Should Union Workers Be Blamed for Big Markups at Convention Center?

“Standard practice” lets middlemen charge quadruple for using union workers.

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

The Inquirer reports that last week’s National Homeland Security Conference at the Pennsylvania Convention Center paid $152.25 per hour per union rigger — but that workers themselves earned $35.11 an hour of that total, “$59.70 with health insurance, pension, and union dues rolled in.”

While that’s still a pretty nice wage, it’s not $152.25. So what’s going on?

The markups — charged by middleman companies, called decorators, that coordinate labor and other aspects of conventions — are standard industry practice, executives in the convention business say.

Standard practice or not, “these layers of costs create an impression of higher labor costs,” said John Dougherty, business manager of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The unions say they ‘d like to bring transparency to billing, so that they don’t get blamed for markups that don’t benefit their workers at all. “Gregory Fox, the lawyer who chairs the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority board, said a better understanding of decorator billing practices was next on the board’s agenda.”


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  • Dude

    Wow, even more progress!

  • matthew brandley

    Union scum. Breaking the backs of America and ruining business for the city

  • JJ

    As a public facility, there should be complete transparency in estimates and billing for the good of the sales process in drawing new business and retaining existing clients. The issue with the unions is the mandatory minimum hours and the need to use the union workers for tasks for which they are not genuienly required. It is those antiquated work rules that force the use of union labor and inflate costs to conferences and conventions. The issues are clear, the smokescreens in the arguements are the issue. $35 an hour is a damn good wage. Ask any recent college grad, who if they can find a job, may be offered $40-50K a year with $25-30K of debt.

    No sympathy here.

  • Curved

    “Antiquated work rules” are the reason you have any labor laws and protections. The more you undermine the unions, the more you set yourself up for a massive backslide on that front. Blame the unions for some faults, I won’t say they’re perfect, but don’t be clueless. Come wire a house with me one day and tell me I didn’t earn every single penny. I went to college (and excelled), but I knew a lot more that’s worth a payable wage after I went to trade school. Different skills, different knowledge, but don’t pretend it’s worth less. You would probably get killed trying to do my job, or worse, kill someone else by burning their house down. The unions help every worker, not just the ones they represent. Make them better, yes, but don’t disrespect all the gifts they have given you, and don’t disrespect the trades.

    • JJ

      So a carpenter is required to set up exhibit booths at the convention center for all the trade shows? That is an antiquated work rule. The exhibitors themsleves can do it and not pay the carpenters. And, they do it in most of the other cities they visit, which is why shows don’t come here.

  • The problem at the PCC was mostly the work rules that forced exhibitors to sit on their hands while waiting for inefficient labor to do menial tasks. These guys aren’t re-wiring the entire building for every show. They’re mostly erecting displays and setting up signs. Electricians would be needed a lot more if some more advanced tech shows decided to come to Philadelphia but no big IT show will give Philly the time of day because of the stupid work rules. The rigger’s bill rate sounds excessive but the decorator firm has to pay the employer’s share of healthcare, income tax withholding and the like plus all their operating expenses and materiel. Sounds like the decorator is already giving quite a bit of that over to the employee already. Now that the Carpenters and Teamsters are gone and kicked out of the building, the situation at the PCC finally has a chance to improve. I’m tired of hearing year after year how much our convention center bites. Now the Carpenters can strike all they want. Strike away!

  • jt

    Hey “curved”, you’re the exception not the rule. Union workers in Philly are overpaid and under perform producing absolutely inferior results. They get away with it with by threatening people and Philly as a city suffers.

  • kernals

    If you are a right winger who thinks of unions in the same way the nazis thought of jews then yes.

    • pjcostello

      FLAGGED. Idiot.