Union rules needed
Not knowing when the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board might rule on a grievance filed by the carpenters' union, it would be understandable for Philadelphia convention planners to feel a bit antsy.
The last thing needed is a decision that unravels the necessary steps taken to attract conventions that long ago stopped booking the Pennsylvania Convention Center for meetings after having bad experiences with the union labor they were required to employ to set up exhibits.
Now under new management, the Convention Center earlier this year offered a new 10-year Customer Satisfaction Agreement to the unions at the facility. It offered union workers a 3 percent raise but, more importantly, streamlined work-site rules to give exhibitors more flexibility in how and when to use union labor.
In May, four of six unions signed the contract by a set deadline. But Carpenters Local 8 and Teamsters Local 107 apparently thought they could get away with being just as recalcitrant as they were under the center's old management. By the time the holdouts signed the agreement, the center said it was too late. Their work went to the unions that signed the pact earlier.
Accusing the Convention Center of an unfair lockout, the carpenters asked the National Labor Relations Board to intervene on their behalf. But the NLRB announced in July that it lacked jurisdiction to rule because the Convention Center is a state agency. The carpenters subsequently filed a complaint with the state labor board.
Giving the carpenters hope that they might prevail is a comment within the NLRB announcement, which said the unions had presented evidence that the Convention Center "acted in derogation of bargaining obligations." However, as Convention Center spokesman Pete Peterson noted in an interview with the Philadelphia Business Journal, acknowledging the existence of evidence and agreeing with it are two different things.
It would be a punch in the stomach of state taxpayers, who have invested $1.3 billion in the Convention Center, to see it lose the ground it has gained to improve its reputation. The worksite rule changes already seem to be paying dividends, with some national conventions that have shunned the Philadelphia facility for years signing up to come back. A labor board ruling restoring the upper hand to unions would be a grave setback.