PHILADELPHIA REACHES LABOR AGREEMENT
“I would like to see it in action,” says Jane Krause, CMP, director of meetings and conventions for the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery in Fairfax, Va. Speaking of Philadelphia's new convention center labor agreement, she adds, “Everybody can sit down at a conference table and work these things out, but when it really goes into action, the truth will be in the pudding.”
The two-year deal, negotiated by Mayor John F. Street and six labor unions and signed in January, creates a committee to establish work rules and iron out jurisdictional conflicts. Any disputes that erupt during aare to be resolved immediately by a designated site representative. The unions have agreed “not to engage in any strikes, slowdowns or interruptions of work.”
The agreement does not reduce the number of union workers needed to set up a convention. However, it allows show managers to move signs without union help.
City officials characterize the agreement as a blueprint for resolving disputes, rather than a binding document that irons out each union's jurisdiction. “This has to be a work in progress,” convention bureau president Tom Muldoon told the Philadelphia Inquirer in January, explaining that “After each major convention, we'll take the temperature.”
The agreement should resolve nearly all the problems that have given the Philadelphia convention business a black eye, says Bob Butera, president, Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority. Past labor disputes nearly led to fistfights between union workers on the convention floor, prompting cynics to say that the convention center's dispute resolution process should consist of calling 911. Only 25 percent of conventions have been rebooking in the center, compared to other cities that enjoy rebooking rates of 50 percent or higher.
Medical meeting planners such as Krause, who are familiar with the agreement, generally give it high marks. But they warn that it may take some time to see whether Philadelphia's infamous labor disputes, which have disrupted trade shows and prompted some medical organizations to look elsewhere for meeting sites, will become a thing of the past.
With the agreement in hand, Philadelphia officials are making presentations to meeting planners in 15 cities to promote the convention center. “The reception's been great,” says Tim Herrmann, vice president of convention sales for the Philadelphia CVB. “Once this agreement has been proved and performed, I think bookings and interest are going to skyrocket.”
Jean O'Donnell, director of convention and meeting services for the Philadelphia-based American College of Physicians — American Society of Internal Medicine, expects the deal to bolster the city's appeal to planners. “Many meeting organizations were applauding everything about the city but had some concerns about the labor situation,” she says. “Now there are all these steps to resolve differences. It certainly does make us feel confident that when we go in to produce our meetings, it's going to be run smoothly and we don't need to be concerned about labor problems.
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