Philadelphia union president fights against childhood vaccination policy

Union officials say the leader of a union that represents drivers at the City of Philadelphia fought an immunization requirement for some students, leading the union to abandon him.

Marley Gaskins, president of the Teamsters Local 241, lost Tuesday’s re-election bid in a split election between left-leaning supporters and more conservative members. He was opposed by three-term incumbent Gilbert Salgado, who was supported by right-leaning members.

Neither Gaskins nor Salgado, who both voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, would comment publicly on the result, citing a confidentiality clause in the union’s bylaws.

But Gaskins’ four opponents all said they opposed his support for a “personal mandate” — a policy that would require students’ parents to approve of them being vaccinated. That plan was implemented by the Philadelphia School District in 2015, and has since spread to several other Pennsylvania school districts.

Gaskins campaigned as the true unionist, running a “no-nonsense” campaign that said “the union cares about working people.” His opponent Salgado said that Gaskins changed his voting record and therefore became a puppet for the City of Philadelphia.

Gaskins won the election by two votes and said Wednesday that he was not concerned about the results.

“I’m proud of my campaigns, proud of my work, proud of our members and proud to represent the city of Philadelphia,” he said.

Gaskins’ opponents said he personally tried to stop one child from being vaccinated before the 2005 Commonwealth of Pennsylvania mandate.

After lobbying to overturn the mandate, Gaskins left behind his brother’s job to become a Trolley Car Driver union officer. He left that role in 2009 to represent Teamsters members in a claim against the city. That case resulted in a $210,000 settlement with the city over vehicle code violations by ATR members.

Gaskins also claimed he proposed a policy to end the practice of giving bus drivers uniforms, but the proposal was deemed a fake.

There was also an article in a Philadelphia City Paper that Gaskins proposed banning SEPTA employees from wearing baggy pants, and the Trolley Car reports that Gaskins wasn’t the only Trolley Car driver to say men in baggy pants gave them bad luck.

“He comes on TV and says ‘the City of Philadelphia is a hateful city.’ But he loves the state of North Carolina,” said candidate Jim McDaniel, a father of two who works as a school bus driver.

“He’s a good union man, but he just blew it for the union,” said Javier Moreno, an immigrant from Guatemala who worked as a caregiver and is married to a refugee who was a bus driver and who backed Gaskins.

City paper archives state that Gaskins was a delegate to the Convention of the State Teaching Agent in Columbus, Ohio in 1996, and supportively urged that delegates work for Democratic presidential candidate and then-vice presidential candidate Jerry Brown.

After losing in the elections, Gaskins called on his supporters to unite around progressive candidates to push back against anti-union legislation being considered by the Legislature.

Meanwhile, Salgado defeated Gaskins by a wide margin, 76-20.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Salgado agreed with Gaskins on the basis that children deserve to be vaccinated.

“There are some people who want to take away God-given rights of our children,” Salgado said. “We’re not scared to stand up to anti-union legislation and people who want to take away our rights to our children.”

Salgado described himself as a unionist “first and foremost,” but said he did not support the stance that mandated vaccinations.

“I’m proud of my record,” Salgado said. “You do not see everything that we did in the union, but you know it, it speaks for itself.”

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