Crisis Averted: Philadelphia Event Venue’s Labor Conflict Ends Quickly

With one association prepping for its annual meeting inside, the Pennsylvania Convention Center faced a union walkout on Thursday. But fortunately for the American Association of Diabetes Educators, the strike ended that day without incident.

For 12 hours on August 1, the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority (PCCA), found itself  in a conflict with four striking labor unions that could have threatened the start of one annual meeting.

The big sticking point? The tools exhibitors could use.

In the end, though, it ended quickly.  More details:

The backstory: Early Thursday morning, four unions whose members do work at the Philadelphia convention center—Teamsters and those representing carpenters, stagehands, and riggers—formed a picket line outside of the venue to protest a proposal they said would weaken the unions’ jurisdiction and cut working hours. Smooth negotiations on new agreements between the unions and the PCCA board had broken down Wednesday night over a clause allowing exhibitors to use power tools to build their booths regardless of size—something the union reps said would threaten their work. On Thursday, members of the electricians union refused to cross the line to do work at the convention center.

Caught in the middle: As labor union members were picketing outside, staff from the American Association of Diabetes Educators were setting up inside for its annual meeting, scheduled to take place August 5–10. But the association remained optimistic. “As negotiations are ongoing, we anticipate that this will be resolved in a timely manner and not conflict with what we know will be a successful AADE Annual Meeting & Exhibition,” the association’s CEO, Charles Macfarlane, told Trade Show News Network.

Resolution reached: After 12 hours, the strike ended after PCCA backed away from the power-tools issue, with both sides agreeing to a one-year extension of their customer service agreement and a 2.5 percent increase in pay for union employees. Local groups, however, note that the issue speaks to a long-term struggle to keep costs down at the event venues. “In order for Philadelphia to remain competitive in a national and global marketplace, we must deliver the best experience at the best cost,” Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Jack Ferguson told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “We hope that our highly skilled union workforce will see that changes to the existing work rules will result in an increase in convention bookings.”

This isn’t the first rocky stretch for the venue. According to Axis Philly blogger Tom Ferrick, it has faced a number of issues with conventions since its most recent expansion, with some exhibitors canceling events or postponing renewals.

The declining usage of the center turned into a public issue last year, with the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association making public the complaints of organizations that held large conventions and reasons why they would not be returning.

(photo by katerha/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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