Photo by Laura Kicey
There was no bigger development battle of 2012 than the one between Post Brothers Apartments, a development and management company run by Michael and Matthew Pestronk, and the Philadelphia building trades unions, who were angered by the brothers’ decision to employ a mix of union and non-union labor for the renovation of an old factory at 12th and Wood. Before all was said and done, bodily fluids and pornographic flyers had entered the picture, and the Pestronks had done something no other builders had ever accomplished.
The site was the old Goldtex shoe factory, a large building doing not much of anything for a long time. When the Pestronks decided to turn it into rental units, they talked to both union and non-union bidders. No matter how they looked at it, they couldn’t make it work financially if they went all-union. So they divided it up in the way that made most sense for them as a business: forty percent to the unions; 60 percent to other bidders.
Even before work on the building began, chaos set in. Here’s just a taste of it as described by Philly Mag’s Steve Volk:
As early as January, protesters began passing out fliers, chanting, and marching with signs. Eventually they blocked delivery trucks hauling in materials and equipment. They harassed non-union counterparts, daring them to fight. A few times, push came to shove. They poured oil across the site’s entrance. They printed fliers with a photo of Matt Pestronk’s wife superimposed with an erect penis and the oddly oblique message “Carrie Pestronk likes to get hard with it.”
They planted caltrops, old-school union contraptions made of nails and designed to flatten tires. And they uttered nasty, brutish threats. The brothers say that Building Trades business manager Pat Gillespie told them that unless they hired an all-union workforce, the project would “never get built.” Another time, as Michael Pestronk entered the worksite, voices cried out among the protesters: “You’re dead!”
Then there was the Tiananmen Square incident and all the activity chronicled on phillybully.com. It has been completely insane.
The unions vowed the Goldtex Apartments would never be finished, but they’re well on their way. Photographer Laura Kicey got a peek at the progress thus far.