Carpenters may be uncouth but are not racketeers, union says

140710_carpentersUnion
The carpenters’ union has protested its dismissal from the Pennsylvania Convention Center. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / File)

The racketeering lawsuit filed against the carpenters' union by the Pennsylvania Convention Center is a "public relations stunt dressed as a federal lawsuit," the union said in its motion to dismiss, filed Tuesday.

The carpenters' motion is the latest salvo in the multipronged dispute between the Convention Center and the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters, which lost the right to work in the building in May 2014 and has been protesting, leafleting, and litigating since then.

A year later, on May 7, the Convention Center filed a federal racketeering, or RICO, lawsuit against the union, accusing it of "prolonged and coordinated violent, illegal, and extortionate conduct," and demanding $1 million in damages.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, described protests in general, but focused on alleged union disruptions during the Philadelphia Auto Show in January and February.

"Defendants planned their campaign of violence and intimidation in detail well in advance," the lawsuit said.

For example, on Feb. 7, about 200 carpenters, who had purchased tickets a day earlier, walked into the show, allegedly "removing engine covers and fuses, ripping out wiring harnesses, and stealing oil and gas caps," the Convention Center's lawsuit said.

The Convention Center obtained a civil cease-and-desist order to curb protests for the rest of the show.

In Tuesday's court filing, the union says no one was arrested in connection with those events.

Asked about that, Convention Center spokesman Pete Peterson did not respond directly. "The Convention Center has no desire to prosecute its case in the news media," he said. The Convention Center plans to file objections to the carpenters' motion to dismiss.

Its original suit named the union, leader Edward J. Coryell, his son Edward Jr., and others.

In May 2014, the carpenters' union lost its right to work in the building after its leaders failed to sign a new Customer Satisfaction Agreement by a management imposed deadline.

The union signed a few days later, but by then, the union's work had been divided among the four other unions that continue to work in the building.

(Teamsters Local 107 also missed the deadline but is not part of this suit.)

The Convention Center's lawsuit came as another RICO suit, involving Ironworkers Local 401, was making its way through the federal criminal court system.

In that case, members and leaders of the ironworkers union were convicted of planning and executing two dozen nighttime raids on nonunion construction sites, destroying equipment, damaging the buildings, and setting fires in an effort to gain work for their members.

Even if all charges in the Convention Center suit were true, they would still not be a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) case, the union's motion said.

"To be sure, the demonstrations . . . have been noticeable and, as the authority alleges, disruptive - in other words, precisely what labor protests are supposed to be.

"The federal RICO statute punishes patterns of criminal activity, not uncouth labor protests," the motion added. "It is not designed to be a weapon for employers to squelch inconvenient union activity."


jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769

@JaneVonBergen

www.philly.com/jobbing