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Carpenters, Convention Center extend contract - Friday updates

Carpenters resist work-rule changes

Friday p.m: Convention Center agrees to let Carpenters back to work under a contract extension to May 10

 9 a.m.: Pa. Convention Center bosses will review a Carpenters union back-to-work proposal today, a person familiar with the talks told me.

More than 100 Carpenters Local 8 members, many in blue union jackets or T-shirts printed with the union's bulldog mascot, stood talking quietly along 13th St. below Race this morning as police civil affairs officers watched. Center management "won't let any union Carpenters in the building," union leader Ed Coryell Sr. told me. Coryell said the workers were "locked out" after management on Thursday night deferred accepting the union's offer to return to work under terms of their old contract, following a union walkout that afternoon. Bob McClintock of facilities manager SMG and center CEO John McNichol represented the company in those talks.

Management is pressing for a new contract that would boost worker pay but also allow exhibitors to use electric screwdrivers and stepladders (without union labor), to expand the size of booths where exhibitors can do their own set-up (without union labor), and to affirm drug-testing rules. The union is resisting work rule changes it says will reduce members' hours and income. See also Jane Von Bergen's story, picket line pictures in today's Philadelphia Inquirer here. 

Thursday: Carpenters' union leader (and Pa. Convention Center board member) Ed Coryell Sr., on the events leading up to this afternoon's work stoppage by members of Local 8: After weeks of tough bargaining,  "at 1:30 this morning a tentative agreement was reached. We were supposed to meet at 12 o'clock (today, with Center bosses) to sign it." Coryell, fighting a cold, told me he left senior union officers in charge of talks; Bob McClintock of management firm SMG and Center CEO John McNichol represented management.

"But when McClintock and John McNichol took it back (this morning, to the Center board's) Customer Satisfaction subcommittee, the tentative agreement was rejected. At noon, we're waiting, and nobody shows up from the Center or SMG" to sign the deal. "We called. They said, 'We need an extension.' We said, 'We had a deal!' We had no choice, so we put pickets up at 1. That's the story," Coryell told me.

McClintock confirmed that much: "We have a very engaged board," he told me. The Customer Satisfaction committee, headed by Heather Steinmiller, a lawyer for Inquirer owner George Norcross's Conner Strong insurance agency, is designed to make the Center more customer-friendly, McClintock said. Committee members felt the proposed deal he'd helped negotiate didn't go far enough.

What's the impact of the strike? "We are moving forward and operating the building," McClintock said. Even with Carpenters picket lines? "Teamsters did not cross the line. There was work done by other trades." The neurologists' convention that ended Thursday was partly taken down, with more work due tomorrow. There are no plans to halt other shows, including the Broad Street Run. "We respect the rights of every individual" to decide whether to cross picket lines, McClintock added.

Any more talks? "There is continued discussion by all the parties." McClintock didn't comment directly on Coryell's description of the disagreement points (listed briefly below): "I respect Mr. Coryell's right to have these positions." Asked if he expects the Carpenters to give up work rules even if they're not satisfied members will gain more hours as a result, McClintock said the board's goal "is not to harm jobs but to increase jobs" for union members. He is confident "we would not have taken one job away" from union workers. He "respects the hard work done by leaders of the Trade Unions" to try and come up with new agreements.

Back to Coryell: So who moves next, the Carpenters or the bosses? "Good question. We're ready and willing to negotiate. I've been saying for months, 'Please don't let this go down to the wire. Let's not wait til April 30.' And, you know, that's exactly what they did."

What's at stake in this fight? "They want this crazy stuff. They want exhibitors to use power tools, which we are not going to allow. They want to double the size of the booths exhibitors can erect on their own. It's currently 300 square feet." Management says its proposal is modeled on union deals at Chicago's convention center. But Coryell says labor rules are more pro-union at New York's Javits center, and halls in Washington and Baltimore.

Bottom line for the Carpenters' elected leader: "I'm trying to protect my members and not lose jobs."

ALSO: There are no plans to cancel any events at the Pennsylvania Convention Center as a result of the work dispute, Deirdre C. Hopkins, spokeswoman for facility manager SMG, told me.

EARLIER: Striking Carpenters resisting planned work-rule changes they fear could cut members' hours picketed the Pennsylvania Convention Center entrance at 13th and Race Sts. today, slowing the scheduled dismantling of a medical convention, as talks broke down between union leaders, and the state-owned center and its newly-privatized management team.

In a statement, Convention Center bosses said Carpenters Local 8 had walked out on talks after months of discussions with SMG, the Conshohocken company that replaced city-appointed managers last fall.

SMG and members of the Center's board, which includes politically-connected representatives of state, city, suburban and union interests, "have provided ample evidence to union leadership that work rule changes in Chicago and other venues have benefitted unions by attracting more business and customers, resulting in more work hours for union members," board authority chairman Gregory J. Fox, a lawyer, said in a statement. He added that "the Carpenters are hurting their own membership and tens of thousands" of hotel and restaurant jobs that depend on center events.

Coryell, who is secretary-treasurer of the Carpenters' Philadelphia-area union council, has said his union brothers won't agree to cuts that result in fewer hours for members. The Carpenters have led opposition to changes that could cost workers money. Management says the workers will end up with more hours and more pay because the rules will attract more shows to the underused center.

Other unions representing workers at the center have continued extending their agreements as talks continued.

SMG has been trying to get the Carpenters to agree to a "revised customer service agreement with modified work rules that make it easier for customers to do business at the Center," John McNichol, a Harrisburg lobbyist and Center board member named CEO earlier this year, added in a statement. He said Philadelphia's work rules are less favorable to trade show managers, and boost costs, compared to other cities.

According to the board's statement, the Center "is currently hosting the American Academy of Neurology, a citywide convention of 13,000 attendees, which is expected to generate a $35 million economic impact for the region." The convention ends Saturday. "Events scheduled in the building over the next week include the Broad Street Run, Konami, the American Cancer Society, and Commonwealth Connections."

The Carpenters' contract with the center's former labor manager, Elliott Lewis Convention Services, ran out April 30. The center is seeking new contracts and customer-service agreements with the Carpenters and five other unions: Laborers' International Local 332, Stagehands Local 8, IBEW Local 98, Teamsters Local 107, Iron Workers Local 405.

The Teamsters and Laborers locals and John Dougherty's Local 98 today agreed to extend their contracts so talks can continue at least a few more days, Pete Peterson, a spokesman for the Center, told me. The Carpenters, he said, "are the only union on strike."