Why she said No: Dissident says private control won't solve labor woes

Heather A. Steinmiller, senior vice president and general counsel for Conner, Strong & Buckelew, serves on the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority Board.

Heather Steinmiller, a Philadelphia lawyer (she's General Counsel for Conner Strong & Buckelew, the insurance agency headed by George Norcross, who's also an owner of the Inquirer) was one of three Philadelphia Convention Center board members to oppose hiring a private manager at today's meeting. Here's highlights from her statement explaining the No's:

There is no doubt that change is needed at the Pennsylvania Convention Center – but the question is – is this the change that will make things better?...

I am against this action today because I don’t believe this action addresses our number one issue – our inability to meet our customers’ expectations in delivering high quality/ low cost show labor...

 We have study after study – first the Econsult Report, then the Crossroads Report and most recently 2 PFM reports. We have direct feedback from customers such as True Value and AORN who cancelled future dates for one reason – the show floor. Our long term sales team - the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau – says the reason they can’t book shows is because of the problems on the floor.

And now we have 2 national firms who in this process confirmed that our number one challenge is the show floor. One responder after doing interviews of past, current and prospective customers concluded and I quote:

"Only one area received a negative response from the event organizers as well as decorators and general service contractors. There was a consistent feeling that costs and hassles were excessive, resulting from a lack of competitive costs, restrictive work rules and conditions at the PCC [that] are serious deterrents for many event organizers."

A lack of shows at the Pennsylvania Convention Center has a significant negative ripple effect on other sectors of our economy – fewer hotels rooms booked, laid off hotel workers, fewer restaurant bookings and decline in retail sales. What we do here matters to the City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth.

So the question remains - how is private management going to fix this problem?

How is private management going to make sure that the proper number of workers actually work, that not an excess number of workers take extra time to complete a task, all increasing the customer’s bill?

How is private management going to address the costs related to the number of foreman on a job and overtime?

What as a board are we going to do differently in holding another private management company accountable versus the one that currently manages the show floor?

There are no answers to these questions and therefore I cannot support it.

It is clear the votes are here for this to go through. As a result I do want to take this time to thank our tremendous staff on whom I know this process has taken a toll and are concerned about their futures...

Over the past 5 years, our team members have led a transition from landlord to service provider while overseeing the largest public works project in Commonwealth history. Over 3 years they have saved the Commonwealth $13.1 Million dollars by reducing the budget and finding ways to increase revenues. They have instituted an energy sustainability program that resulted in savings in energy consumption; managed a capital maintenance program that ensured we did not have equipment failures during any major event and created a long-term sustainable budget.

 Time after time, again and again, you have risen above it all and did your job and tried your best, and I thank you.

Although I have serious doubts about this proposed move to private management, I do remain committed to working with this Board and the eventual winning contractor to fight for the change that is needed.

We know we have a great city, we know we have great union workers, we know we have one of the best convention center facilities in the country – we just need to answer our customers’ call – fix the show floor labor issues and we will return.