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Carpenters end strike, but issues remain

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters left the picket line Thursday, but their dispute with the convention center is far from over.

Carpenters on strike. The real impact may come after the neurologists' convention ends Saturday, when booths and exhibits will need to be dismantled. (Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer)
Carpenters on strike. The real impact may come after the neurologists' convention ends Saturday, when booths and exhibits will need to be dismantled. (Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer)Read more

THE UNITED Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 8 may have stopped picketing outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Thursday, but both sides say the issues at heart are far from over.

Late Thursday, after about eight hours of protesting, the union shut down its picket line and reached out to the board of SMG - the firm that operates the convention center - after receiving calls to end the fight from "people in government," according to union leader Ed Coryell Sr., who didn't identify the callers.

The groups reached a temporary resolution, signing a 10-day extension to the union's collective bargaining agreement, which expired Wednesday.

But, according to Coryell, his workers were still told they couldn't go back to work yesterday morning.

Instead, after hours of waiting, the union received word about 5 p.m. that 49 carpenters would be allowed into the convention center this morning to help break down its current exhibition, a conference for the American Academy of Neurology, according to Ed Coryell Jr., the union's business manager.

Lorenz Hassenstein, the general manager of SMG, disputed those numbers: He said 30 union carpenters were working last night, and that a call for an additional 30 went unanswered by the union. Hassenstein confirmed, however, that 49 carpenters would be completing work this morning.

Also in dispute is how the fight began in the first place.

To hear the elder Coryell tell it, SMG blindsided the union with last-minute changes to labor regulations after months of negotiating.

"We weren't hit with any shocking work rule recommendations or changes until a week and half ago," he said. "Mind you, this contract had been in place, and everyone knew it expired April 30."

The reforms in question would allow exhibitors to double the size of the booths they can build without union workers, and allow those exhibitors to use power tools, Coryell said.

Initially, SMG refused to budge, but finally relented on those two changes late Tuesday with a verbal agreement sealed with a handshake, according to the union leader.

Then, representatives from the firm's board returned Wednesday and said those regulations had to stay in, apparently at the request of one of the board's subcommittees.

"With that, we then said we have no contract," Coryell said. "We thought we had a deal, we don't have one, so we're now on strike."

Hassenstein says that's not entirely what happened: He contends that the regulation changes were present throughout the months-long negotiations, and that representatives made it clear to the carpenters and the other five unions working at the center that they would need time to present the agreement to the subcommittee before any final decision could be made.

"To make that happen, we went back the next day and asked for a 10-day extension in order to review the agreement," Hassenstein said. "Five of the unions signed it, but the carpenters decided to strike immediately."

He says the board's position remains the same on the labor regulations in light of the extension, and that discussions with the carpenters will resume next week.