News & Politics

Working Families Party kicks off first-ever national convention in Philadelphia

The progressive labor-focused party welcomed lawmakers from around the region, labor leaders and more at the Downtown Sonesta Friday night

Philadelphia City Councilmember Kendra Brooks at the inaugural Working Families Party national convention, held in Philadelphia

Philadelphia City Councilmember Kendra Brooks at the inaugural Working Families Party national convention, held in Philadelphia Kasey Shamis

As she shared the emotional story of her upbringing on Chicago’s South Side, April Verrett reflected on the challenges many working-class people face when growing up in poverty and losing close family members at a young age. Verrett, the keynote speaker at the Working Families Party’s inaugural convention, spoke about how losing her parents and grandmother early in life led her to community work and, after years in organized labor, becoming the secretary-treasurer of SEIU International. 

“Poverty creates barriers to accessing education, health care, nutritional, supportive services and opportunities that we all need,” Verrett said. “And with that poverty, for far too many of us, comes shame — the shame that our circumstances are our fault (and) that we are poor because there is something wrong with us …That’s why the Working Families Party is so important in this moment, to fight back against that helplessness and that isolation.” 

The convention began in Philadelphia Friday night with hundreds of members, who came from Pennsylvania, New York and the party’s 19 state chapters nationwide, in attendance. Local and federal lawmakers joined national party leaders, labor leaders and community organizers at the Downtown Sonesta hotel to celebrate the party’s growth over the past 25 years – and to discuss its future. 

The progressive Working Families Party, established in New York in 1998, aligns itself with major labor unions and grassroots community organizations. The party’s priorities include fairer treatment of workers, a higher minimum wage, universal paid sick leave and more equitable education, environmental and tax reforms. 

Despite its progressive leanings, the party has consistently punched above its weight in recent elections. WFP has endorsed and campaigned for President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, and Gov. Josh Shapiro – and recently announced an endorsement of Judge Daniel McCaffery, the Democratic candidate for state Supreme Court, one of this year’s most contested races. 

Here in the commonwealth, WFP has made strides in the two biggest cities. For the last seven decades in Philadelphia, Democrats have held five at-large seats while Republicans have held two. At-large Philadelphia City Councilmember Kendra Brooks burst onto the scene as a WFP candidate in 2019, earning one of the two at-large seats in the city’s legislature that is held for the top non-majority party vote-getters. 

Now, as Brooks seeks reelection, her running mate, Nicolas O’Rourke – who fell short in his own City Council bid in 2019 – is hoping to take the second non-majority seat this year, which would essentially mean there would be no elected Republicans left in City Hall come January 2024. 

U.S. Rep. Summer Lee speaks during the opening night of the inaugural Working Families Party convention in Philadelphia/Harrison Cann

In Pittsburgh, progressive Democrat Summer Lee became the state’s first Black member of Congress when she was elected to represent the 12th congressional district in 2022. 

Maurice Mitchell, WFP’s national director, told City & State the party has been able to gain traction in large cities as voters get increasingly frustrated with the two-party system and money in politics. 

“It’s not like (corporation interests) care about D or R when they’re in Democratic-led cities. They do all of their lobbying…(and working people) don’t get a fair shake,” he said. “More and more Americans are dropping out of our politics because they’re not satisfied with the outcomes … we think that there is a massive demand for the type of politics that we’re bringing – common-sense, practical, progressive change.”

Not everyone was happy to see the party touch down in Philadelphia. The Freedom Foundation, which bills itself as a conservative free-market think tank, claimed that policies supported by WFP have been “ravaging the city.” 

“The people of Philadelphia deserve better than to live in a city in which they aren’t safe to go about their lives,” Hunter Tower, East Coast Director of the Freedom Foundation, said in a statement. “It turns out that policies have consequences, and left-wing agenda items like those celebrated by the WFP tend to produce unintended – though 100% foreseeable – outcomes.” 

The WFP convention continues in Philadelphia through the weekend. State delegates will vote on internal governance matters such as establishing rules and committees, and keynote speakers from around the country will deliver remarks throughout the three-day event.