Philly's most bitter labor war? Signs

STEPHANIE AARONSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Signs objecting Goldtex Apartments line a section of 11th Street.
STEPHANIE AARONSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Signs objecting Goldtex Apartments line a section of 11th Street.
Posted: July 19, 2013

"IT'S A MESS. You're littering the street. Who's here to read it?" asks Andre Wilson. "It's senseless."

He is talking about the dandelion field of signs up and down the Vine Street median between 11th and 12th streets not far from where he lives. Lots of cars whiz by, almost no pedestrians.

They are lawn signs in patriotic red, white and blue reading: "DO NOT RENT HERE," "GOLDTEX APARTMENTS" and "POST BROS. HELP DESTROY AREA WAGES & BENEFITS."

They are symbols of Philadelphia's most bitter labor war, they are an eyesore and they are illegal.

"Signs are not allowed in the public right-of-way by federal law, state law, city law," says Mary Tracy, president of Scenic Philadelphia, a neighborhood-improvement nonprofit.

"We support the right of free speech, to carry signs or put them on the car. What we say is you can't put your sign in the right-of-way - it's dangerous to drivers, it's dangerous to pedestrians, it's unsightly and unlawful."

She rattles off a list of other sites with visual litter - where there are often pickets, sometimes inflatable rats and almost always signs: City Avenue at the Expressway, Broad between City Hall and Vine, Harvey and Rittenhouse streets in Germantown.

Most of the locations (coincidentally?) seem to be near properties developed by the above-mentioned Post Bros., who are actually Michael and Matthew Pestronk, one side in the labor war.

I ask Mike his reaction to the signs.

"They're disgusting and they are illegal," he says. "They're in random places all over the city."

That doesn't bother him as much as the lack of enforcement by the city - Streets, L&I and the Police Department all blame one another, he says.

The other combatant in the labor war is the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, led by business manager Pat Gillespie, who says his guys did not put up the signs. Any idea who did? "I could guess, but I wouldn't want to speculate," he says.

A frustrated Tracy says cops don't care. "The police apparently are defending this practice around this city and threatening arrest for anyone removing those signs," she says.

It's no idle threat. Mike Pestronk says one of his security guards was charged for removing (cops said "stealing") an illegal sign.

Here's the nub of the problem: L&I told me sign enforcement is the job of Streets, Streets told me it's L&I's job. This is where Mayor Nutter and/or Managing Director Rich Negrin should call a timeout and bring in staff to untangle the mess.

Jurisdictional ambiguity is one thing, but maybe not the only thing. Since each sign has a union label, you have to be dumber than a box of rocks to not know the signs are a union tactic and unions are money- and voter-generating machines for Democratic elected officials.

Could it be that no (Democratic) city official wants to be the one to tell - hypothetically, electricians union chief (and inflatable rat master and Democratic dynamo) John Dougherty - to call his boys off?

I am pro-union and always will be. But unions must play by the same rules as everyone else.

You want to picket? Put a human being in front of Goldtex wearing a picket sign. Bring out the blow-up rat and roll the rat-mobile for street theater.

A sign stuck in the ground is the lazy man's picket. And illegal.

As for City Hall, it needs to grow a pair and enforce the law, even for its union allies.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

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