Convention Center remains closed to Teamsters, Carpenters

Posted: May 11, 2014

Two unions that failed to accept new work rules at the Convention Center belatedly offered signed agreements to center management on Friday in hopes of retaining employment there.

The apparent reversal on the rules was rebuffed, however, with center management saying it considers the matter closed. As things stand, neither the Carpenters Local 8, viewed by management as the center's most difficult and disruptive union, nor the Teamsters Local 107 will be permitted to work at the center after their contracts expire at 11:59 p.m. Saturday.

John McNichol, the Convention Center's chief executive officer, said the unions had been given a deadline - 11:59 p.m. on Monday, May 5 - to agree to the new work rules. When the deadline passed, the Convention Center sealed a contract with four unions that accepted the rules.

That agreement now represents a signed contract among the Convention Center, its professional management firm, and the four unions. It cannot be reopened without the agreement of all the signatories, McNichol said.

Speaking for the Convention Center and its management firm, SMG in Conshohocken, McNichol said there was no interest in readdressing the matter.

"The board has resolved to move forward with the agreement," McNichol said, saying that Sunday - the first day Carpenters and Teamsters would lack contracts with the facility - would be "a new day" for the Convention Center.

The board apparently has been unmoved by entreaties from U.S. Rep. Robert Brady (D., Pa.), who has reached out to several board members on behalf of the Carpenters, union and center sources said. Brady could not be reached for comment.

All this has set in place the pieces for an increasingly volatile situation when the work week starts Monday.

While the Carpenters were silent on their plans Friday, Edward C. Coryell, the union's secretary/treasurer, had issued a not-so-veiled threat Tuesday, when the convention board approved the service agreement without the Carpenters.

"This won't be the end of things," Coryell said. "We won't be run out of this building and go away. That's not going to happen."

The Convention Center, out of concern, is moving smaller events to other locations Monday.

McNichol said facility managers were taking the potential problems very seriously.

"Security is our primary concern," he said. "We have been planning for it very aggressively the last couple of days. We believe we have the proper procedures in place."

The fight over the work rules has been building for years, but flared in intensity with the completion of the center's $780 million expansion in 2011. Despite the expansion, the Convention Center has struggled to land the largest trade shows. Convention Center managers have complained that labor costs and worker behavior were driving events to rival facilities.

To resolve the situation, the Convention Center tried to negotiate a Customer Service Agreement with its unions. The agreement eventually reached with four unions would allow exhibitors to erect larger booths without union help and use step ladders and power screwdrivers when doing so. Computers now can be plugged in by someone other than a union electrician. All the center's workers must submit to a standard drug-testing program.

The Monday deadline for signing the agreement was triggered by the Carpenters' decision to launch a one-day strike May 1. According to Convention Center sources, the strike convinced board members that the time had come to stand up to the union.

The Carpenters' position since Monday has been that it believed it had until the expiration of its contract Saturday night to agree to the new work rules.

McNichol said Friday that there was no misunderstanding, that the union was told repeatedly that Monday, May 5, was the deadline.

The Carpenters and Teamsters both said Friday that they had a different understanding and that their freshly signed Customer Satisfaction Agreements should be accepted.

The Carpenters' copy was personally delivered to McNichol by Coryell. William Hamilton, leader of the Teamsters local, had evidence of his signature on the document e-mailed to The Inquirer.

"They signed the contract, and they are willing to go work Monday," said Carpenters' spokesman Martin O'Rourke.

According to McNichol and others close to the situation, there will be no need. Come Monday, work previously done by the Carpenters and Teamsters will be divided among the Labors' Local 332, Electrical Workers Local 98, Stagehands Local 8, and Iron Workers Local 405.


chepp@phillynews.com

215-854-2594

Inquirer staff writer Claudia Vargas contributed to this article.

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