HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Philip Ameris, who heads a labor organization that speaks for more than 15,000 western Pennsylvania laborers, opposed Tom Corbett when he was elected four years ago but has been whistling a different tune since passage of $2.3 billion a year in new transportation funding.
The money from higher fuel taxes and motorist fees is spawning new construction jobs across the state and the Laborers' District Council of Western Pennsylvania thanked Corbett last week by giving his re-election campaign its first major endorsement from organized labor.
Ameris, a lifelong Democrat, said he came to respect the Republican governor's integrity during their mutual involvement in negotiations leading up to the bill's passage in November.
Corbett is "someone you can trust and I think he's moving Pennsylvania in the right direction. ... He's very pragmatic and he keeps his word," Ameris, the group's president and business manager, said in a telephone interview.
Corbett's campaign manager, Mike Barley, said Corbett is working to win more union endorsements heading into the general election.
"He's focused on something we can all agree on, and that's jobs," Barley said.
Democrats are the traditional beneficiaries of financial and volunteer support from labor.
But the winner of the four-way Democratic gubernatorial primary, York businessman Tom Wolf, built his victory around a highly effective TV ad campaign financed largely with $10 million of his own money and little union support.
Although Wolf's family-owned building-products company is non-union, employees receive good wages and health care, as well as benefits that includes profit-sharing, said Wolf campaign spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan.
"I have to imagine that a lot of labor is going to be behind us," Sheridan said. "Tom is very pro-labor."
The state's two largest public employee unions both endorsed state Treasurer Rob McCord in the May 20 primary, but McCord finished third and they are now considering fresh endorsements for the fall campaign.
Wolf appears to have a leg up over Corbett for endorsements by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teacher union, and Council 13 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest state-employee union.
Wolf was all but certain to clinch an endorsement from the PSEA, which represents more than 150,000 active teachers and support staff, after the board of its political committee unanimously recommended backing Wolf last week. PSEA President Mike Crossey said that the union board was expected to concur at its Tuesday night meeting.
"Tom Corbett has been a terrible governor for education," Crossey said, citing Corbett's nearly $1 billion cut in education spending in 2011 as the catalyst for thousands of job cuts at public schools.
David Fillman, executive director of the 65,000-member AFSCME union, said the union fought with Corbett over his plans to privatize the state lottery and the state liquor stores, and over his stated willingness to sign two bills widely regarded as anti-union if lawmakers approve them.
Fillman said the union's steering committee will make the decision soon, but "my gut is we will be going with Wolf."
The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council are among the influential labor organizations that did not endorse in the primary but are considering doing so in the general election.