Summer Lee & Emily Kinkead Defeat Construction Unions in Pittsburgh

Pa. State Rep. Summer Lee (center) marches in downtown Pittsburgh In late May (Emmai Alaquiva)

PITTSBURGH, PA. – After having the pro-fracking unions spend more than $150,000 against her, Summer Lee, who was the first African-American woman ever elected to the State House from Western PA, soundly defeated them in their first re-election bid.

However, Lee, who had been helping to lead protests in Pittsburgh, was cautious to label it as a victory. 

“There’s no “victory” while our people are being brutalized and tear gassed. While COVID takes its toll. While black lives are under assault. Just work to do,” tweeted Lee.

The only unions who endorsed Summer Lee were UE, NEA, UFCW, PFT, and SEIU. 

(Full Disclosure: My father, Gene Elk, is the elected Director of Organization of the United Electrical Workers (UE), which has endorsed Summer Lee’s campaign. Representative Lee and I both attended Woodland Hills High School together, while it was still under federal desegregation orders in the early 2000s). 

The victory is still a stunning defeat for the white-led construction unions, who spent more than $150,000 to defeat Lee, making it one of the most expensive primaries in Western PA. 

Their defeat will likely encourage more candidates to be unafraid and face the construction unions when they take positions against fracking and pollution problems in Pittsburgh. 

The construction unions also suffered a stunning defeat on the North Side of Pittsburgh when 32-year-old-year activist lawyer Emily Kinead defeated incumbent PA State Representative Adam Ravenstahl, the brother of former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. 

Ravenstahl had supported E-Verify anti-immigrant policies and SEIU had spent heavily on behalf of Kinkead.

I am proud to have run a people-powered campaign that connected with voters across the district. Yesterday, and in the weeks leading up to it, those voters made it clear that they want bold, progressive leadership in Harrisburg and I am proud to be their choice for Democratic nominee,” said Kinkead.

With the defeat of these incumbents, left-wing women have now defeated an elected Democratic incumbent in 5 different elections; defeating incumbents to elect 3 women to the State House and 2 to County Council. 

“I think we are at a moment in time where we are seeing the erosion of a lot of women’s rights in a lot of ways,” says Arielle Teer, an activist involved heavily with UNITE, a new political organization that takes on the old guard in Pittsburgh. “I frankly think women are tired.”

Many feel that this is a sign that people are ready for candidates ready to change current policies.

“I think now we are seeing a lot of people, who aren’t afraid to come out with bold ideas and what we are seeing now. And I think that’s what we want right now, we want bravery and I think women are willing to do that.”

About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter who covered everything from Lula & the Brazilian labor movement to major league baseball. He spent years covering union organizing in the South for The Guardian and was labeled by the New York Times as an "abrasive gadfly" for exposing within the labor movement. Raised in a UE union family in Pittsburgh, Elk was illegally for union organizing at Politico in 2015 and used his NLRB settlement to start the crowd-funded Payday Report. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and is fluent in both Pittsburghese and Portuguese, which he learned when attending journalism school at PUC-Rio de Janerio. Email: [email protected]

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