by Michael J. Shapiro | April 22, 2015
The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board has reversed a decision it issued in February and will hold hearings for the complaints filed by two local union chapters shut out from work at Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Convention Center. Although the board previously ruled it did not have the jurisdiction to rule on the complaints filed by the carpenters and teamsters, the board's Jack E. Marino reversed that stance on Friday. In a written order, he denied the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority's motion to dismiss the complaints. Although he previously agreed that the Labor Relations Board could not rule because the PCCA did not technically employ the union laborers, he reconsidered: "A thorough review of the CSA [customer satisfaction agreement, signed by two unions in question after the deadline] in this case erodes the Authority's position that it lacks a major involvement in the employment relationship with show labor at the center and that it is not involved in major discipline, including termination, of show laborers," he wrote. 

The president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, John McNichol, questioned the reasons for the reversal. "To our knowledge, no new evidence has been introduced since the hearing officer's original ruling," he said in a statement, "so the reason for this reversal is unclear, which is troubling. We offered the carpenters the same opportunity as the other unions to sign on to new work rules that allow our customers to use battery-operated screwdrivers, step ladders and perform work in their own booths. The carpenters refused, and their work was reassigned to other hard-working, skilled union labor that are exceeding our customers' expectations day in and day out." A change in current conditions, cautioned McNichol, could have disastrous consequences for the venue's recent success; since the new work rules went into effect, bookings are up 42 percent. "If the significant changes made at the center are overturned, we could see a catastrophic loss of bookings that will devastate the hospitality industry," he said.

On Monday of this week, two union leaders currently working at the convention center asked Pennsylvania's Gov. Tom Wolf to investigate the reversed decision. "We respectfully ask that you order an immediate investigation into this matter to determine whether any undue political pressure was applied that would make Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board hearing examiner Marino suddenly reverse his prior decision," wrote Michael Barnes, business manager of IATSE Local 8, and Ryan N. Boyer, business manager of Laborers District Council, in an open letter. "Many customers have written into their show agreements with the center that they reserve the right to cancel their commitments to host their events at the center if the carpenters and teamsters are permitted back in the building," they added. "The convention center's future is at stake."