EDITORS' NOTE: Due to a technical error, an incomplete version of the Convention Center dispute that did not reflect Council's action ran in yesterday's
The bitter conflict between some City Council members and construction unions that threatened the massive Convention Center expansion seems to have been defused, at least for now.
Building-trades leaders are reacting positively to City Council's action Thursday night, when members rescinded its invitation to nonunion firms to work on the project but imposed new demands for diversity on the unions.
Under legislation given preliminary approval Thursday, unions will have to reveal the racial composition of their membership and commit to long-term diversity plans subject to City Council's approval if they want to work on the project.
Several Council members are insistent that the diversity plans extend beyond the Convention Center project into future privately funded construction.
Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council, seemed willing yesterday to accommodate Council's terms yesterday.
"I applaud Council for removing the draconian anti-union language," Gillespie said. "As for what they're proposing on diversity, I think it's what we've wanted all along."
Gillespie cautioned that he can't speak for each of the 17 unions that will provide the information and diversity plans Council wants.
Mike Fera, president of Cement Masons local 592, said he's proud of the growing diversity in his union, and will happily share information with Council.
"We have to count some of this stuff by hand," Fera said. "I'm going to be roughly 25 percent minority [in the union], and my apprentice class is 56 percent minority. If they want information, I'll give it to them."
Earlier in the week, Fera had told Councilman Frank DiCicco that he wouldn't reveal demographic numbers. Fera and other union leaders were furious with DiCicco for inserting the nonunion language in Convention Center legislation.
Gov. Rendell has warned Council that the $700 million in state funding for the expansion project could be jeopardized if members did not act quickly on legislation needed to get the project moving.
Although Council could give the deal final approval next week, other unions are still to be heard from, and the details of their long-term diversity plans need to be negotiated.
Mayor Street, who worked for hours with Council members on the legislation, said he was optimistic.
"I think this is a set of unions that want to do the right things," Street said. "They want to see the Convention Center expanded, and I think it's going to be all right."
Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, who pushed hard for the diversity provisions, said she expects tangible results from the building trades.
"We wanted to increase the minority participation in these unions," Miller said. "It is time for change here in Philadelphia because the situation now is disgraceful." *