The applause echoed under the I-95 bridge Monday as more than 350 union electricians cheered on their leader, John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, at a gathering before the annual Labor Day parade.

"I'm not comfortable with it," Dougherty told members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, referring to the federal and state investigations of the union. "I'm not happy about it. But I'm not running from it and nobody else should.

"It's Labor Day. I want smiles."

And smiles there were, in part because it wasn't raining, which happens so often at the parade that union leaders joke about it. Tropical Storm Hermine went on strike, refusing to do anything other than produce a pleasant breeze for union members and their families, plenty of them marching with pro-Hillary Clinton messages.

On Labor Day, most unions gather in the parking lot at the Sheet Metal Workers hall in South Philadelphia to hear speeches before lining up to parade to Penn's Landing in a rainbow of trades T-shirts.

But some unions have their own parties under the highway. For Local 98, there was a food truck serving free egg sandwiches and a table of doughnuts.

A van decked out as a rat parked nearby, ready to lead about 400 electricians and their families into the parade.

"I don't blink," Dougherty said. "I have no intention of blinking and you have no intention of blinking. We don't sell anyone out."

He arrived early at the gathering, hugging members, tickling kids, and joking with City Councilman Bobby Henon, a union electrician and the union's former political director.

And it was like that throughout the morning, as the parade moved north on Columbus Boulevard to Penn's Landing for the annual picnic.

Dougherty traded hugs, handshakes and high-fives with the city's labor leaders - Michael Barnes from the stagehands, Ed Mooney from the communication workers, Patrick Eiding from the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, and Sam Staten Jr. from the laborers.

The electrical workers' leader wasn't the only one with a point to make on the holiday.

For the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the point was the more than 1,100 days without a contract. For the Communications Workers of America, it was a celebration of finally getting a contract after a 45-day strike by 39,000 Verizon employees in April and May.

For the members of Local 1291 of the International Longshoreman's Association, it was an opportunity to advocate for expanded port facilities at Southport, instead of plans to create an energy hub in that part of the Navy Yard.

"We need a shipping company there," said dockworker David Saunders, now running for union office. By his union's analysis, that would lead to 3,790 jobs compared with 590 created by an energy hub.

Marching directly in front of the dockworkers was the crew from Local 420 of the steamfitters, which gets a lot of its work in energy construction.

"We believe in energy, period," said the union's business manager, Anthony Gallagher. But, he said, an energy hub could be built at other locations.

"We try to work with everybody," he said.

At Local 98's pre-parade party, most of the union members and retirees had nothing to say about the investigations into the union and Dougherty, other than a tight-lipped no comment.

But union retiree Rick Newbery of Colmar thanked the media for its reporting because what he sees as attacks on the union "bring us closer together," he said. "When anyone gets under stress, they come together."

Newbery, 72, drew connections between the pressure on the electrical union from Republican forces in the federal government to pressures brought to bear against suspected communists during the McCarthy era in the 1950s.

"It's a witch hunt," he said. "This union was going down before he came on. It was falling apart. He totally resurrected it."

The prevailing sentiment, voiced by Dougherty and members, was that Local 98 is powerful, particularly in the political arena, supporting candidates who back issues important to working people, such as pension protection and wage increases.

"He's one of the most powerful men in the city. They have to look at him," said electrician Paul Signora of Ridley Township, who brought his two daughters and a niece to the parade. "He's always looked out for our best interest, so I don't have any doubt that's what he's done here.

"We'll be fine."

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