Friday, August 29, 2014

That Inflatable Rat

The inflatable "Fat Cat" has become a regular fixture at the Pennsylvania Convention Center's 12th Street entrance. The Teamsters and Carpenters at the picket line have brandished posters claiming a "lockout," that they signed an agreement with the center. But that claim leaves out one fatal detail, that they didn't agree to the new terms until after the deadline. 

"Buh-bye," said the center.

Their most recent protest, at least the unions' most prominent recent presence, was during this month's Veterans Wheelchair Games. A motorcade of large vans circled the block spouting worn rhetoric about diminished wages behind a clan of $20,000 Harley Davidsons. Others shouted from megaphones while many simply mobbed the sidewalks making it difficult for wheelchair bound veterans to enter the convention.

After the protest came to a close, a police escort led the motorcade along Race Street, through Chinatown towards the Ben Franklin Bridge, ferrying the "local" workers back to their homes in New Jersey.


The irony and hypocrisy is mind numbing. But the message and tactics behind many of the trade unions in the tristate area has become so routine that the numbed minds of many Philadelphians brush it off as white noise. 

Buildings continue to rise, businesses continue to open, many without union labor. "Crossing the picket line" has no significant meaning to a Center City swapping Baby Boomers for Generation X, even Millennials. They snap pictures of inflatable rats and the union members cheer, clueless that the photo winds up on Instagram hashtagged, "WTF?" New Philadelphians didn't forget about the union protests at MilkBoy and Goldtex, they never cared to begin with.

Given the disconnect between the local trade unions and their target audience, the inflatable rat has become a sign of progress. Both MilkBoy and Goldtex weathered the frustrations of daily protests, and both are now successful businesses. Boxers, a new sports bar opening in the Gayborhood is one of the most recent targets, specifically the Sheet Metal Worker's Union. The popular Manhattan and Brooklyn nightspot is opening its third location in Philadelphia and opted for market rate labor. Few outside the trades industries seem phased, and it hasn't impeded development.

Back in the day, City Hall turned a blind eye to some of the unions' more nefarious tactics. But increased surveillance, social media, and evolving popular opinion have put protesters in a place where they can't overstep their First Amendment rights. Even some politicians have denounced the unions' unscrupulous tactics where they manifest, or simply remain quiet on the subject if it serves their interest.

Meanwhile the media, once largely sensitive to the trade unions, hasn't shied away from stories about illegal union activity. In February, ten Ironworkers Local 401 members were arrested by the FBI and the local media aired their dirty laundry.

When your sole clique survives on whores to public opinion, never underestimate their willingness to turn in favor of that public opinion. And that is the exact problem with the trade unions' overall operation. It isn't just outdated, it sidesteps a community perplexed by their message, it refuses to engage with the developers who cut their checks, and it solely functions as a bully with friends in high places. 

Without a slick public relations representative or a fresh new image, trades unions in Philadelphia are DOA, resigned to collect the crumbs from developers that didn't get the memo, or can afford the luxury of a workspace free of an inflatable rat. A rat increasingly synonymous with a better, newer Philadelphia.

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