I've read articles in local newspapers over the last two years about the Philadelphia Convention Center's lawsuit with the carpenters union and wanted to tell you more about the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters and to set the record straight.

We are your brothers.

We are your sisters.

We are hardworking, middle-class Americans seeking what all Americans seek: a good-paying job that puts food on the table; a chance to get ahead and make a good, secure life for our families; health care that's there for us and our families when we need it; and a secure future, so we can retire comfortably when we reach retirement age.

The Philadelphia Convention Center Authority's attempts to paint us as racketeers in its federal racketeering lawsuit against the former Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters  – which merged into NRCC in 2016 – are simply incorrect and misguided.

In 2014, MRCC lost its right to work on projects at the Philadelphia Convention Center, which was a blow to the organization and thousands of male and female carpenters. While other unions crossed the picket line and signed a new deal with the Convention Center, the carpenters were forced out of their jobs when the Center declared that the MRCC had waited too long to sign the agreement. In response to being locked out of their jobs, the MRCC engaged in lawful protests at the Convention Center – including during the 2015 Philadelphia Auto Show – which were intended to raise awareness for worker rights and seek to recover our right to work at the Center. These lawful protests were an expression of our inalienable rights of freedom of speech and the right to assemble; given to us by our founders in the U.S. Constitution

Instead of working with the MRCC on a resolution before our lawful labor protests, the Philadelphia Convention Center Authority illegally locked out our carpenters. As a result, NRCC has filed a lawsuit before the Pennsylvania Department of Labor suing the Authority for lost worker wages.

When the Inquirer revisits the history of the Convention Center's bookings in 2014 and talks about a complaint that labor costs were "too high," they are leaving out the key point that "costs" are money in the pocket of middle-class Americans. "Costs" are how the health care of middle-class Americans get paid by the carpenters union. "Costs" are how we are able to set these hardworking Americans up for retirement by putting money away for them in annuities and pensions. Aren't these the hopes and dreams of all hardworking Americans?

Since the lawful protests in 2015, the MRCC merged into the NRCC in February 2016. The marriage of the two organizations brought our union under one roof, and we now represent and protect the rights of nearly 40,000 hardworking men and women in Delaware, New Jersey and portions of Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania.

As the executive secretary-treasurer at NRCC since 2015, I have implemented a number of initiatives to enhance the ability of our organization and its members to develop relationships with our contractors that are professional and cooperative.

Since the merger, we have worked hard to ensure that the NRCC's culture is one of cooperation and problem-solving and not "us" against "them." It's a culture that I've worked to instill in as many of our Team Leads and Council Representatives as I can; as we are all hardworking Americans who deserve the right to have a good paying job, health care that's there for us when we need it and the chance to retire with dignity.

John Ballantyne is the executive secretary-treasurer of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters.