Amid the fury and fray of this electoral moment, it’s worth remembering that small elections — you know, the ones that 80 percent of you don’t bother to vote in — matter, too. Take, for example, the 2011 Philadelphia primary election, in which more seats on Philly’s City Council were up for grabs than had been for years. Into that election was injected a gigantic pile of money and influence by John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 98 and overall Philly union boss. Doc bet on several races and won most of them, helping to secure, via his influence, the election of former IBEW political manager Bobby Henon to the city’s 6th Councilmanic District and helping install 5th District Councilman Darrell Clarke into the presidency of City Council.
That success might be starting to pay off, and one neat demonstration is a bill, introduced by Henon in October, that could have major implications for (especially non-union) contractors in Philadelphia. The bill, 120776 — co-sponsored by Clarke — substantially adds to the city’s laws governing contractors, imposing new requirements over permits and workplace information and also imposing new, substantial enforcement penalties.
Henon told City Paper that the bill is aimed at targeting an “underground economy” of unlicensed, tax-dodging and rule-breaking construction contractors. Though Henon noted that his bill had already been in the works, he acknowledged City Controller Alan Butkovitz’s announcement last month of an audit of illegal construction activities in North Philly as an example of why the bill was needed. Last summer, this reporter wrote about rampant and seemingly illegal construction practices near Temple University (Cover Story, “Land Grab,” June 28, 2012). While reporting, I came across IBEW members protesting several non-union construction projects.
Among the provisions in this proposed law: a requirement that contractors post lists of “all subcontractors of any tier”; a clause that holds “any contractor or subcontractor who hires independent contractors that have not paid any fees or taxes required to be paid to the City … liable for the payment of such fees and taxes”; and a provision that allows the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections to “seize any vehicles, equipment or tools used at a work site by any person or business entity working as an unlicensed contractor in violation of this Section.”
L&I officials declined to comment, as did the mayor’s spokesman, Mark McDonald, who said that the administration will present any opinions on the bill as testimony in Council. Henon expects hearings in November.