Pa. Convention Center doing brisk business despite union issue

 Pennsylvania Convention Center (NewsWorks file photo)

Pennsylvania Convention Center (NewsWorks file photo)

There is some good news on the convention front in Philadelphia. But, as bookings are up, a union dispute is not going away.


Just before Thanksgiving, the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau holds its annual luncheon. This year, the group received an early Christmas gift in the form of a major convention.

Jason Ware of the American Heart Association flew up from Texas to deliver the news personally.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“Over this past year, the meetings industry has been watching what has been happening in Philadelphia,” he said. “Word is spreading, and it’s customers like me who are taking notice. Philadelphia has always had what was needed to be a world-class convention city. You’ve made our choice quite simple.”

He referred to changes including a “customer satisfaction agreement,” designed to cut the costs of conventions and remove some of the antiquated work rules that used to govern the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Michael Barnes, head of the stagehands union, said the workers have had more than just a change in rules.

“It’s the attitude change, we are now a hospitality-driven workforce,” Barnes said. “Everybody gets it. Everybody is on the same page … as a result of the work change, the efficiencies from the workers and the attitude change as we’re booking shows.”

While the stagehands are happy, union carpenters are still protesting daily protests outside the convention center, claiming they were locked out as a result of the changes.

Jack Ferguson who heads up the visitors bureau said the changes were vital.

“People have the right to protest, but it’s what happening in the building that counts, and the customer is feeling the experience about the customer.”

Josh Shapiro, vice chairman of the Convention Center Authority, said officials anticipate a 20 percent bump in bookings. He says things turned around since the labor deal was struck with all but one of the major unions.

“What we’re seeing is one of our best years ever coming, and we’re in a position now where the entire region is going to benefit as a result of the reforms and changes we’ve put in place at the Convention Center,” Shapiro said.

The carpenters are still fighting the issue in court. After initially balking, they offered to sign the agreement, but Convention Center managers said it was too late — and they moved on with the unions that said yes right away.


Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal