BLACK construction workers may someday erect a shrine to the incredible arrogance of Pat Gillespie.
It would be a place where future generations of minority building-trades unionists pay tribute to the man who opened more doors for minorities with his mouth than all of the inclusionary edicts and minority-apprenticeship programs ever devised.
Gillespie, who runs the Building and Construction Trades Council, landed on City Council's last nerve a week ago with his testimony at a hearing on minority inclusion in the Convention Center expansion project. His cavalier dismissal of Council members' concerns did more to unify them than a chance to vote themselves a pay raise.
In the process, he has exposed his members to the third rail of labor talks: the dreaded open shop. In this union town, the idea of an open shop, in which lucrative construction jobs are no longer the exclusive province of powerful unions, had been unheard of.
Until Gillespie treated Council like a class of unruly third-graders.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown asked him what happened to the white construction worker accused of displaying a noose at the Comcast Tower construction site and to the black worker who complained about it.
"That really set people off," Councilman W. Wilson Goode recalled. "She asked what happened to that guy, if he was still working, and he said, 'Of course he's working. He's a skilled tradesman.'
"His response about the black worker was essentially that he has to get his own job.
"That made it easy for Council."
That, plus Gillespie's failure to say how many minorities are in his unions. People have been after those numbers for years, and the unions keep finding excuses for not finding the numbers.
Two years ago, James Nevels, then-chairman of the School Reform Commission, complained that the unions "haven't been forthcoming with numbers."
The district used its $1.5 billion construction budget to persuade the unions to enroll 425 school district grads by 2010. The unions claimed that 387 school district grads had been placed in the first year.
But in October, when I contacted Tony Wigglesworth - executive director of the Philadelphia Area Labor Management Committee and the guy who is supposed to monitor the unions' compliance - he said he had not sent verifying numbers to the district because he didn't know whom to send them to.
The most successful use of leverage by a city agency was the Philadelphia Housing Authority's agreement with the unions to place PHA residents in apprenticeships on some of the $1.3 billion PHA is spending on construction projects.
But in eight years, only half of the 506 PHA residents who were trained and passed apprenticeship tests are still on the job.
When you count the $700 million in projects from the Convention Center expansion, plus money spent for PHA, the school district and the stadiums, more than $4 billion in public money has been spent without producing any significant benefit for minority workers whose taxes finance jobs for people who don't live in this city.
It's about time Council or somebody started putting their muscle behind our money.
Gov. Rendell is convening a meeting Monday to try to avert Council's open-shop provision. It will mean adopting a set of verifiable goals and timetables enforced with real penalties.
"It's got to be real," state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams said. "We spent all that money on stadiums and didn't get one journeyman's position out of it. It's not going to happen like that this time."
Meanwhile, Mayor Street and Council are working separately to craft amendments with enough teeth to let Council adopt a project labor agreement without the open-shop provision.
"We could come up with something as early as today and vote on it tomorrow" Councilman Goode told me yesterday. "Or if the governor's plan gets to us first, we can vote on that amendment a week later."
Sen. Williams all but guaranteed success.
"We're going to come out of that room Monday with an agreement," he said. "This is not a black-or-white thing. It's about jobs for the local economy." *