Union Fracas Began in Debate Over Transportation Bill

IBEW 98, Carpenters have been uneasy with each other.

The current fracas between some of the city’s biggest and most-powerful labor unions began taking shape last year during the debate over the state’s multibillion transportation bill, the Inquirer reported Wednesday, helping spark a rivalry that still burns in the dispute over work rules and employment at the city’s Convention Center.

At the time, a number of key unions — including Electrical Workers Local 98 and Laborers Local 332 — lined up behind the bill, which is expected to create a flood of jobs while funding bridge and road repairs.

However, Local 8 of the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters, whose representatives declined to comment for this article, opposed the bill, citing a wage provision within it.

While the bill ultimately passed, John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, business manager of the Electrical Workers, still chafes at the position of the Carpenters leaders, which he believes would have denied work for his members as well as their own.

Dougherty’s position in the current Convention Center situation has been pretty similar to the earlier battle: He’s said publicly he’s taking the deal that brings jobs for his union members.

The Carpenters union has also appeared consistent: In both cases, it has been hesitant to make agreements where it stood to lose previously held gains — in the case of the transportation bill, the provision in question made it easier for small construction projects to avoid state rules that require paying the “prevailing wage” to workers on state contracts; at the Convention Center, the union has resisted loosening work rules to allow exhibitors to set up their own booths at exhibitions inside the hall. In both cases, the Carpenters were trying to ensure that work opportunities were as plentiful and lucrative for its members as they had been previously.

The result is more than a disagreement over tactics and goals. Work normally done by the Teamsters and Carpenters is now being done by the members of the four signatory unions.

For now IBEW and its allied unions are on the job at the Convention Center; the Carpenters and Teamsters are not. They’re waiting to hear the outcome of a grievance filed with the National Labor Relations Board, contending the Convention Center’s managers did not have the authority to set a deadline for signing the contract that IBEW and its allies are now working under. (The Carpenters and the Teamsters also signed, but after that deadline had passed.)

The Inquirer added: “Daniel E. Halevy, regional attorney for the NLRB, said the matter would be given priority status. He declined to say how long the process might take.”