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WATCHBLOG: Union protests at convention center making a bad situation worse

By   /   August 1, 2013  /   No Comments

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – A taxpayer-funded $780 million expansion of the Philadelphia Convention Center may not have been worth the cost.

And now a picket organized by the city’s carpenters union is threatening to compound an already worrisome situation at the convention center.

The Philadelphia carpenter’s union set up a picket line around the convention center on Thursday morning after attempts to reach a new contract with the center’s management collapsed, according to Axis Philly, a nonprofit news organization.  The protest is threatening to cancel a convention for the Diabetes Association, which planned to bring 10,000 people to the City of Brother Love this month.

Unless the union and the convention center work out their differences and agree to a new contract, the center will go dark and the Diabetes Assocation will not be able to hold their meeting.

Axis Philly reported in May that the number of conventions booked for the newly refurbished center is causing concerns.  After booking more than 20 major conventions this year, the numbers are dropping off in coming years as the center city facility struggles to attract visitors.

Fewer conventions mean fewer people staying in Philadelphia hotels and paying the 15 percent hotel tax that was supposed to pay off bonds used to fund the project.

According to documents reviewed by Axis Philly writer Tom Ferrick, one of the major reasons why fewer conventions are booking their trips to Philadelphia is due to the high cost and inconvenience of dealing with labor unions in the city.

“Read the post-convention reports and the mantra is the same: the groups like the new convention facility; their attendees love the city, but the same complaint echoes again and again in these reports:  Labor hassles, labor costs, labor overtime,” Ferrick writes.

Because Philadelphia pays labor union wages to the workers at conventions, it makes the city more expensive than many others on the east coast, he notes.

That can be bad enough when it comes to attracting conventions that could just as easily go to D.C. or New York, but unforeseen overtime costs have upset several organizers of major conventions.

Union bosses like Pat Gillespie of the Building Trades Council, an umbrella groups for unions in Philadelphia, tell Ferrick the real problem is the management of the Convention Center and the fact that the center is being used for corporate and political reasons preventing it from running “as a business.”

The whole piece is an excellent read on the troubles at the convention center, which could turn into a $1.3 billion white elephant for the city.

Boehm is a reporter for Watchdog.org and PA Independent. Follow @PAIndepenent on Twitter for more.