The majority white staff of the Register of Wills in Philadelphia are hoping to unionize. Their timing has aroused suspicions, however, as the move comes after Tracey Gordon, a Black woman, defeated 40-year veteran Ronald Donatucci in the Democratic primaries.
Employees claim their decision to unionize following decades of at-will employment has nothing to do with Tracey Gordon winning the primary. However, the employees do fear they may lose their job security after Gordon allegedly pledged to “clean the swamp.”
“They have families, they have obligations just like anyone else that has a job,” Steve Sannini, an employee leading the unionization efforts, told The Philadelphia Tribune. “No one wants to be dismissed for no reason.”
Philadelphia Democratic Committee Chairman Bob Brady told the newspaper that he supported Gordon and declined to take a position on the employees’ efforts to unionize. Brady, who could not be reached for further comment, said the employees are concerned about job security and that the effort was not suspicious. “I don’t think it’s racial at all,” he said.
Brady also confirmed that Gordon had told him she had no plans to replace all the employees at the Register of Wills. “As far as blankly just firing people, she said she’s not doing that,” Brady said. “And there’s a lot of people there with institutional knowledge that she says she even needs.”
Gordon, a community advocate who has run for three other public seats, did not respond to The North Star’s request for comment. However, Gordon’s campaign attorney Vivienne Crawford called the employees’ preemptive decision “most egregious.”
Donatucci had the authority to hire or fire the employees that were not hired through the civil service system, according to The Philadelphia Tribune.
The office currently has 83 employees, but had 71 employees in 2018 when the most recent information was collected. Demographic data from the City Controller revealed that the staff was majority white last year: 62 percent were white, 26.8 percent were Black, and 11.3 percent were Hispanic. The Philadelphia Tribune noted that office’s demographics do not represent those of the city, which has a population that is 35 percent white and 44 percent Black.
Employees at the Register of Wills have reached out to the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge #5 and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 47 about possible representation. Sannini explained that staff have worked with the FOP since 1984 when they broke off from AFSCME District Council 33. The FOP had helped employees with collective bargaining but employees have never paid union dues.
Michael Neilon, a spokesman for the FOP, told The Philadelphia Tribune that the union was looking into the request. Meanwhile, AFSCME District Council 47 did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment.
Despite claims that the efforts to unionize are due to fears over job security, some have said the move is an “absolute insult” and an example of unconscious bias. State Senator Anthony Williams told The Philadelphia Tribune that the move was “out of the playbook” and said it was an example of an effort to strip power away from a Black woman elected by Democratic primary voters.
Williams did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment.
The May primary saw Gordon facing off with 10-time incumbent Donatucci and another Black candidate, 61-year-old Jacque Whaumbush Jr. Gordon told reporters that she was running for the seat because she was concerned the office “has been like a hidden gem here in our city.”
Gordon noted that most voters are unaware that the Register of Wills was an elected position. “For over 40 years we’ve had an incumbent that has been invisible to our community and this has been very detrimental,” Gordon told The Philadelphia Tribune. “So I’m running to bring some transparency to this office. I want to make sure that people see the importance of getting their wills.”
On May 21, she became the first Black woman to be nominated for the Register of Wills position. With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Gordon grabbed 44 percent of the vote against Donatucci’s 40 percent, Philadelphia Magazine reported. There are no Republicans running for the seat in November, meaning Gordon’s victory is nearly a sure bet.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.