Just in time for Christmas, City Council has approved the expansion of the Convention Center - but not really.
Council yesterday passed legislation needed to get construction moving, but imposed conditions that will effectively stall the project until construction unions disclose the racial composition of their ranks and provide long-term diversity plans.
"There's a lot of work ahead of us," said City Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, one of many African-American elected officials who say they want far more minority workers and contractors on city construction projects.
Council's bill bars unions from entering into the "project labor agreement," which will govern the expansion project, until Council has approved their long-term diversity plans.
And Convention Center officials say they won't send construction bid packages out until the labor agreement is done, since the contractors need the agreement to calculate their costs.
"We'll move forward in a very positive way," Convention Center board chairman Thomas "Buck" Riley said yesterday. "We're still on schedule."
The question that now hangs over the project is what kind of diversity plans the building-trades unions will agree to, and whether they're willing to disclose membership information to Council.
While two unions leaders have made positive comments about Council's requirements, most of the 17 unions have been silent. One labor source said yesterday that some leaders resent reporting to Council on a state-funded project.
Building-trades business manager Pat Gillespie said yesterday that his unions have already been working to include minorities and that progress on the Convention Center depends on good-faith negotiations.
"I'm hopeful that the governor, and mayor-elect what's-his-name and others . . . want to find solutions to this issue, and just don't want the issue, then I think we'll have some success," Gillespie said.
Gillespie's sarcastic reference to mayor-elect Michael Nutter came a day after Nutter pledged to end "economic apartheid" on city construction sites.
Gillespie yesterday acknowledged the remark bothered several labor leaders.
"It's not helpful, but I think we're past that," he said.
Gillespie and other construction union leaders met with Gov. Rendell Tuesday evening in Harrisburg, a gathering Gillespie called "productive."
Meanwhile, Philadelphia City Solicitor Romulo Diaz said yesterday that he's prepared a draft diversity plan for unions to consider, but doesn't believe most union leaders have seen it yet.
It's expected Council won't review any union plans until after a new Council with three new members is sworn in Jan. 7. *