Ahead of Major Gathering, Strike Shuts Down Convention Center

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.

From AxisPhilly:

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.

AxisPhilly adds:

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.”