IBEW protests use of non-union workers at Weinstein project in Germantown

A recent string of protests outside of the Trolley Car Diner & Deli were both a blessing and a curse for owner Ken Weinstein.

On Thursday, a small group of electricians with IBEW Local 98 showed up at the Mt. Airy restaurant, armed with multiple video cameras and flyers featuring Weinstein’s face and cellphone number.

For four days, union workers urged customers to chide Weinstein, a prominent developer in Northwest Philadelphia, for not using IBEW workers on a multi-million project in neighboring Germantown.

They also filmed the diner and Weinstein whenever he emerged.

“At one point on Saturday, they tried to block the driveway,” he said.

The project behind the protests

On the corner of Wayne Avenue and Harvey Street sits St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, a vacant Gothic church that Weinstein is transforming into a private school.

The two-acre site will become home to the Waldorf School of Philadelphia.

The pre-K through 8th grade program has always leased space at other properties, most recently at New Covenant Church of Philadelphia in Mt. Airy.

The decision

McCoubrey/Overholser, the “open” construction firm overseeing the $6 million project, opted not to use union workers. It came down to cost.

President John McCoubrey said IBEW’s bid was $100,000 more than the outfit now working the six-month old job site.

“We don’t have a problem hiring union contractors, but it doesn’t happen a lot,” said McCoubrey.

Weinstein said he can’t stop IBEW from protesting outside of his business and he won’t try to. But, he added, they’re “barking up the wrong tree.”

“This is a great community project that we’re working on and they need to just back off,” said Weinstein. “You got to be realistic if you want work for your members.”

He also reached out to the community via email and posted on neighborhood list servs last week. His message was, in part, “I am asking you to visit Trolley Car Diner in the next couple days to let the protestors outside the Diner know that you don’t agree with their position and that they are doing a disservice to the community by trying to discourage people from visiting the Diner and shutting down our Waldorf School development project.”

‘A publicity stunt’

In an email, Frank Keel, spokesperson for IBEW 98 President John Dougherty, said the “drama created by Mr. Weinstein is nothing but a crass publicity stunt for his business.”

“IBEW Local 98 is engaging in a peaceful, lawful protest and exercising its First Amendment right of free speech to notify area residents that Weinstein is helping to destroy area wages and benefits,” Keel said.

As of noon on Monday, there were no protesters outside of the Trolley Car Diner.

That’s likely a relief for Weinstein, though he said IBEW indirectly did his business a favor.

“Since Thursday, business has been way up because of their protests,” said Weinstein. “We’re up 40 percent higher than the same days last year.”

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