THE TEAMSTERS and carpenters who set up exhibits at the Pennsylvania Convention Center could find themselves out of work by Saturday, after refusing yesterday to sign a labor agreement that changes their work rules.
Four of the six convention-center unions agreed to a new deal, giving exhibitors more freedom in choosing how their displays are set up and who does what work in the process. The move came after years of dwindling bookings at the center, which was supposed to draw conventions on an international scale.
John McNichol, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, acknowledged that many of the union workers had helped to erect the $780 million convention-center expansion that was approved in 2006, but called today's work rules "out of date."
"What happened today was not the way I would have scripted it," he told the Daily News.
"Let me be really clear: They were given multiple opportunities until midnight [Monday] to accept the terms offered in our new customer-satisfaction agreement. The two unions that find themselves outside this agreement made that decision.
"We thought we set a path and offered an agreement in good faith that would have allowed them to participate in moving the building forward to where it needs to be in order to be competitive in this industry. Customers, in the broad sense, can find venues around the country where they can deliver shows at less cost and less hassle."
It is unclear what blowback could come from the absence of Carpenters Local 8 and Teamsters Local 107, but the four remaining unions are expected to pick up the slack.
McNichol said that the board, as the responsible fiduciary, had to consider the roughly 50,000 hospitality and tourism workers throughout the city who are affected by its decisions. The convention center was expanded to accommodate up to 30 conventions a year. It has yet to come close to that mark.
Reacting yesterday to the news, Mayor Nutter touted the convention center as among the best in the nation, noting its 87,000-square-foot ballroom, the largest on the East Coast. He agreed that the Carpenters and Teamsters unions reached a "self-made decision" in scrapping the deal.
"Whether it's the ability to use an electric screwdriver or have a half-step ladder, many of these booths, these display areas, are not the most complicated things in the world. They snap together," the mayor said.
"We have some challenges over at the center in terms of their reputation, and if you have a bad experience at a convention center, it is highly unlikely you are going to come back."
Calls seeking union leaders' comments were not returned.