Six minus two equals a quick and easy job

John Dougherty (right) leads electrical workers past striking members of other unions at the Convention Center. Four unions agreed to new rules, two did not.
John Dougherty (right) leads electrical workers past striking members of other unions at the Convention Center. Four unions agreed to new rules, two did not. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 17, 2014

The dismantling of the 2014 World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology conference at the Convention Center on Thursday was the first test of new work rules, and with four unions doing tasks that used to be done by six unions.

Not unexpectedly, there was a problem:

The work got done too fast.

Based on past experience, the company producing the conference told trucks to pick up the dismantled exhibits at the center at 6 p.m.

But union crews at the center had almost everything packed up and ready to go by 3 p.m.

"It was like a dance," marveled John McNichol, chief executive of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority.

"Kudos to them," he said.

Picketing by Local 107 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters marked the show's opening Monday.

The Teamsters, along with Local 8 of the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters, had been ousted from the building when they didn't sign a new Customer Satisfaction Agreement by a May 5 deadline.

Both unions have since signed. They insist they thought they had until May 10 to sign - the same day their contracts ended.

The Customer Satisfaction Agreement requires the work of unions that didn't sign the agreement to be divided among those that did.

They are Local 8 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 332 of the Laborers International Union of North America, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and Local 405 of the International Association of Iron Workers.

Union officials of the Stagehands, Electricians and Laborers led their members past Monday's picket line.

Iron Workers did not cross because they had no work at the Convention Center that day.

"There didn't seem to be any issues whatsoever," said Paul Winters, spokesman for the BIO group, describing the show as a success.

There were two other developments on Thursday.

In Washington, Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau staff, along with Convention Center managers, were touting the new work rules to convention planners at a sales breakfast.

"It was an excellent meeting," said Jack Ferguson, chief executive of the PCVB. Ferguson said the planners had liked the center's huge expansion but had been put off by "cost, labor and, most importantly, hassles."

And, leaders of the four unions still working in the center signed a group letter addressed to Gov. Corbett and other political leaders affirming their support of the new work rules.

"We believe [the work rules are] the only way to shift the negative perception that customers have about doing business at the center - a perception we believe is largely the result of the actions and behavior of one union and is unfairly attributed to all," the letter said.

The one union, according to one of the signers, is the Carpenters' union.

Martin O'Rourke, a spokesman for the Carpenters, disagreed that the Carpenters caused problems.

"The Carpenters signed the agreement," O'Rourke said. "They are willing to go to work and they will abide by the agreement."

The letter from the four leaders comes the day after Stephen Sweeney, president of the New Jersey State Senate and a general vice president and regional leader of the Iron Workers, issued a statement urging Convention Center management to bring the Carpenters and Teamsters back into the building.

Sweeney wasn't happy that one leader who signed the letter Thursday was Samuel Malone, head of Iron Workers Local 405, which works in the Convention Center.

Sweeney, a Democrat whose New Jersey legislative district represents parts of Gloucester and Cumberland Counties and all of Salem County, ranks higher than Malone in the Iron Workers hierarchy.

"This is an internal thing that we will discuss," Sweeney said Thursday. "I am the vice president for this region, and I speak for the Iron Workers."

Malone and his entire slate of officers were unanimously reelected by Local 405 members in an election Wednesday night.



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