Letter: Unions Offer to Hit the Road to Drum Up Convention Business

They also promise: No labor grievance for six months.

The four unions still under contract at the Pennsylvania Convention Center have pledged not to file any labor grievances for six months — and to help lure business to the center by traveling to other cities and industry events to chat up potential clients.

“If there is an opportunity for us to win new business, we want to be a part of that effort and win over potential customers with a renewed focus on hospitality and customer service,” the leaders of those unions — IBEW Local 98, Iron Workers Local 405, Laborers Local 332 and Stagehands Local 8 — wrote in a letter to the various state and local governing bodies that oversee the center. The letter, dated Thursday, carried the title: “Labor Unions in Support of Customer Satisfaction Agreement.”

Of the promise to avoid filing grievances for six months, the leaders said: “We want to allow for sufficient time needed to amicably work through issues for the betterment of the Center.”

The letter also carried a sign of continued intra-labor quarreling, saying that previous negative perceptions about hospitality and stifling work rules at the Convention Center “is largely the result of the actions and behavior of one union, and is unfairly attributed to all of the unions who have worked at the Center.”

The letter didn’t name names, but Frank Keel, a spokesman for IBEW Local 98, confirmed that passage referred to the Carpenters union. Ed Coryell, executive secretary for the local Carpenters, did not immediately return a call for comment.

The Carpenters and Teamsters have been locked out of the Convention Center this week — an action taken by the center’s management firm, SMG, after the unions waited until after a May 5th deadline to sign agreements that loosened up previous work rules, letting vendors perform more of their own work in setting up convention exhibits instead of requiring they be done by union labor. The other four unions signed before the deadline; they’ve remained on the job this week, crossing picket lines set up by the Carpenters and Teamsters.

“While we did make some concessions, in the long run enabling the Center to compete more effectively for convention and trade show business in a very competitive industry market will bring in additional customers, creating more work for our members,” as well as additional jobs in bars and hotels surrounding the site,  the union leaders wrote.

John Dougherty, the business manager for IBEW Local 98, declined comment. Representatives from the other signatory unions did not immediately return calls for comment.