PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Two major private-sector labor unions threw their weight behind Democratic Gov. Dan McKee’s campaign for a full term on Thursday, standing by the incumbent as he faces four opponents in the September primary.

The Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council and the Rhode Island Laborers’ District Council announced their support for McKee in a joint news release distributed by the McKee campaign. They said they represent more than 22,000 workers combined. (The Laborers includes a mix of public-sector and private-sector employees.)

Organized labor is a powerful force in Rhode Island politics, but so far union leaders have mostly stayed on the sidelines of the Democratic gubernatorial primary, which pits McKee against Matt Brown, Helena Foulkes, Nellie Gorbea, and Luis Daniel Muñoz.

One major union — the United Nurses and Allied Professionals — had endorsed General Treasurer Seth Magaziner for governor last year, but Magaziner has since exited the gubernatorial primary to seek the open 2nd Congressional District seat.

Armand Sabitoni — the powerful general secretary-treasurer of the Laborers’ International Union of North America who is also its New England regional manager — offered his strong support for McKee.

“Governor McKee has demonstrated the intellect, character and shared vision to revitalize and reinvigorate our state toward socioeconomic recovery, sustainability and vitality for all,” Sabitoni said in a statement. “He will continue to roll up his sleeves and get the job done for Rhode Island.”

Michael Sabitoni, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council, described McKee as “a forward-thinking leader who believes in advancing economic equality and prosperity for all citizens.” (Armand Sabitoni and Michael Sabitoni are cousins.)

McKee took office a year ago this month, during his second term as lieutenant governor, when he succeeded Gina Raimondo after her confirmation as U.S. commerce secretary. He formally kicked off his campaign for a full term in February.

With private-sector unions lining up behind McKee, other candidates may seek to persuade some of Rhode Island’s major public-sector unions — including the state’s two teachers unions — to give their backing to a challenger. But McKee’s advisers have expressed optimism about his ability to make inroads across labor groups.

The Rhode Island AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization that includes unions representing roughly 80,000 workers, has already endorsed in the state’s two congressional districts. Its secretary-treasurer said last month there was no timeline yet for a gubernatorial endorsement.

Ted Nesi ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook