Organized labor's devotion to make-work rules at the Pennsylvania Convention Center has been a destroy-work strategy. Abetted by years of feckless management by politicians and their appointees, union hassles have driven away conventions even as taxpayers were mired in a monumental reinvestment in the building. The resulting debacle has finally become obvious even to the unions themselves - or at least to most of them.
Consider the thoroughly unconventional scene that unfolded at the center this week, when electricians' union chief John Dougherty and other labor leaders led members across a jeering picket line. Dougherty's union was one of four that agreed last week to updated work rules designed to address long-standing customer dissatisfaction with the Convention Center. The two holdouts, Carpenters Local 8 and Teamsters Local 107, continued protesting as setup began for a biotech conference expected to draw 1,200 conventioneers from more than 30 countries.
Other than 3 percent raises every year for the next decade, which are also provided by the new labor agreement, what exactly are the rebels resisting? Work rules that, among other things, allow exhibitors to use stepladders and plug in their computers.
In other words, this won't go down in history alongside the fight for child labor laws and a 40-hour workweek.
The Convention Center's board of directors deserves credit for its belated but necessary decisions to hire a reputable private management firm and insist on modernized work rules. Meanwhile, apparently oblivious to or heedless of these developments, Carpenters boss Ed Coryell Sr. persisted in his provocations even into last week, on the brink of the new labor agreement.
Having overplayed their hand and lost, the Carpenters and Teamsters now say they want to sign the agreement they refused. But with no shortage of workers and union leaders having accepted the generous deal that was offered, it's easy to understand why the center would seize the opportunity to rid itself of its most obstinate labor chieftains. The four remaining union contracts are four more than many of the nation's convention centers maintain.
Sadly, the members of the holdout unions are among the losers. The ranks of the winners, however, are potentially much greater, encompassing not only the rest of the center's workforce, but the countless other workers and businesses that thrive on tourism. The city at large, that is, stands to benefit - if it's not too late to recover its reputation for more than recalcitrance.