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Philly Laborers Rack up RICO Charges

On May 1, 2014, Carpenters Union Local 8 and Teamsters Local 107 picketed outside SMG-managed Pennsylvania Convention Center (PACC) over failed contract renegotiations. This shakedown would shake up the exhibition industry, leading to an ensuing legal battle that over a year later continues to draw fire between the two labor groups and the Philadelphia-based venue.

Union leaders refused to sign a new Customer Satisfaction agreement put forth by facility manager Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority (Authority), who in turn refused work to the labor groups. Representatives from the union, Convention Center and facility management, which included John McNichol, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and Bob McClintock, senior vice president of convention centers for SMG, added liberties for exhibitors, such as use of power tools and doubling the space in which an exhibitor could erect a booth without assistance from Carpenters.

The labor groups had argued that the new terms would take away work from their crews, compelling the two unions to strike and the Customer Satisfaction committee, part of the convention center’s board of directors, to reject the tentative agreement.

Shawn Dougherty, secretary-treasurer and business agent for Teamsters Local 107, shows his cellphone video of John Dougherty (no relation), of IBEW Local 98, crossing a Teamsters picket line. Photo credit: Clem Murray, Philly Inquirer
Shawn Dougherty, secretary-treasurer and business agent for Teamsters Local 107, shows his cellphone video of John Dougherty (no relation), of IBEW Local 98, crossing a Teamsters picket line.
Photo credit: Clem Murray, Philly Inquirer

Carpenters Secretary-treasurer Edward Coryell Sr. stated his workers “would lose 40 percent of man hours or higher.”

“We will try to cooperate, but we can’t give up half our jobs,” he explained. “I have no intention of doing that.”

Ousted from the show floor on May 2 by the Authority, the protesting Carpenters and Teamsters were forcibly removed. They then were locked out of the facility during the dismantle of the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting, held one week earlier from April 26-May 3, 2014.

Authorities ID and escort unauthorized workers off show floor at Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Authorities ID and escort unauthorized workers off show floor at Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Over the next few days, union leaders for the Carpenters and Teamsters continued to dispute the added work-rules. PACC and its facility manager, SMG, pushed for the updated agreement, maintaining that relaxed rules would help attract more tradeshows to Philadelphia and thereby provide more work for union members.

Issuing a “May Day” ultimatum to all six trade unions to sign the collective bargaining agreement by May 5 at 11:59 p.m., the Authority firmed its decision with an open letter reasoning that the facility needed to “modernize” the “arcane limitations upon Exhibitors’ rights” to compete with convention cities in the surrounding Midwest and Northeast U.S. regions.

Four of the six unions – Laborers’ International Local 332; Stagehands Local 8; IBEW Local 98; and Iron Workers Local 405 – agreed to the proposed work-rule changes. Neither Carpenters Local 8 nor Teamsters Local 107 put pen to paper by the established deadline.

Although union contracts with the facility did not expire until May 10, the refusal of leaders for the Teamsters and Carpenters to accept work-rule changes caused its workers to lose all convention center work when the agreement was ratified on May 6, according to Pennsylvania Convention Center officials.

Work normally performed by the Carpenters and Teamsters were divided among the four remaining signatories, tasked with dismantling the 2014 World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology conference, the world’s largest industrial biotechnology event for business leaders, investors and policy makers, on May 15.

Exhibiting in Philadelphia for the first time in its 11-year run, the annual conference was the first group to operate under the new Customer Satisfaction Agreement. Despite union groups picketing outside of the Convention Center on opening day, show officials commended the smooth move-out at the close, which was completed nearly three hours ahead of schedule.

BIO_logo“There didn’t seem to be any issues whatsoever,” said Paul Winters, spokesperson for show producer Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). “The success of this week gives us high expectations for next year.”

Union leaders who signed the agreement showed support for the new work rules in a group letter on May 15 addressed to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and other political leaders.

“While we did make some concessions, in the long run enabling the Center to compete more effectively for convention and tradeshow business in a very competitive industry market will bring in additional customers, creating more work hours for our members,” the letter stated.

Barred from working at the Convention Center, Carpenters and Teamsters rebutted by filing unfair labor charges with the National Labor Relations Board and the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB). Both filings were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction in July 2014 and February 2015 respectively, citing that the public Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority was not a joint employer with private, unionized labor supplier Elliott-Lewis, therefore disallowing the boards from hearing the claims.

In April 2015, however, a small victory was granted to the Carpenters and Teamsters when the PLRB reversed its prior dismissal of the unfair labor charges. Hearing Examiner Jack E. Marino, who originally denied the unions’ charges, now stated that the authority held the power to determine whether the ousted groups would be permitted to return to work. Marino also denied the facility’s motion to dismiss the charges.

On May 7, 2015, just over one year since the labor groups began their protests on the front steps of its facility, Pennsylvania Convention Center filed a federal civil lawsuit under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act against the Carpenters Local 8, several shop stewards and other individuals, namely union leader Edward Coryell Sr.

Stating the Carpenters’ “prolonged and coordinated violent, illegal, and extortionate conduct” disrupted facility operations, the Authority applied the RICO Act, typically used for the prosecution of organized crime. The organization claimed it holds a “fiduciary duty to Pennsylvania taxpayers to pursue the recovery of these damages from the Carpenters as a result of their unlawful acts.”

More than $1 million is being sought in damages for alleged unlawful activity at the facility including “illegal and disruptive mass picketing and protests; physical intimidation, harassment, stalking, and assault and battery; verbal intimidation, harassment, race-baiting, and threats; and the destruction of property.”

While tensions remain high between the two labor unions and facility officials, Philadelphia has experienced an increase in business since the new Customer Satisfaction Agreement eased work-rules for exhibitors. As of April 2015, according to officials, PACC has booked 28 major new show and conventions that will bring in more than $872 million in economic impact.

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