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Union carpenters to sign convention pact

Jane M. Von Bergen, Staff Writer

Updated: Tuesday, June 6, 2017, 12:01 PM

While the pact, dubbed the “value-added commitment,” includes union carpenters in Philadelphia, it will not change the situation at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where union carpenters have not done trade show work since May 2014.

Union carpenters plan to sign a new pact with trade show industry contractors Tuesday that will include customer service training, safety training, and the establishment of drug-free workplaces, the union and contractors announced Monday.

While the pact, dubbed the “value-added commitment,” includes union carpenters in Philadelphia, it will not change the situation at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where union carpenters have not done trade show work since May 2014.

“It’s not like we’re going to wake up and say, `Never mind. We don’t have a customer satisfaction agreement,’ ” said the Convention Center’s chief executive, John McNichol.

However, he said, “it sounds like a good agreement to have in place. I think it’s a strong signal to be sending to the industry,” a sentiment echoed by Bob McClintock, who heads the convention division of SMG, the West Conshohocken-based company that manages the Convention Center and other centers and arenas around the nation.

In May 2014, carpenters lost jurisdiction to work in the building when their leaders did not sign a new customer satisfaction agreement by a management-imposed deadline. The leaders signed a few days later, but by then, the carpenters’ work had been divided among other unions, particularly union stagehands and laborers.

“I think the most significant thing is the standardized training throughout the entire district,” said Michael Capelli, United Brotherhood of Carpenters Eastern District vice president. The district includes five regional councils, from Maine to Washington, including the Northeast Regional Council, which is based in northern New Jersey and covers the Philadelphia area, all of New Jersey, and most of New York state, but not New York City.

That way, no matter where union carpenters work, they’ll have the same skills, whether they are in customer service or installing exhibits, Capelli said. He said that the union will also more strictly enforce drug provisions in collective-bargaining contracts. “This is a pilot,” he said. “If it works, we’re going to expand it across the Brotherhood.”

Also signing the pact will be leaders of the Exhibition Services and Contractors Association (ESCA) and the Exhibitor Appointed Contractors Association (EACA). ESCA represents the general contractors who build huge trade shows, such as the Democratic National Convention. EACA represents the contractors whom individual exhibitors hire to set up their booths, which often include complex stages and multimedia platforms.

A key provision of the pact allows free movement of labor within the district. This is important because many contractors, particularly EACA contractors, have their own crews of union carpenters. The contractors’ crews may set up and dismantle the same exhibits at trade shows in multiple cities. In the past, depending on the center, those contractors would not have been able to use their own crews, but instead would have had to hire from the local union hall.

“Contractors can bring their own core crews with them,” allowing them to work more efficiently, Capelli said. “This way they can be more competitive” in bidding for clients.

In Philadelphia, union carpenters in those crews would still not be allowed to work at the Convention Center, but would have to hire union stagehands and laborers through the center’s labor contractor.

The carpenters said discussions leading to the pact began in March when union and convention industry leaders attended the union’s trade show summit in March.

“The Carpenters came to us as employers to partner with them to create the Value-Added Commitment for the betterment of the entire industry,” Larry Arnaudet, ESCA’s executive director said in a statement.

Meanwhile, litigation continues from the carpenters losing the right to work at the Convention Center in Philadelphia.

The center’s federal racketeering lawsuit against the carpenters union is in the pretrial conference stage, with a potential trial date in September 2018. The center accused the union of intimidation and vandalism, saying it was in retaliation for losing the work.

The union has denied all charges. It filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, saying its ouster was illegal, an allegation that the center denies. Both sides are trading briefs.

Jane M. Von Bergen, Staff Writer

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