A note of discord as Merion Golf Club gears up to host golf's U.S. Open

Posted: March 31, 2013

When it comes to the Merion Golf Club in June, the U.S. Open is expected to generate more than $100 million in revenue for local businesses from SEPTA to chiropractors, but one local labor union is angry that its members are being shut out.

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners lambasted the U.S. Golf Association this week for not hiring local labor to build most of the staging for the event.

Edward C. Coryell, business manager of the Carpenters' Metropolitan Regional Council of Philadelphia and Vicinity, released a statement describing the decision as "unconscionable."

Joe Goode, a spokesman for the USGA, declined to comment on any union matters.

According to Darren Bonass, a union representative, the USGA said it had standing contracts with out-of-state companies to set up bleachers, tents, and scaffolding.

"They even have to build a bridge," Bonass said. "That's our work. This is our jurisdiction."

Bonass said that the union was still in talks with the USGA and that the organization had indicated it could hire union carpenters for some of the work.

"Union or nonunion, there will be almost no local craftspeople involved with this project," Bonass said. "If you're going to hold an event like this and disrupt a community, people should be making money from it."

Goode would not offer specifics about the USGA's labor contracts, but he said the tournament was expected to bring between $100 million and $125 million to the area and to draw about 170,000 people.

News of the dispute spread this week, with union members protesting at the golf club; at least one person was spotted driving around Ardmore displaying a large sign criticizing the USGA.

The clash is disappointing to Christine Vilardo, executive director of the Ardmore Initiative, which works to improve economic and business development in the downtown area. She said the USGA had been cooperative and helpful in its talks with area officials and business owners.

"We are looking at this as a gain for the community," Vilardo said. "Certainly there will be challenges, like road closures and traffic, but this is really an opportunity to showcase our town."

Vilardo also is cautioning store owners to be realistic about their expectations for increased business. The golf course is about 1.5 miles from downtown Ardmore, and it is not a given that athletes and spectators will find their way there.

That's why Vilardo's group is working on an aggressive campaign to create maps, pamphlets, and other information about local businesses to be distributed at hotels and the local SEPTA stations. Shuttle buses will run between downtown Ardmore and the course, and volunteers will hand out fliers. With enough information, Vilardo hopes athletes and spectators will take advantage of everything from local bars to the local chiropractor's office to the barbershop.

Vilardo said that 20 to 25 hotels in the area were already nearly booked up for June 10-16 and that some local restaurants had already gotten involved with catering.

"So there's already been an economic benefit, and it hasn't even started," she said.

Contact Allison Steele at 610-313-8113 or asteele@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus