Labor costs cloud Convention Center makeover

PHILADELPHIA - January 21, 2011

Workers are getting the Convention Center ready for the auto show.

But one report says the high cost of union labor is driving the city's hospitality business into a ditch.

The independent report, commissioned by the state says labor issues over two years have cost the city three dozen conventions.

"You've got to be more competitive and that's at every level. And if it's not at every level, those customers are going to say, 'love Philadelphia, but I'm not paying those prices'," said Jack Ferguson of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The report also says those lost conventions have cost the hotel industry 400,000 room nights. An industry spokesman says the harm is more than just the loss of potential revenue.

"That's employment opportunities for our front line staff, and that includes room attendants, bellmen and front desk agents. That number represents real jobs, so we are very concerned," said Ed Grose of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association.

No one is questioning the quality of the work done at the Convention Center, but exhibitors have been put off by the high cost and the complexities of dealing with six separate unions

.

It's a problem unique to Philadelphia.

The convention center has been undergoing a $786 million expansion, doubling in size.

It needs to become more competitive than ever in a tight economy.

The union representative on the Convention Center board hasn't responded to requests for comment.

Management says it already has a customer services agreement with the unions, but it hasn't been enforced very well.

"There are pieces of it that are excellent that have not been enforced by management. The unions have said it, they need to enforce that," said Convention Center President, Ahmeenah Young.

The Convention Center addition opens for business in six weeks. It's a chance for labor and management to start over with a fresh face.

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