The Pennsylvania Convention Center is drawing its sturdiest line in the sand yet to force Philadelphia labor unions to ease their expensive hold on exhibition activities - mandating that the unions either agree to less stringent work rules or lose their access to any work at all.
Center officials have told the six unions that provide manpower at the center to sign a "customer satisfaction agreement." The center's board is then expected to ratify that agreement during its meeting this morning that starts at 9 a.m.
If any of the unions don't sign on, they will lose their "jurisdiction" for work at the convention center, according to a source with knowledge of the agreement.
The official said four of the six unions appear very likely to sign by the deadline, but one union, Carpenters' Local 8, remains a wild card. The carpenters struck briefly late last week, but it reportedly had little effect on activity at the center.
It did not, however, have little effect in the long-term. Their strike is specifically mentioned in an open letter from the convention center's leadership to its stakeholders sent earlier today, in which it is described as yet another impediment "to convince committed customers that they should still bring their shows to the Pennsylvania Convention Center and to convince potential customers that it is worth the investment and risk to select the Pennsylvania Convention Center."
The carpenters, who work by one estimate roughly one-third of all union hours inside the center, are most against the new agreement because their work would be most affected. A large part of the new work rules includes "expanded exhibitor rights ... regarding use of battery power tools, ladders, and the ability of customers to perform setup work for booths up to 600 square feet in size."
A message left for Local 8 Business Manager Ed Coryell Sr. was not returned.
Facility officials have long argued the high costs of Philadelphia union labor hurts the city's competitive edge in attracting conventions to come here instead of cities like Chicago or New York or Las Vegas.
And the letter from Board Chairman Gregory J. Fox and Center President/CEO John J. McNichol didn't mince words.
"Immediate action is our only opportunity to save tens of thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars in union wages and benefits inside the Center (not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefit to the region, the City of Philadelphia, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) that will certainly be lost due to the cancellation of shows and refusal of other shows to consider Philadelphia as a destination," they wrote.
If any of the unions do not sign the new agreement and lose their jurisdiction, it is assumed other unions would fill roles left vacant.