Teamsters, carpenters protest over lost work, but Convention Center is not budging

 Teamsters and carpenters union members protest in front of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Wednesday. (Steve Trader/ for NewsWorks)

Teamsters and carpenters union members protest in front of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Wednesday. (Steve Trader/ for NewsWorks)

About 100 union carpenters and teamsters rallied outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center Wednesday in the first official protest since a labor dispute last month with center management.

Holding signs demanding “End the Lockout” and chanting “shame on you,” they paced back and forth in the 90-degree heat.

The two unions have been out of work at the center since May 6 when they balked at a deadline to sign a new “customer satisfaction contract” that expanded exhibitor rules.

When the two organizations later attempted to sign it, management said it was too late. Labor officials have gotten no response since then.

“There’s no negotiation, they had the opportunity to sign onto a contract and they chose not to do it,” said  Pete Peterson, spokesman for the Convention Center. “They’re claiming this is a lockout. That’s not the case. They voluntarily chose not to become part of the customer satisfaction agreement.”

Peterson said the four other unions that agreed to the that agreement and the revised work rules in it, have absorbed the additional labor.

But Ed Coryell Jr., assistant business manager for Local 8 of the Carpenters Union, questioned the quality of that work.

“The labor that they’re getting to perform the work they’ve traditionally used carpenters to do is completely unskilled,” said Coryell. “They don’t have the training, they don’t have the skills; they don’t even have the appropriate tools when they show up.”

Eighty-thousand hospitality jobs in the area are affected by the success of the Convention Center, according to Deirdre Childress Hopkins, a spokeswoman for SMG, the facilities management firm that now runs the center.

“Nobody wants anybody out of work,” said Hopkins. “But this situation transcends the building, and that’s what SMG is concerned about.”

Officers from the Philadelphia Police Civil Affairs Unit were on hand to monitor the protest, and indicated that the two unions had acquired a “blanket permit” which allows them to protest for a week at a time.

Rally organizers say that protests would continue until they get their jobs back. The groups have a case pending before the National Labor Relations Board.

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.