Developers, building-trade council tussle over project

On their website, Michael and Matthew Pestronk posted this photo and others, which they say is evidence of intimidation by organized labor.
On their website, Michael and Matthew Pestronk posted this photo and others, which they say is evidence of intimidation by organized labor.
Posted: May 04, 2012

A Philadelphia development company and building-trade unions are expected to face off in court in just one episode of what has become a turbocharged battle over union hegemony in Center City construction.

So far, there have been accusations of violence and intimidation against the developers by the unions; a counteraccusation by the head of Philadelphia’s building-trades council that developers Matthew and Michael Pestronk tried “to hire some muscle to beat me up,” and a question of whether the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections got itself improperly involved in the fray by shutting down the job site Wednesday afternoon.

There’s even an unsavory picture of Matthew Pestronk’s wife circulating, along with a poster of Pestronk’s deceased dog, Chief, who allegedly defecated in the halls of Pestronk’s Center city apartment building.

The Pestronks and their company, Post Goldtex L.P., of Germantown, want Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker to order the unions to stop what they say is a campaign of violence, vandalism, and interference with their $38 million construction project. A hearing was originally scheduled for Friday morning, but will likely be delayed.

The brothers say they are being punished for not using union labor to create a 163-unit apartment building out of the shell of the Goldtex building, a former factory at 12th and Wood Streets, just north of the Vine Street Expressway.

“We were never looking for a fight, and we weren’t looking for this. We are going to do the right thing. We are hiring Philadelphia residents who are skilled at what they do at very competitive rates, and we don’t want to be deterred from that,” Michael Pestronk said this week.

“These two are contemptible people,” said Patrick Gillespie, who heads the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, an umbrella organization. “They are attempting to destroy the wages and salaries we have established in Philadelphia. They seem to have a sense of entitlement: They are entitled to wealth, and the people who work with them are not entitled to a living wage.”

The council’s lawyer, Bernard Katz, said that union members have been protesting at the site, but he denied that the protests were violent or that vandalism had occurred.

Michael Pestronk denied Gillespie’s accusation that he and his brother had tried to hire someone to beat Gillespie up. “That’s completely absurd,” he said. “We’re the ones being followed.”

The Pestronks have set up a website, www.phillybully.com, that includes videos. In one, Fred Cosenza, a building-trades council official, appears to be hitting a security guard, but Cosenza said Thursday that the guard was the aggressor.

On Wednesday, at the behest of Councilman James Kenney, the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections visited the site.

“I asked them to inspect and see what is going on,” said Kenney. Constituents had informed him that they suspected that workers were being paid improperly, he said, and that subcontractors at the site were not properly licensed, meaning that the city might be unable to collect taxes.

The department shut down the site after finding that Post Goldtex and some subcontractors were not properly licensed. Post Goldtex responded by insisting that it was properly licensed and removing the subcontractors from the project.

Post Goldtex asked the department to lift the stop-work order. “It’s obvious why it’s happening,” said Michael Pestronk. “It’s spot enforcement from political pressure from union officials.”

Mayor Nutter’s spokesman, Mark McDonald, denied that accusation.

“We don’t want this to be part of the larger national union debate,” said Michael Pestronk, adding that he and his brother met with union officials before the job began and even gave union contractors a chance to beat their best competing bids. “We’re not anti-union people. We continue to use a lot of union contractors.”

Contact Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769, jvonbergen@phillynews.com or @JaneVonBergen on Twitter. Read her Jobbing blog at www.philly.com/jobbing

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