This story originally appeared in The Philadelphia Tribune.
Ryan N. Boyer is making history as the first African American to be elected business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council.
Boyer’s appointment comes after longtime leader John Dougherty resigned from the labor organization’s top role after a jury found Dougherty guilty of federal bribery charges.
Boyer, 50, is business manager of the Laborers District Council of Metropolitan Philadelphia and Vicinity, which represents four locals comprising the only majority Black building trades union in the region.
He was appointed to lead the politically influential Building Trades Council on Wednesday afternoon.
“As a child of the labor movement, I know, firsthand, the ways in which labor and our unions change lives,” Boyer said in a statement. “By fighting for our members, we are fighting for working families and fighting against poverty, and these are battles we must win.”
His appointment comes as President Joe Biden signs a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan.
“With the recent passage of the Biden infrastructure plan, there will be opportunities for labor and our members that we have not seen in generations,” said Boyer, who formerly served as chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority. “The Philadelphia Building Trades will have a major seat at the table and a loud voice in the room when infrastructure investments are made across this region.”
The council has faced criticism throughout the years for its lack of racial diversity. According to public analyses, aside from Laborers District Council, the other construction trade unions are largely white and suburban.
“One of my leading priorities will be to build upon the progress we have made towards ensuring that our unions reflect the diversity of our region,” Boyer said in the statement.
U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd District, said Boyer’s appointment represents a long-overdue change to the building trades unions.
“It sends a message to African Americans and other communities of color (the) change that he has the potential to make,” Evans said.
“At least with him being there he can be a voice and challenge individuals about trying to get people of color a real opportunity,” he said, noting that for years African-American males felt like they haven’t had a true shot in the unions.
“As the business manager, at least he can raise questions and challenges on this issue,” Evans said.
The congressman also said the appointment is timely in light of Biden’s infrastructure package, which invests federal funds to repair the nation’s roads, bridges, transit, water and sewer systems.
“African Americans must and should have a legitimate opportunity to participate,” he said.
While local politicians have hailed Boyer’s appointment, some community members questioned his ability to make the city’s building trades unions more diverse.
“His choice was immediate and that tells me that he’s a very good politician,” Jay McCalla, a former city deputy managing director, said of the council’s decision to select Boyer.
“His relationships with everybody there has been terrific but yet it’s commonly understood that the building trades has maintained some practice that keeps African Americans out and keeps women out,” he said. “I don’t think that there will be any change.”
“I think that Ryan will have to play that same role that past business managers have played. The city needs building trades that embraces everybody and he’s not going to provide that,” McCalla said.
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