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Carpenters: We were blindsided by sudden changes in labor agreement

Union that refused to sign with convention center explores legal recourse.

Carpenters union on strike. The union and the Teamsters were the only two not to sign an agreement with the Convention Center. (Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer)
Carpenters union on strike. The union and the Teamsters were the only two not to sign an agreement with the Convention Center. (Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer)Read more

CARPENTERS Local 8, one of two trade unions nearing the end of their contracts with the Pennsylvania Convention Center, says the unions were "blindsided" when given new terms in a labor agreement and only 24 hours to "take it or leave it."

"This 24-hour ultimatum at the last minute by the [convention center] board came out of the blue, and the carpenters believe the action itself is totally unreasonable," Local 8 spokesman Marty O'Rourke said.

Of the six unions that staff the center, Local 8 and Teamsters Local 107 were the only two that refused to sign a "customer satisfaction agreement" that loosens some work rules. For example, under the old contract, exhibitors weren't allowed to use step stools or ladders taller than 3 feet or operate a battery-powered screwdriver at their own booths.

O'Rourke said the carpenters are still willing to sit down at the bargaining table and hope the board can do the same.

"We believe we are dealing with reasonable people and we fully expect to resolve this problem," he said.

"In the meantime, we are meeting with our attorneys to explore all legal options, should the convention center board and its supporters be unwilling to continue the negotiations we started some weeks ago."

Calls to the Teamsters for comment were not returned.

The center's chief executive, John McNichol, told the Daily News on Tuesday that changes had to be made to "outdated" work rules in order to compete for conventions on a global scale. He said each union was given ample time to look over the terms of the agreement but ultimately decided its own fate.

"Effective May 10, those two unions have no agreement with the center," McNichol said.

"Right now, we have a contract between the four signatory unions ratified by our board of directors. It's a very progressive document that takes us exactly where we need to be in positioning ourselves as a top-tier facility in the country."

In a letter dated May 5 from Carpenters secretary-treasurer Ed Coryell Sr. to McNichol, Coryell describes his "shock, dismay and disappointment" that terms laid out in a tentative customer-satisfaction agreement reached on May 1 were totally different from the offer presented on Monday. He warns that the center's "heavy-handed" approach will not be tolerated.

According to McNichol, all unionized workers are on payroll through Saturday, the last day of the old contract extension. He said that there is no clear path for the Carpenters and Teamsters to work in the building after that date, but that the four other unions that signed on - the Laborers, Electrical Workers, Stagehands and Riggers - will share the workload.