A MONTHS-LONG labor dispute allegedly kicked into high gear Saturday when about 200 unionized carpenters descended on the Philadelphia Auto Show, officials said.
John McNichol, president and chief executive of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, told the Daily News today that “belligerent” members of the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters vandalized cars, accosted vendors and generally disrupted the show, which ended Sunday.
Now, he’s hoping that a temporary restraining order against the union can help calm things down in a contract dispute over the carpenters’ ability to work inside the center.
“This clearly was an organized effort,” McNichol said, adding that the carpenters entered the center “in waves” throughout the day, and that most of them wore hooded sweatshirts with the union logo and passed out leaflets airing their grievances.
McNichol and his staff got wind that the union was planning something last week, when its leadership purchased 200 tickets for the event, he said.
In response, the center beefed up security and kept a close eye on the crowds milling through the Auto Show.
So Saturday, when the group from the union allegedly took action – pulling fuses, damaging the wiring inside the vehicles and stuffing pamphlets into gloveboxes – the center’s security team was able to quickly escort the unionists outside, McNichol said.
No charges have been filed, McNichol said, as the center continues its internal investigation, which includes pictures, surveillance footage and numerous witness accounts.
In light of the incident, the center’s board filed for a temporary restraining order against the union, which a judge granted Sunday.
That order prevents the union and its members from “obstructing, threatening, harassing, intimidating or otherwise unlawfully interfering” with the show and expires Wednesday.
To hear union leadership tell it, members did nothing more than exercise their freedom of speech.
“They were using their First Amendment right to protest this unfair lockout,” Marty O’Rourke, a spokesman for the carpenters, said. “Sometimes, protests get impolite. These are people who have been locked out from working and locked out from supporting their families.”
The carpenters have been barred from working inside the center since May, when the union’s leaders disputed the deadline for when they could sign a revised customer-satisfaction agreement issued by the center’s board.
O’Rourke confirmed that the members bought tickets for the auto show and that they were asked to leave by the center’s staff, but said he didn’t know what prompted the expulsion.
He denied that the union members damaged vehicles. When asked about the restraining order, O’Rourke repeated his statement about the right to protest.
The alleged vandalism came on the heels of last week’s decision by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board to dismiss a case filed against the center by the carpenters.
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