Inquirer Editorial Board
Posted: Monday, April 27, 2015, 1:08 AM
A mysterious change of heart by a Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board examiner who had dismissed union carpenters’ plea for work at the Convention Center should be investigated by the Attorney General’s Office to ensure there was no coercion involved.
Considering the union’s deserved reputation for bullying, that possibility cannot be dismissed. A restraining order was issued in February that banned the carpenters from the Philadelphia Auto Show after men who wore union hoodies and shirts vandalized vehicles, apparently to protest being locked out of Convention Center work.
Members of the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters and Teamsters Local 107 have only themselves to blame for that. Expecting to get away with arrogant behavior as they had in the past, the two unions waited two days past last year’s deadline to sign a new customer-satisfaction agreement required to do work in the center. Denied work, they then petitioned the labor board for relief.
In March, hearing examiner Jack E. Marino dismissed the unions’ petition on a technicality. He ruled that the labor board had no jurisdiction in the case because it only adjudicates public employee labor disputes, which this was not since the union workers were not directly employed by the Convention Center Authority. Their contract was with a third party, Elliott-Lewis, a private management firm.
Nothing has changed since that decision, yet Marino reversed his decision on April 16 in a 14-page opinion that cited no new evidence to explain his reversal. Now hearings will be scheduled. But even after Marino makes a decision, either side can appeal it to the three-member labor board, and the board’s decision can be appealed to Commonwealth Court.
That creates an air of uncertainty that threatens the improvement in bookings that has occurred since word got out that it’s become easier and less costly to have a convention in Philadelphia. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees has taken on much of the work formerly done by the carpenters. The stagehands are paid 18 percent less per hour than the carpenters, but they’re using fewer people and taking less time to erect and dismantle exhibits.
Marino hasn’t adequately explained his abrupt reversal. There needs to be an investigation to ensure the integrity of his new decision. And if hearings are held, the final decision should rest on the fact that the carpenters and Teamsters missed a deadline that four other unions met. They had no valid excuse and should not be rewarded for being so cavalier with their members’ livelihoods. Besides, the Convention Center is doing just fine without them.