Philly unions cross picket lines at Pa. Convention Center

 Protestor maintains vigil outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Protestor maintains vigil outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Union members clashed Monday morning outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City, as some influential labor leaders escorted their “rank and file” across a picket line.

Striking carpenters and teamsters howled as workers from the stagehands and electricians unions entered the convention center for work. 


The move comes after four of the six unions at the convention center signed new agreements, while the carpenters and teamsters initially balked.  So the center’s management inked a deal with just four unions that’s designed to make the center more exhibitor friendly, leaving out the carpenters and teamsters.

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Electricians Union Local 98 head John J. Dougherty said the 10-year deal with 3 percent  raises is a good one. The carpenters are fighting to keep jurisdiction so convention-goers can’t use power tools or 2-foot ladders, he said, adding that the walkout came at the expense of everyone else in the building and the hospitality industry in the region.

“No one I talked to when I explained to them what was going on understands how a union cannot take a 10-year deal plus 3 percent with very few competitive adjustments in it,” insisted Dougherty, saying this is the first time he has ever crossed a picket line.

Dougherty said he believes the carpenters led the teamsters down a bad path and cannot believe the teamsters union head Billy Hamilton was in Dougherty’s words “talking tough” while staying in Las Vegas instead of negotiating in Philadelphia.

We reached out to Hamilton and the teamsters leadership in general to get a response to this charge, but never heard back.

“The facts are, we’ve lost a significant amount of shows,” said Dougherty about how business suffered under the old work rules. “We were offered a 10-year agreement at full rate with 3 percent increase. I had 77 Philadelphia residents working around the clock last week. This is not only good for the region, not only good for the hospitality community, this is not only good for the small businesses in that area. This reaches into neighborhoods.”

Dougherty said he wonders why the other two unions didn’t accept the offer by last week’s deadline, only to come back a few days later asking to be included.

“This is nonsense, everybody knew that we had a deadline,” insisted Dougherty.  “Anybody that tells you that we didn’t have a deadline is absolutely lying.”

Ed Coryell, the head of the carpenters union, also sits on the board of directors of the convention center and was involved in the deadline talks, but did not return calls for this story.

Pete Peterson, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Convention Center, said the management currently has no intention of reopening talks with the carpenters or the teamsters.

“We don’t see any need to reopen this at this point,” he said. “We are able to perform the work and meet our customer needs.”

The carpenters and teamsters staged protests Monday outside the center.

Disclosure: Electricians Union Local 98 represents engineers at WHYY.

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