This Just In

Two Unions Face Possible Ouster from Pennsylvania Convention Center


Philadelphia, PA – The Pennsylvania Convention Center implemented a new Customer Service Agreement (CSA) that two unions have refused to sign. The holdout means union Carpenters and Teamsters could find themselves out of the building once their current contract expires May 10.

Management had predicted the changes under the new CSA would be implemented without any disruptions to the Philadelphia center, and have assured show organizers that the Carpenter and Teamster duties would be covered by members of the four convention center trades that had previously agreed to the CSA.

“Center leadership will take steps to ensure its labor needs and the labor needs of its customers are met through the effective utilization of the four trade unions that have signed the agreement and other resources,” center management said in its announcement following the unanimous May 6 vote by the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority (PCCA).

As of May 6, the CSA had been signed May 6 by Iron Workers Local 405, Laborers’ International Local 332, Stagehands Local 8 and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98. Exactly which unions would take up carpentry and drayage duties was not revealed. The Carpenters and Teamsters make up about half of the PCC workforce.

Carpenters Local 8 had staged a brief strike on May 1 to protest the CSA, which runs for 10 years with an option for five more years. The local’s leadership said the new work rules would take away jobs and working hours from its members. Although the strike lasted a matter of hours, the union remained defiant after the deadline to sign the CSA expired.

“We won’t be run out of this building and go away.” Ed Coryell, Sr.,  secretary-treasurer for the Carpenters, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I will do whatever is necessary to keep our members in this building.”


The PCCA on May 5 sent out an open letter to its customers and other stakeholders warning that the CSA would be implemented with or without union cooperation. The six-page statement, which was also signed by SMG, said the center’s management had a “fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers” to provide a working environment that would attract the most business to Philadelphia.

“Customers have indicated…that the status quo related to the Customer Service Agreement and work rules at the building is unacceptable and places us at a competitive disadvantage to peer facilities in other cities,” the letter said. “Modernizing the work rules is necessary so that the center can compete effectively with other convention cities in other cities and meet the needs of its customers.”

The pact provides an annual 3% pay raise for union workers over the course of the CSA’s first 10 years and also includes provisions for further cost-of-living adjustments. Committing to a decade of increases allows show organizers to better predict the cost of a show being booked years in advance.

The other major changes in the new CSA include:

  • Allowing exhibitors to do assembly work with ladders and power tools on booths up to 600 square feet (roughly 25’x25’ feet), double the current limit
  • Implement a by-name labor call to create a “core workforce” of particularly skilled and productive individuals,
  • Streamlining jurisdictional lines on the show floor and standardize working hours,
  • Give contractors more authority to manage work performed in the building.


Coryell had objected to the scope of the changes and contended that the previous work rules were in line with those in the nearby Washington and New York markets. Center management countered that its customers had been adamant that costs in New York, Boston and Chicago were much lower than Philadelphia, and that a “significant ‘hassle factor’” existed at the PCC due to “arcane work rules.”

The Pennsylvania Convention Center converted from a city-run operation to management by Philadelphia-based SMG in 2013 after completion of a $787 million renovation. The center is ranked 20th on the latest Trade Show Executive World’s Top Convention Centers with 679,000 square feet of prime exhibit space. New York’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is No. 13 and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington is No. 19.

Reach Bob McClintock, COO and senior vice president of SMG, at (610)729-7908 or