Joe Rockey got early union support in his campaign against Sara Innamorato for Allegheny County executive



A Pennsylvania group of trade labor unions is supporting Republican Joe Rockey over Democratic nominee Sara Innamorato for Allegheny County executive, a state union leader announced Thursday.

Coming just three weeks after the May 16 primary elections, the endorsement from the Pennsylvania District Council of the Laborers International Union is an early boost for Mr. Rockey in the battle for the grassroots and fundraising support from organized labor. Unions generally back Democratic candidates in Allegheny County, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a roughly 2-to-1 margin.

“I never judge a candidate by a party. I judge it by what that candidate can do for our membership and what the candidate believes,” Philip Ameris, the group’s president, told reporters Downtown at the Laborers Building.

He described Mr. Rockey, a former PNC executive, as a proven leader who believes “extreme political views will only cause division and stifle development and progress.” Ms. Innamorato’s support for a local ban on hydraulic fracturing — the natural gas drilling technique known as fracking — helped swing the labor council to the Republican, Mr. Ameris said.

The organization represents some 24,000 workers statewide, some in the fracking industry, he said. About 1,000 Allegheny County government workers are part of the group, which is rooted in construction and the public sector. Downtown-based Laborers Local 1058 and Monroeville-based Local 373 joined the council in endorsing Mr. Rockey.

Overall Laborers membership countywide is about 4,000 to 5,000, Mr. Ameris estimated. He said his council would be “a significant financial supporter” for Mr. Rockey but did not say how much it would contribute.

The regional group gave more than $100,000 to County Treasurer John Weinstein’s failed bid for the Democratic nomination for county executive, according to campaign finance reports. Echoing one of Ms. Innamorato’s campaign slogans, Mr. Ameris said Mr. Rockey, 58, would make “Allegheny prosper for all” through common-sense governance.

“We keep hearing that he can’t win. He can definitely win,” Mr. Ameris said.

In a statement to WESA, the Innamorato campaign said she’s “the pro-union candidate” in the race and would work to make “Allegheny County the most pro-union county in the country.” 

Ms. Innamorato “has shown up on picket lines for carpenters, Teamsters, teachers, UPMC workers, painters and steelworkers,” her campaign said.

Mr. Rockey, of Ohio Township, has said he would draw on his corporate experience to sell employers on bringing jobs to Western Pennsylvania. Speaking with reporters last month, he called himself “an ideal candidate” for building trades unions “because I am about growth.”

And in a recent fundraising email to supporters, Mr. Rockey cast Ms. Innamorato, a state representative from Lawrenceville, as a threat to the local economy. The progressive’s opposition to fracking “would ruin our chances at finally securing economic prosperity,” Mr. Rockey wrote.

“It is imperative that we support our unions,” Mr. Rockey said Thursday, noting his late father and father-in-law were “passionate union members.”

His agenda emphasizes union labor, including for the construction of new plants, he said. Natural gas in Western Pennsylvania can drive manufacturing, cultivate union jobs and help the environment by cutting reliance on coal-fired plants in China and elsewhere, Mr. Rockey said. 

He ran unopposed for the Republican nomination for county executive. A third-term state lawmaker, Ms. Innamorato, 37, topped a six-candidate field to win the Democratic nominationwith more than 37% of the vote.

Her union support includes the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union. Several SEIU entities accounted for more than $280,000 of her roughly $843,000 in campaign fundraising from January through April, according to financial disclosures.

Outgoing County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a Democrat first elected in 2011, is term-limited.

While Democrats enjoy close relationships with unions, it’s not unprecedented for Republicans to win endorsements from more conservative segments of organized labor. The Laborers council in Western Pennsylvania endorsed then-Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, for reelection in 2014, and Republican John Rafferty for state attorney general in 2016.

At the national level, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters endorsed Ronald Reagan for president in 1980 and again in 1984 — and the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Donald Trump for president in 2016 and 2020.