For those of you on Main Street in Middle America, who may not ever have had the (dis)pleasure of visiting the Big Cities of the East Coast, this story may be of little interest to you at first.
However, this story may have a ripple effect nationally that may end up spilling over into a political war between two of the Democrats staunchest constituencies, the African-American community and the union bosses.
For people who know the East, you will probably agree that what is happening in Philadelphia right now is truly astounding.
After you read the background to this story, be sure to read the letter below, which was sent to the head of Philadelphia's AFL-CIO by a Philadelphia City Councilman, issuing the union boss a stern "don't f**k with me" message.
For some background into this story, we'll try to keep it simple and brief:
- Philadelphia is notoriously a "union town" and, because of this, has become something of a joke as the city has suffered from years of corruption, incompetence and union abuse
- Traditionally, in order for a politician to get elected, they needed to be backed by the unions and were often forever under the thuggish thumbs of the union bosses
- Philadelphia's building trade unions have a long history of excluding minorities and women from their unions. (For some history on one of the Philadelphia locals, click here)
- In October, Paul Solomon, an African-American member of the Operating Engineers was taunted with a noose-carrying white construction worker from another union
- When the African-American worker complained about the incident, the white worker was removed from the construction site and sent somewhere else, BUT...
- The African American construction worker also, it seems, began getting retaliated against by his own union for lodging the complaint
Fast forward to last week:
- Last Thursday, at Philly's City Council meeting, Mr. Solomon's incident became the catalyst for a verbal volley between the elected officials and an arrogant union boss named Pat Gillespie. When asked about the trade unions inclusion of minorities and women, the union boss snubbed his nose, flicked a booger at, or otherwise basically told the Philadelphia City Council to go "f**k themselves" (Those weren't his exact words but they may as well have been)
- In response, the City Council passed an amendment to an agreement on a building expansion at the union-plagued Philadelphia Convention Center to allow non-union contractors to bid the work.
Ouch, Mr. Gillespie! You've never heard the phrase don't bite the hand that feeds you?
For a lengthier news account, you can go here.
Yesterday, an anonymous source gave us a copy of the letter that was sent to the top dog of Philly's AFL-CIO. This letter [emphasis added] details some of the same kind of frustration that has plagued public and private sector employers in Philadelphia for years in dealing with the unions, as well as issues a not-so-friendly warning to the union bosses...
Mr. Patrick Eiding, President
Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO
22 South 22nd Street, 2nd Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Dear Mr. Eiding:
On December 6th, City Council unanimously approved an amendment to the Convention Center agreement that would permit qualified non-union employers to obtain construction contracts as they relate to the construction of the Center. As the sponsor of that amendment, I believe that you, your member organizations and their members deserve an explanation of our actions.
For years, City Council has expressed concem over the Building Trades' inclusion of minorities and women. As such, Council requested that Mr. Pat Gillespie attend Thursday's hearing to discuss membership, the percentage of minority and female workers, what programs have been created to address the issue and what progress the Trades have made. Mr. Gillespie knew that he was there to discuss these issues and we expected him to be prepared to answer these questions.
Unfortunately, rather than provide statistical data as requested, Mr. Gillespie scoffed at Council's questions. He refused to accept Council's concerns as real and made no effort to address our questions. It is unclear whether Mr. Gillespie was simply woefully unprepared or whether he chose to disregard these issues. Whatever the case, Mr. Gillespie's perfonnance was inappropriate and I hope his member organizations take note.
During the hearing, it became clear that qualified minority construction firms were disenfranchised by some trade unions because they are required to meet goals that they do not have the capacity to meet. Therefore, in an effort to provide those finns with more
opportunities, the amendment was introduced and adopted.
Please be assured that I understand and appreciate Labor's concerns in this matter and while some labor leaders will accuse this Council and me personally as being "antiunion," the label is disingenuous. Over the past two years, over $2 billion worth of construction has been approved in the First Council District, alone. I was the prime sponsor ofthe IO-year tax abatement, which led to thousands ofunion jobs, and I continue to vigorously defend this program. This support of development will not waiver.
Historically, some of the Trades have harassed and insulted specific members. Some have disrupted Council hearings and sessions. Some have hurled insults publicly while others have issued "anonymous" fliers and letters attacking individual members. Despite this abuse, City Council has continued to support union labor and your members because it has been the right thing to do. At some point, however, I would hope that the Trades begin to treat the democratic process with the respect and dignity it deserves.
Further, while we have supplied organized labor, one concern has been continuously raised: minority and female participation. More importantly, that concern remains to be addressed.
Additionally, I understand that Mr. Gillespie has a signed Project Labor Agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of General Services and he feels that Council's actions mean nothing.
To be blunt, if Mr. Gillespie refuses to address Council's very real concerns, the Convention Center project may die. More importantly, my support of future projects will be in jeopardy. It is time for the Trade Council to represent their members and the communities that their members represent.
I believe City Council's desires are very simple. We want Philadelphia to be built by Philadelphians and we want our construction sites to resemble Philadelphia's diverse neighborhoods. Philadelphia is one of the final bastions of the unions. Help us keep it that way by working with us rather than against us.
Thank you for your cooperation in this matter. As always, I'm happy to discuss my
concerns with you or any ofyour member organizations.
1st District Councilman
cc: Governor Ed Rendell
Mayor John F. Street
Mayor-elect Michael Nutter
Congressman Bob Brady
Congressman Chaka Fattah
Congresswoman Allison Schwartz
Senator Bob Casey
Senator Arlen Specter
All City Council Members
City Councilmember-elect Bill Green
City Councilmember-elect Maria Quinones Sanchez
City Councilmember-elect Curtis Jones, Jr.
All members ofthe Pennsylvania General Assembly
All Board Members, Convention Center Authority
All members Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO
Building Contractors Association
TO US, IT SEEMS AS THOUGH, LIKE ROSA PARKS BEFORE HIM, PAUL SOLOMON MAY HAVE BECOME THE CATALYST THAT BROUGHT A MOVEMENT BORN OUT OF FRUSTRATION TO LIFE. WE SUPPOSE IT DOESN'T MATTER WHETHER ITS A BUS IN MONTGOMERY OR A UNION CONSTRUCTION SITE IN PHILADELPHIA, RACISM IS RACISM.