Fragile peace: Crane union may end walkout

Union workers gather outside the construction site as union crane operators protest in front of the Comcast tower in Philadelphia, PA on Friday.

Striking crane operators are back to work amid a fragile peace between their union and an organization of building contractors.

The strike, which began Tuesday, slowed, but generally didn’t stop, construction at projects in Center City and throughout the region, including the Comcast Corp. tower, Chester County Hospital, Market Street East, and the W Hotel.

“Today Bob Heenan and I met for five hours to resolve the strike with the GBCA,” Tom Danese, recording secretary for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 542, wrote on the union’s Facebook page. The post went up Friday evening, without stating when exactly workers would be back on the job. “We are putting everyone back to work. Something’s [sic] need to be ironed out over the weekend, but at this time we are back to work. That is all I can say at this time.”

Union officials didn’t meet with the bargaining team from the General Building Contractors Association on Friday, but were in touch for hours on the phone. Their last meeting, on Thursday, failed to produce any results.

GBCA president Benjamin Connors declined to comment and Danese didn’t return several calls seeking comment — an indication of the tentativeness of the situation.

The union’s contract expired April 30. Talks broke down over disagreements about the role of oilers on building sites, how the GBCA should collect dues, and when double time should be paid. Core compensation wasn’t an issue — both sides agreed to a raise of $2 an hour each year through the duration of the contract.

The union didn’t set up pickets, so construction was able to continue on many sites. However, the work was hampered because union members operate construction elevators as well as machinery that lifts heavy objects, such as steel beams. On Friday, construction at the Comcast tower came to a complete halt following a morning protest by the union as the other trades decided not to enter the job site.

Danese thanked union members and the other trades for their cooperation.