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Carpenters strike out at convention center

The protest was sparked by a dispute between the carpenters union and the center's board over labor regulations.

IF EXHIBITORS at the Pennsylvania Convention Center need any carpentry work in the coming days, they're out of luck.

A dispute between the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and the convention center's board has stymied the union's work there, and a group of the woodworkers formed a picket line outside the center's entrance at 11th and Race streets early yesterday afternoon.

One of the protest organizers yesterday referred questions to union leader Ed Coryell Sr., who didn't return a call for comment last night.

But Lorenz Hassenstein, general manager of SMG, the firm that operates the convention center, said the protest was sparked by his board's attempts to overhaul labor regulations.

"We're trying to put into effect more mainstream work rules, consistent with those used in Washington, D.C., New York and other cities," he said. "The carpenters don't wish us to do that."

Those changes would make Philly a more attractive venue for exhibitors, Hassenstein said, and would make the center itself a "more active destination."

"Because of past labor issues in Philly, we're not as competitive as other cities," he said. "We're at an impasse with the carpenters in our attempts to make the center more competitive."

Hassenstein noted that the board has not encountered resistance from the other six unions operating at the convention center, and said that their work would continue on the current exhibition, a conference for the American Academy of Neurology.

"Fortunately, the rest of that conference is just meetings - a format that requires little support from the carpenters," he said. He noted that the next event at the center, the Broad Street Run, will "suffer" due to the strike, but doesn't foresee any problems honoring the venue's schedule as it currently stands.

"It doesn't appear that we'll have to cancel anything," he said. "We're in a fortunate position in the coming weeks where we won't require much input from the carpenters."

The union's collective-bargaining agreement with the convention center expired Wednesday, Hassenstein said. He believes the carpenters let it lapse deliberately as a strategy to spur their protest.

"We don't have a disagreement with the other trades: the laborers are working, the electricians are working," he said.

"We have people in the building getting work done. Life goes on."