Protesters target non-union workers at Chestnut Hill construction site

(Updated version: Now includes an interview with Children of America’s CEO)

Seven members of IBEW Local 98 brought out their giant inflatable rat on Wednesday to the old Borders building in Chestnut Hill to protest the use of nonunion electrical workers. The site at 8701 Germantown Ave. is being renovated for Children of America for its new daycare center scheduled to open May 1.

Local 98 members said they are targeting the Children of America site because of nonunion work being done by ESI: Energy Systems and Installation. ESI, headquartered in Jonestown, Pa., specializes in the installation of large-scale solar photovoltaic (electric) panels.

Mike Hnatkowsky , IBEW Local 98 Vice President said their presence is not a one-day event. “As long as ESI is here, we are here. If they are here tomorrow, we are here,” he said.

He said it’s not just unions that are hurt by the use of nonunion suburban subcontractors. Hnatkowsky said they take jobs away from Philadelphians that are more likely to spend the money within the city.

Donna Ferrarini briefly stopped her the site to ask what was going on. It was the inflatable rat that caught her attention “I heard of it but I never saw the big rat in our area before.” Ferrarini is part of a local family owned and operated kitchen and bathroom remodeling business.

Children of America CEO Jim Perretty said the decision to hire ESI was made by the property’s owner Arcadia Realty Trust and not by his company. “We’re a tenant,” he said. Under the 15-year lease agreement Perretty said the building’s owner is responsible for renovating the site, “They provide us with a turnkey operation.”

Perretty is not happy about the negative attention. “We’ve done everything we can to cooperate with the community there. We attended the meeting (CHCA DRC) Tuesday night to make sure we listened to the concerns. To have something like this come across my desk the first thing in the morning is a little upsetting,” he said.

To make matters worse, Perretty said unions are also targeting other Children of America sites around Bucks and Montgomery counties. “They put some fliers on our employees’ cars that basically is encouraging them to start a union.” Perretty said. “There is no childcare teachers union. That’s not something that happens in our industry.

Children of America has had a rough start in Chestnut Hill. When it announced in October that it had signed a 15-year lease for Chestnut Hill’s crown jewel retail location, reaction in the community was less than enthusiastic. “It’s better something is there than it being empty,” said Harry Camarda. That was one of the nicer comments.

Children of America is a national childcare provider, which operates several centers in Pennsylvania: North Wales, Landsdale, Warminster, Warrington and Southampton.

Children of America’s on-site project management firm New Age Development Group refused to comment on the situation on Wednesday.

Revised story to reflect that the decision to hire ESI was made by Arcadia Realty and not by Children of America.

NewsWorks wants to know whether you think Philadelphia businesses should use union labor whenever possible? Do you think Philadelphia unions make the city less attractive to developers? 

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

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.