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Convention center Carpenters union case could drag on until September — 2018

Jane M. Von Bergen, STAFF WRITER

Updated: Wednesday, May 3, 2017, 11:47 AM

Union officials lead their members past a picket line set up at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in May 2014. In front is John Dougherty, who heads IBEW Local 98.

It's never going to be over.

That’s probably an exaggeration, but lawyers from both sides of the dispute between the Convention Center and Philadelphia’s union carpenters say they won’t be able to go to trial on some key issues until September.

That’s September 2018.

The carpenters lost their jurisdiction to work in the Convention Center three years ago, in a series of developments that included the executives of some of Philadelphia’s other building trades unions leading their members across the carpenters’ picket line.

At the time, the carpenters did the majority of the work involved in setting up and tearing down conventions and trade shows at the center.

Their work has been divided among other unions, particularly the Stagehands.

On May 8, 2015, a year after the carpenters lost their jurisdiction, the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority filed a federal racketeering lawsuit against the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters, now called the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, accusing the union of conspiring to interfere with the center's business in retaliation for losing the right to work at the center in May 2014.

That case that won’t come to trial before September 2018, according to legal documents filed Monday in federal court. The two sides were able to agree on a schedule for the production of documents, but could not agree on how many people each side would be allowed to interview before trial.

“This case involves a scheme of multiple conspirators to commit mass violence against a large number of individual victims,” the Convention Center’s attorney wrote, noting that the case would require “far more than the usual number of depositions.”

The carpenters said both sides should be limited to 10.

The center plans to gather depositions from former union leader Edward J. Coryell Sr., now retired; his son Edward Jr.; and other union members. The carpenters say they’ll call Convention Center officials, including chief executive John McNichol, and Bob McClintock and Lorenz Hassenstein, employees of the Convention Center’s outside management company, SMG.

In the suit, the center particularly accused the carpenters of vandalism and intimidation during the 2015 Philadelphia Auto Show. In their motion to dismiss, the union and its leaders said they may have been uncouth, but they were not racketeers.

When the dispute began in May 2014, the city’s hospitality industry had been losing convention bookings.

Even though attendees enjoyed Philadelphia’s walkability, the Convention Center had a bad reputation with convention planners. Labor costs were too high, there were too many hassles, and management was never able to get things under control.

Now, bookings are up, conventions are returning, and planners are singing the praises of a new customer satisfaction agreement that gives individual exhibitors more latitude in setting up their own booths. It was the carpenters’ failure to sign that document by the management-imposed deadline that led to them losing their work at the Convention Center.

Once the carpenters lost their jurisdiction, they filed unfair labor practice complaints. Those complaints ultimately made it to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, which has yet to rule on them. After a series of hearings in February, hearing examiner Jack Marino said he’d give each side several months to file briefs and more time to respond.

Jane M. Von Bergen, STAFF WRITER

Read full story: Convention center Carpenters union case could drag on until September — 2018

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