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Clock ticking for two key unions at Convention Center

Early Sunday morning, after more than 20 years of work at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, there might not be any union Carpenters or Teamsters in the center's workforce.

Early Sunday morning, after more than 20 years of work at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, there might not be any union Carpenters or Teamsters in the center's workforce.

The next 36 to 48 hours are critical for both unions, but of the two, the Carpenters have the most to lose - they logged 167,879 hours of work at the center in 2013.

Both unions contend that they were deceived by the center's management, because both thought they had until May 10, when their contract extensions expired, to agree to and sign a key document, a new Customer Satisfaction Agreement

Not so, says the board of the Convention Center Authority. That deadline passed at 11:59 p.m. on Monday. For the Carpenters, in particular, the next deadline - Saturday at 11:59 p.m. - means the end of their involvement at the Convention Center.


Edward Coryell Sr., the powerful head of the Metropolitan Regional Council of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, can convince his political allies to intercede.

The Carpenters can apply pressure through the Philadelphia Exposition Services Contractors Association, a trade group of convention and trade-show producers that sits on the management side of the bargaining table negotiating rates for meetings and shows at more than 100 area hotels and trade centers.

Through the court of public opinion, the Carpenters can convince other influential people that they deserve a chance to return to the center because they were wronged at critical points in the bargaining process.

If those methods don't work, a show of force might.

Some officials at the Convention Center say they are preparing for more than a thousand Carpenters to ring the building Monday morning, just in time for the start of the 11th Annual BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology, with 1,000 attendees expected.

That's not true, Coryell said Thursday.

Courthouses and the National Labor Relations Board offices will be open Monday, ready for whatever lawsuits or unfair labor practices the unions might be prepared to file.

The situation came to a head May 1, when, after months of negotiations blew up, the Carpenters went on strike. They returned to work the next day. The Teamsters did not strike.

Convention Center management said the strike forced their hand, requiring them to give the center's six unions about 30 hours to sign a revised Customer Satisfaction Agreement (CSA) that operates in tandem with their collective bargaining agreements.

Failure to sign meant any union would not be able to work in the center after its collective bargaining agreement expired, the board said.

Four of the six unions signed, but not Local 8 of the Carpenters' union and Local 107 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The Carpenters were in the Convention Center as usual on Thursday, setting up for the BIO World Congress, still working until their contract expires May 10.

"We had 25 Carpenters to set it up," said Ed Coryell Jr., son of the union leader and the person who most often deals with Convention Center matters. Carpenters will be working Friday and Saturday, he said.

As for the Teamsters, William Hamilton, who heads Local 107, said he isn't surprised that the other building trades aren't supporting the Carpenters' union.

The other trades - riggers, stagehands, laborers and electricians - stand to benefit by gaining the work once performed by the Carpenters and Teamsters. The center also benefits, because most of the other trades earn less.

"The building trades eat their young," Hamilton said. "They beat the hell out of each other every day. We're not part of that crazy stuff. We go in and unload the trucks and leave."

Hamilton said he and a business agent told management that they were ready to sign the CSA before they had to leave on business trips. Both men assumed they had until the end of the May 10 contract extension to sign. The Teamsters have about 10 percent of the center's work.

Hamilton said he's ready to sign any time.

Ed Coryell Sr. sees duplicity on the part of the board. For example, hours after the Carpenters' May 1 strike began, the union offered to end it. It took until 1 p.m. the next day for the appropriate paperwork to be drawn up and even then, he said, the Carpenters weren't allowed into the building for hours.

Coryell said he's willing to continue negotiating at any time.

Will politicians come to the rescue?

If anyone does, it won't be Gov. Corbett, even though the Carpenters donated to his campaign.

"The governor has full confidence in the board to make appropriate decisions for the Convention Center and has left that decision in their hands," said Corbett's spokesman, Jay Pagni.

Coryell might be expected to call on U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, a Philadelphia Democrat, himself a union carpenter and known for an ability to settle union-management conflicts. A source at the Convention Center said that Brady has been calling board members, but has been unable to reach them.

Can Coryell apply pressure in the industry?

He wrote a letter to the managers of the Philadelphia Exposition Services Contractors Association and reminded them that they have a contract to hire union carpenters for all those shows.

Not so, says the association's executive director.

"Our agreement does not cover the Convention Center," said Larry Arnaudet. It covers work at hotels and other exhibit halls, he added.

"Our desire is that they will all come to the table and ratify the agreement," said Arnaudet, adding that he supports the Convention Center management's position.

But, if they don't, Arnaudet said, the work will still get done.