"Open shop contractors are definitely watching this project closely," said Mary Tebeau, describing it as a "great first step." Tebeau is president of the Associated Builders and Contractors Eastern Pennsylvania chapter, a trade group for nonunion and open shop contractors.
So tentative is the peace that both sides assert privately that Brady had to get involved simply to allow the other side to save face, because, in reality, little has changed.
Each side says the other side asked for the meeting. Brady, being the diplomat, said, "I don't know if I reached out to them, or they reached out to me."
Peace involved a dinner at Chops Restaurant & Bar on City Avenue with Brady and the brothers followed by breakfast at the Four Seasons hotel with the trio plus Patrick Gillespie, head of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council.
The meals led to a meeting Sept. 6 at a union hall on Columbus Boulevard attended by about 30 building trade union leaders who were served coffee. "The lessons are that everyone can work together and work these issues out without having major problems and stopping jobs and stopping growth in development," Brady said.
The quid pro quo is that the Pestronks, who do business as Post Brothers, agreed to encourage their subcontractors at the Goldtex site to hire union workers. More important, the brothers promised to try to make their next project all-union.
The stakes are even higher for that project, a $90 million office-into-apartment conversion at Broad and Spruce Streets, where a daily parade of pickets would attract much more attention than at the Goldtex project tucked away on less-traveled streets.
"We would like it be 100 percent union, but it needs to be cost competitive," said Michael Pestronk. "In a world outside of cost, nothing would make us happier than an all-union project."
Pestronk said he'd put the contracts on that project out to bid, and "we'll give the union [contractors] the last look." Post Brothers would allow those contractors to match, or even come close, to the lowest bid, he said.
Neither side particularly trusts the other, but both seem to be trying hard to find that trust.
The bare bones of the agreement put the unions in the position of having to trust the Pestronks, who act as their own general contractor.
Encouraging subcontractors to add union workers to their crews will be a matter for the lawyers, said Tebeau.
"The existing contractor would have to set aside or unemploy their workers to utilize union workers," she said. "That changes the contract that the contractor has with the owner."
Nonetheless, Edward Sweeney, business agent for Local 401 of the Ironworkers union, said he was at the Goldtex site Wednesday negotiating over that issue. Some ironwork had been done, but there's another phase on the roof.
And Thursday morning, concrete for the basement parking garage is scheduled to be poured and installed by union cement masons working for a nonunion subcontractor, William "Bill" Ousey, business manager of the Cement Masons Local 592, said.
The picketing "was getting old for everybody. There had to be an end," he said. "I'd rather work with the Pestronks than be against them. They are developers, and we want developers in this city. They just have to pay the prevailing wages."
The concrete for the garage provides a good illustration of the trust/posturing seesaw.
"Concrete," Ousey explained, "is a perishable product." Typically, he said, there's a 45-minute window to pour the concrete before it hardens. A traffic jam, let alone pickets, can ruin a truckload.
Pestronk said he managed some of the smaller parts of the concrete work by bringing in the kind of concrete bags a homeowner would use, and mixing it up on the job site. But it's expensive, lower quality, and more difficult to use, especially for a big job, and the coming cold weather would have made it even more problematic.
Pestronk asserts that he could have waited out the pickets - pouring the garage floor last, in the spring. But, he said, he'd rather do it now in this moment of détente.
He estimates that the situation cost him at least $300,000 on a $38 million project, plus three months delay for rebidding contracts.
So what's the message?
"I don't think there is any message that can be taken," Michael Pestronk said. "I think this is an exceptional circumstance. What happened was that the unions backed off their demands and said they were OK in a mixed-shop environment. I'm not sure what repercussions it has for other contractors."
Like Mary Tebeau, Emily Bittenbender will weigh the repercussions. She owns Bittenbender Construction LP, a union contractor based in Philadelphia now busy remodeling Acme stores in the area.
The union pickets at Goldtex were also representing her interests, since they have been enforcing an opportunity for her company and other union contractors to keep work in Center City.
She and other union contractors hope to convince developers that a trained union workforce adds enough value to offset higher wages.
So how does she see the "last look" provision touted by Pestronk? "It's better to be given an opportunity," she answered carefully, noting that profit margins are already thin in this economy.
"If nothing else," she said, "we can use it as an educational opportunity to become more competitive. But it all comes down to wage rates. If [nonunion] contractors are paying $7 an hour, we won't be able to beat it."
That's Gillespie's point.
"I do not think anything has changed in our efforts to protect and preserve the wages and standards in the city," he said. "It will be a constant fight and it always has been. We'll continue to fight and continue to win."
Contact Jane M. Von Bergen
at firstname.lastname@example.org, @JaneVonBergen on Twitter, or at 215-854-2769. Read her workplace blog at www.philly.com/jobbing.