Mayor Nutter has been boasting about the number of construction cranes appearing on the Philadelphia skyline, a sign of the city’s renewal after a long, hard recession. One more arrived Wednesday at the Goldtex site in the Loft District, which since March has been under virtual siege by union protesters.
It was not exactly welcomed with open arms.
The former factory building at 12th and Wood Streets has been the scene of an extraordinary standoff between the Pestronk brothers, two young apartment developers who are challenging the city’s labor traditions by employing a partially union workforce, and a large contingent of construction workers dispatched by the Building Trades Council, an umbrella group for the city’s unions. One wants to keep costs down by using some nonunion labor, the other wants to keep wages up by retaining the closed shop.
Since the protest began, getting equipment and supplies delivered to the site has become a test of wills. Every time a Pestronk truck turns off the Vine Street Expressway, it is greeted by a phalanx of protesters, who shuffle slowly in front of it, blocking its path for hours. Some suppliers have turned back rather than confront the union workers. Although the tactic falls into a gray area of legality, the Nutter administration has not moved to stop it.
To avoid the same fate for a crucial crane delivery, the Pestronks said they devised an elaborate ruse to distract the protesters long enough to sneak the machine onto the building site. The operation required days of planning, a decoy truck, a private force of armed guards, and an extra complement of city police.
The measures cost them an additional $30,000 on top of the normal $20,000 price, according to Michael Pestronk, 31, who runs Post Bros. Apartments with his older brother, Matt, 35. But they said the ploy was worth it: The crane settled into its berth without incident about 11:30 a.m. Overall, they say, they’re saving 25 percent with nonunion workers, even though they’ve had to hire a private security force and resort to such extreme measures to get supplies.