The Pennsylvania Convention Center has booked four new conventions in recent months, officials say, a strong trend that started in the aftermath of signing a new labor peace agreement.
— Alejandro Alvarez (@PhillyRover) July 11, 2014
Whoa! Carpenters Union Local 8 breaking out the big guns for the protest today. I always appreciate when unions mix it up and go with the “giant fat cat choking a worker” instead of the “terrifying giant inflatable rat.”
Big Sky Balloons created both Scabby the Rat and the fat cat character. The company has a whole line of inflatable protest balloons, including a cockroach, a greedy pig, a skunk, Cerberus and a border patrol agent.
The Inquirer reports that Ed Coryell, seeking readmission of the Carpenters Union to work at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, has written a letter to Gov. Corbett. The union has been locked out since it was late meeting a deadline earlier this month to agree to new work rules at the center.
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?
While the day was subdued inside the Convention Center Monday, tensions between unions “erupted” outside, the Inquirer reports. The fracas started when leaders of IBEW Local 98, Laborers Local 332 and Stagehands Local 8 walked their workers into the Convention Center past a group of jeering Teamsters.
The dispute stems from new work rules at the Center, which told unions they had until Monday of last week to sign. Carpenters Local 8 and the Teamsters Local 107, didn’t, and are currently shut out of the process.
Teamsters picketed outside the Convention Center on Monday, leading to the Inquirer getting some fantastic quotes for the newspaper. Check out the war of words between IBEW Local 98 business manager John Dougherty and people from the Teamsters and Carpenters unions.
If you’re confused about the union protests at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, you’re not alone. So let’s break it down.
There are six unions that work at the Convention Center: carpenters, teamsters, riggers, stagehands, laborers and electricians. Of those six, two of them (the Carpenters and Teamsters) did not sign a revised Customer Satisfaction Agreement, which contains new rules governing the unions’ work at the Center. Some of the terms of the agreement were favorable to the unions, it seems, such as 3 percent pay raises for 10 years.
Other terms look less favorable, perhaps. For instance, exhibitors have been granted new leeway in setting up. As long as they use full-time employees (unionized or not) and don’t go beyond 600 square feet, exhibitors can assemble booths themselves, and even use “uncomplicated” power tools. That’s a big change.
I’m tired of hearing the Mayor and City Council complain about our city’s fiscal problems. I’m tired of listening to our state representatives, congressmen, and gubernatorial candidates complain, too. We all know there’s a simple fix to the problem. Just ask Staples.
The office supply store chain (which is also a client of mine) is now testing a pilot program so that customers can buy stamps and other postal supplies at their convenience instead of being forced to go to the post office during the day. This sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? Not for everyone apparently. The American Postal Workers Union has staged national demonstrations in protest because Staples is training and supervising their own employees and not postal workers. By providing a less expensive, more convenient service for its customers, Staples is threatening the union.
We need more of this.
Today, we’ve got a good, old-fashioned headline roundup for you to keep you current with the news:
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AxisPhilly reports that — a week before a diabetes convention brings 10,000 people to town — the carpenter’s union at the Philadelphia Convention Center has gone on strike. The Teamsters are honoring the strike, meaning the center is effectively shut down, although unions for the electricians, riggers, laborers and stagehands have not yet joined the strike.
According to sources close to the talks, wages are not at issue. The board has put a decent wage-increase package on the table. But, the most forceful union – the carpenter’s – apparently is balking at the changes that center around the issue of “exhibitor rights.” This refers to a wide range of issues, including whether exhibitors can do any work as well as standards for customer courtesy.
The issue has been brewing for several years, during which the newly expanded Convention Center has been losing money. A 2011 report suggested that labor costs were the biggest reason for lost business at the center. “The state-ordered report made no outright recommendation about reducing the number of labor unions used to set up and break down convention and trade-show exhibits,” the Inquirer reported at the time. “It did, however, point out that no other facility has as many unions, with some engaging three or four at most.”
Union members were angry with that assessment. “For them to point to, and make, organized labor a scapegoat is a tragedy. It just demonstrates once again that people really don’t know the business they’re supposed to be in,” Pat Gillespie of the Building Trades Council told CBS3.
Greg Fox, chairman of the center’s board of directors, responded with a formal statement, and said the strike came as a “complete surprise.”
“We encouraged union leadership to offer their own proposals on exhibitor rights but have received no response, which makes their decision to strike even more puzzling, especially since we remain in ongoing labor negotiations,” Fox said in the statement. “Our only concern is making the Center more competitive by providing customers and exhibitors with the same rights they have at peer facilities without impacting safety and security.”
Despite the Pennsylvania Convention Center website touting “the superb quality of the design aesthetic, detailed down to custom-designed carpets with 15 different geometric patterns,” the expanded state-owned Convention Center that opened in March 2011 isn’t exactly the Taj Mahal. But the intention wasn’t to create a thing of great beauty; rather, it was to bring in significantly increased convention business, that would, in turn, grow hotel business and retail and restaurant as well. As a preview to the opening, the Philadelphia Inquirer asked a number of salient questions, some of them necessarily contradictory: Would all the taxpayer millions on the expansion be worth it in the end? Would there be enough hotels to fill the demand of increased conventioneers?
As Tom Ferrick points out in today’s column for AxisPhilly, worries about the latter question have turned out to be largely moot. He minces no words: “The newly expanded Pennsylvania Convention Center is turning out to be a dud. With a capital D-U-D.”