Greg Boulware has been elected as the new leader of AFSCME DC 33 in Philadelphia

Greg Boulware unseated Omar Salaam as president of Philadelphia’s largest city workers union, ending a hotly contested election and setting the stage for high-stakes contract negotiations with Mayor Cherelle L. Parker’s administration.

The election for president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 33, a union of about 9,000 blue-collar city workers, followed the ouster of former President Ernest Garrett in February.

Boulware previously led Local 394, which represents Department of Water employees and is one of 15 unions that make up DC 33. Boulware is an ally of Garrett, and his election ends, at least for now, an intense power struggle.

Salaam, of Sanitation Workers Local 427, took over as interim president of DC 33 after he and other union officials ousted Garrett for making decisions without board approval. (Garrett, who denied committing a crime, was barred from running for office by AFSCME).

(*33*)” READ MORE: Police arrived at the AFSCME District Council 33 offices after union leaders allegedly got into a fight

According to Boulware spokesman Bret Coles, in this week’s second round of postal voting, Boulware won 1,636 votes and Salaam 1,460. Boulware was sworn in on Tuesday, and his term will last four years.

Other members of Boulware’s “Back to Basics” group also won: Antoine Little became vice president and Joan Gallagher became secretary and treasurer after defeating Salaam’s “New Direction” group.

Boulware said the signal his slate was trying to send was to “try to get back to the essence of unionism and educate and train our people to mobilize” and bring “some decency and fairness back to DC 33.”

“We have moved a little bit away from what the approach to trade unions should be,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

What does the DC 33 election mean for Philadelphia?

Emotions after Garrett’s overthrow are still high. Last week, police responded to DC 33 when Boulware and Salaam got into a physical altercation, which both men blame on each other. (No arrests have been made and Boulware said the police investigation remains open.)

The conflict has its roots in the early 1990s, when Herman “Pete” Matthews unseated James Sutton as president of DC 33 after Sutton agreed to major contract concessions with then-Mayor Ed Rendell, which unionists still criticize to this day.

Salaam was aligned with Matthews until Garrett defeated Matthews in a shocking upset in the 2020 election. Boulware and Garrett have ties to Sutton, and Garrett employs his wife, Evon Sutton, as political director.

Boulware, however, rejected the notion that there are factions within DC 33 and said he is focused on uniting the union.

“My job as president will be to do what is in the best interest of the 33rd District Council,” he said. “We hope to galvanize everyone into action and keep everyone united.”

Salaam did not respond to an interview request on Tuesday. Last week he said that “the difference between me and Greg is that I believe in responsibility.”

“I believe that as a union official, my priority is membership,” Salaam said.

DC 33’s contract with the city expires this summer, and Parker has requested a one-year extension of contracts with the municipality’s four major unions as her new administration takes office. Police and firefighter unions have already agreed to one-year contracts. Neither DC 33 nor DC 47 AFSCME, which represents the city’s non-uniformed white-collar workers, reached an agreement.

Salaam did not rule out a one-year deal, with Boulware partly pushing for a traditional multi-year deal. The city is in relatively good financial shape this year, and waiting until 2025 could risk an economic downturn that would leave the Parker administration with fewer resources available during negotiations.

“It gives our guys a little bit of long-term security,” Boulware said of the multi-year deal. “We have no idea what the city’s financial prospects are in the long term.”

He demands raises and changes in the pension system. He also wants the city to change residency requirements for DC 33 members, who currently must live in the city for their entire career, so that they are treated the same as police officers, who can move out of Philadelphia after five years in office.

That could create an unwanted headache for the Parker administration, which last week concluded negotiations with the City Council on a new $6.37 billion budget that takes effect July 1.

Parker and Salaam seemed to agree on many issues. During last year’s Democratic mayoral primary, Salaam led his residents in taking the unusual step of endorsing Parker and breaking with DC 33, which supported candidate Jeff Brown under Garrett.

This year, Parker chose to bring Salaam on stage with her for appearances such as a press conference on the city’s response to January’s snowstorm and last week’s rally in support of her summer cleanup initiative.

Boulware expressed confidence that the mayor would understand the needs of DC 33.

“We promised our members that we would be strong advocates on their behalf,” he said. “I hope the administration will understand the plight of our citizens over these many years.”

Staff writer Anna Orso contributed material.

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