Convention Center hearings end; important issues remain

After two days of testimony, hearings on whether the Pennsylvania Convention Center officials retaliated against union carpenters ended Wednesday morning nowhere near a resolution.

"This is an important case," Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board hearing examiner Jack E. Marino told lawyers for the Convention Center and Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters. "There are a lot of big issues" beyond the facts, particularly whether the case belongs before the PLRB. 

Marino set long deadlines for post-hearing briefs, with the parties allowed at least 150 days to file briefs and replies. He said it was important to create a clear record, since it is likely that the jurisdiction issue eventually will wind up in Commonwealth Court. Any ruling that Marino makes on the facts can be appealed to the full PLRB. 

In May 2014, after failing to sign a new customer satisfaction agreement by a quick deadline, the carpenters union lost its jurisdiction in the center. By the time the union's leader signed, the carpenters' work had been divided among other unions.

The carpenters filed an unfair practice charge with the PLRB, saying the center engineered the quick-deadline scenario to push the carpenters out in retaliation for two strikes and for the carpenters' union trying to protect its members' work, which would have been eroded under the customer satisfaction agreement.

The Convention Center denied that, saying the strikes forced them to act quickly, drawing up a new agreement to reassure fleeing and potential customers that ongoing labor and management issues at the center would be resolved. 

A separate federal racketeering lawsuit filed against the union by the Convention Center is pending.