the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO’s president at the 39th Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Convention in 2010, and has led the Keystone State’s chapter of the AFL-CIO ever since. Bloomingdale represents more than 900,000 members as head of the state AFL-CIO, and plays an active role in advocating for their interests at the state level. Bloomingdale and the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO have been strong advocates for enhanced protections for workers, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bloomingdale has called for OSHA protections to be expanded for public sector workers, as well as the creation of a “Workers Bill of Rights” to enhance collective bargaining powers and promote safe workplaces. The state AFL-CIO is a major political donor to candidates running for office at the state level, having contributed to campaigns on both sides of the aisle over the years. Bloomingdale was tapped by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2019 to serve on the governor’s Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center, which later unveiled recommendations on how government officials and private sector leaders can break down barriers to gainful employment. Bloomingdale has deep roots in the labor movement, spending 16 years as secretary-treasurer of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO before being elected president. He began his career at AFSCME, working as a project staff representative and state political/legislative director.
2. Rich Askey
Since 2018, Rich Askey has led the Pennsylvania State Education Association, where he represents an education-oriented union made up of more than 178,000 members, including teachers, bus drivers, school nurses and cafeteria workers. As president of the PSEA, Askey is one of the state’s loudest voices on behalf of educators and public schools. The union has been closely allied with Gov. Tom Wolf throughout his two terms in office, largely due to his support for boosting state spending on public education. The PSEA spent more than $1 million in support of Wolf in 2018 when he ran for re-election. Askey and his members have rallied against an expansion of school choice policies that could divert funds away from public schools. They also have highlighted the need for policymakers to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for teachers. Askey is himself a member of the PSEA, and has taught music in the Harrisburg School District for more than three decades. Prior to becoming president, Askey served as PSEA’s vice president, treasurer and was a member of the union’s board of directors. His experience isn’t limited to just PSEA; Askey served on the National Education Association’s board of directors for five years and is also a member of Gov. Tom Wolf’s Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, which advises the governor and those within his administration on policies, programs and legislation that would impact LGBTQ communities.
3. David Henderson
Executive Director, AFSCME Council 13
It’s hard to understate the influence that David Henderson and AFSCME Council 13 have on the Pennsylvania political arena. With more than 65,000 members, Council 13 is one of the largest public sector unions in Pennsylvania, and has the receipts to prove it. From 2019 to 2020, Council 13 spent more than $1.6 million on political expenditures – a figure that demonstrates the political weight of the union. AFSCME Council 13 has advocated for expanded OSHA protections to include public sector workers, and has been a vocal opponent of a state plan to consolidate state-owned universities, which they say will result in job cuts. Henderson, who assumed responsibility at Council 13 earlier this year, is a 41-year AFSCME member whose family also has a long history with the organization. Henderson currently is an international vice president for AFSCME and most recently served as director of AFSCME District Council 85, a position he held since 2009. Henderson has also co-chaired the Resolutions Committee at Council 13, as well as the council’s Elections Committee, Sergeant of Arms Committee and began serving on the Elections Committee for AFSCME’s international convention earlier this year. He first joined AFSCME in 1979 and worked as a corrections officer with incarcerated individuals with mental disabilities.
4. Wendell Young IV
President, UFCW Local 1776 Keystone State
Wendell Young IV’s father served as president of UFCW Local 1776 for more than 40 years, a position that his son would ultimately assume in 2005. Now, following in his father’s footsteps as president of UFCW Local 1776 Keystone State, Wendell Young IV leads a union comprised of more than 35,000 workers in supermarkets, food processing, gaming, manufacturing, medical cannabis and state liquor stores. Young is a leading defender of the state-run liquor store system, often leading efforts to oppose moves to privatize it in an effort to protect the jobs and benefits of employees at Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores. Young’s UFCW local has also expanded its work into the medical marijuana space, and his union now represents workers throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and Ohio, following a merger in 2018 with UFCW Local 23. The union became one of the most active voices in support of frontline workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with so many food and commercial workers designated as “life-sustaining” workers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Young underscored the need for hazard pay during periods of significant virus spread and pressured the state to expand vaccine access for frontline workers. He is also a vice president of UFCW International, and serves as president and chair of the board of directors for the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.
5. Bobby McAuliffe
Director, United Steelworkers International
Bobby “Mac” McAuliffe is a veteran union activist who has been ingrained in the labor movement since getting involved with his local union upon joining National Material Corp. in 1978. He was quickly elected vice president, and later, president of the union. He spent six years as an associate instructor at the Center for Worker Health and Safety Education in Cincinnati. He also served six terms as president of a large local in United Steelworkers’ former District 19, serving on various committees. McAuliffe joined United Steelworkers International Staff in 1997 as a technician, and later helped develop the union’s organizing plans for members in right-to-work states. McAuliffe was elected District 10 director in 2013, which represents the state of Pennsylvania, and prior to that, served as the Rapid Response coordinator for District 10. In 2020, McAuliffe was named “Labor Leader of the Year” in the March of Dimes Transportation, Building and Construction Awards. He was a staunch supporter of state legislation offering to provide emergency sick leave to Pennsylvania workers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. McAuliffie is a member of the Pennsylvania Workforce Development Board, the governor’s group of private sector policy advisors on workforce-related issues. A veteran, McAuliffe was honorably discharged from the Navy and served three tours of duty overseas.
6. Neal Bisno
International Executive Vice President, SEIU
Neal Bisno is a major player at SEIU, currently serving as the union’s international executive vice president, where he oversees organizing, political and member engagement efforts for a labor union made up of more than 2 million members. In this role, Bisno helps develop large organizing campaigns and build the union’s national political strength. Most recently, Bisno led SEIU’s efforts to mobilize members and engage voters to win Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin for President Joe Biden. Bisno’s Pennsylvania roots are strong, as he currently resides in Pittsburgh and previously was president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, where he represented more than 45,000 workers, spearheaded organizing campaigns among health care workers and helped advocate for higher wages and staffing protections. Bisno also was a key force in advancing Pennsylvania’s 2008 law banning forced overtime for nurses and other health care workers. He also pushed for an expansion of Medicaid in Pennsylvania and was on Gov. Tom Wolf’s transition committee in 2014. Bisno has been involved with the labor movement since 1989; his familiarity with workers and their needs, coupled with his extensive experience with SEIU, makes him one of the most accomplished labor leaders in the state, not to mention the nation.
7. Matthew Yarnell
President, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania
When elected president of SEIU Health Pennsylvania in 2016, Matthew Yarnell became the youngest leader of a major union in Pennsylvania and the highest-ranking LGBTQ labor leader in the state. He leads a union made up of nearly 45,000 health care workers, including staff at hospitals, nursing homes, state facilities and other locations. Prior to becoming president, he was SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania’s executive vice president for long term care. Yarnell began his career as a nursing home aide, and joined SEIU Healthcare PA as an organizer in 2001. He then worked his way up to roles including vice president and executive vice president. As the union’s leader, Yarnell was instrumental in organizing a one-day strike involving roughly 1,500 nursing home workers this summer, which was called off before ever occurring after workers reached preliminary agreements with their employers. Still, the planned nursing home strikes demonstrated the power of both SEIU Healthcare PA and its members, as they leveraged their collective strength. Yarnell has made higher wages, union protections, LGBTQ equality and racial justice key tenets of his tenure as president, and has advocated for such policies at the state level. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on long-term care facilities, Yarnell has placed a particular emphasis on wages at nursing homes, as well as the conditions that employees face amid staffing shortages and outdated state regulations.
8. William Sproule
Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters
As the executive secretary-treasurer of the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, William Sproule oversees more than 41,000 members across seven states and Washington, D.C. Sproule was formerly president and regional manager of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, before it was dissolved and merged with the Keystone + Mountain + Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters in 2018. He then was appointed as assistant executive secretary-treasurer for the newly formed council, which was later renamed the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters. He was named executive secretary-treasurer in April 2019, and now oversees the development of the council’s policies and procedures, as well as everyday operations of the council’s local unions. He has a hand in developing collective bargaining agreements, as well as increasing job opportunities for union membership. Sproule also serves on multiple authorities and boards in New Jersey, and is a trustee for the Philadelphia & Vicinity Joint Apprenticeship Training Fund, as well as the Philadelphia and Vicinity Funds. He began his career as an apprentice carpenter in what was formerly Atlantic City Local 623, and had a hand in building many casino-based projects in Atlantic City, including Caesars, Harrah’s Resort and the Taj Mahal. The EAS Regional Council of Carpenters represents carpenters, both commercial and residential, as well as a number of other trades, and has fought for union jobs while working to stop efforts to pass right-to-work laws in member states such as West Virginia and Delaware.
9. Arthur Steinberg
President, American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania
Arthur Steinberg was first elected President of AFT Pennsylvania in 2019, and again in 2021, and represents more than 36,000 members across 61 locals in Pennsylvania. Steinberg is also treasurer of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the chief trustee of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health & Welfare Fund. He joined PFT as a staff representative in 1983, and later became a coordinator for PFT’s Health and Welfare Fund. Steinberg is an educator himself, beginning his career as a special education teacher at Philadelphia’s Edison High School. He also attended Philadelphia public schools. Since being elected president, Steinberg has advocated at the state level the cleanup and rehabilitation of toxic school buildings, a rewrite of the state’s charter school laws and safe reopening of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. The AFT has supported increased funding for public schools, along with many other educational advocacy groups. The union has also thrown its political weight behind candidates running for state and federal office, including a large number of Democrats in the 2020 general election. AFT Pennsylvania has released a series of principles on racial justice designed to guide members and educators on how to recognize and address factors that lead to racial and social inequality. An affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, the union is made up of faculty and staff at public, private and charter schools at all levels of education.
10. Ryan N. Boyer
Business Manager, Laborers’ District Council of Philadelphia & Vicinity
Ryan Boyer comes from deep labor roots, having grown up in a union household. Years later, Boyer is now ingrained in the labor movement himself, representing more than 5,000 members as business manager of the Laborers’ District Council of Philadelphia & Vicinity, where he helps workers secure projects and advocates for the hiring of union workers. The district council represents workers throughout four locals in the Philadelphia region. Boyer also serves as president of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, where he works closely with labor leaders John Dougherty and Patrick Eiding. He’s even been discussed as a potential successor to “Johnny Doc,” who currently serves as the trades council’s business manager. Boyer is president of the LiUNA African American Caucus, where he works to promote justice, jobs and equality both within and beyond the labor movement. He also served on the Delaware River Port Authority as its chairman, a position he left earlier in 2021. Boyer also holds some significant clout in Philadelphia politics, with potential mayoral candidates already clamoring for his support. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently described Boyer as “the most powerful person in Philly you haven’t heard of,” due to his steady, upward rise in the Philadelphia labor movement, as well as his relationship with current Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. It’s likely that Boyer’s influence will continue to sway elections in the coming years.