Joyner goes back and forth between sounding incredulous and throwing up a white flag. He is careful. “I can’t link [the fire] to the unions, I can only say it was part of the trials and another difficulty we encountered,” he says. “It wasn’t all roses getting this place opened. It seemed like everyone ... dragged their feet.”
Like Philadelphia Gas Works, which refused to install meters so long as the protesters were outside.
“[They said], ‘We will not cross picket lines, as long as they’re out there we will not cross,’” says Joyner. “I [asked], ‘How can you not cross the picket line? You’re a public utility and you’re the only gas company I’m allowed to use.’”
Although unable to comment on specific accounts due to privacy concerns, PGW spokeswoman Melanie McCottry confirms the policy. “Per our union contract, we do not cross the picket line except in situations where it is an emergency,” says McCottry. “Unions, they stick together.”
So a cat-and-mouse game went on where, according to Joyner, PGW kept stopping by (“to their credit”) to check if the picketers were still outside. If they were, they split.
Eventually, a PGW employee stopped by at a time the carpenter’s union wasn’t hanging around and they installed the meter.
It took four months.
Then there was an unscheduled visit from the building inspector.
“You’re supposed to call when you’re ready,” says Joyner. Instead, an inspector just showed up unannounced and, according to Joyner, walked directly to the oven hood and announced, ‘This fails.’”
Then there was the time an S-lock mysteriously slipped itself into the gate, temporarily locking some construction workers inside.
At this point, it’s hard for the MilkBoy guys to tell what renovation delays are a direct result of this union debacle and what can be chalked up to extraordinary systemic inefficiency.
Is it paranoia when they really are out to get you?
“I don’t feel political,” insists Joyner. “I just feel like a businessman trying to get something done.” He doesn’t really want to talk about it anymore, but it’s hard not to want to set the record straight. He doesn’t want to feel like a “schmuck.”
“I’d really like to move on,” sighs Joyner. Once the venue is open, it’ll be a huge relief. Then he can focus on his passions, like the fair-trade coffee, local beers and organic foodstuffs he’s eager to serve, and the mix of national and local bands that will play upstairs.
MilkBoy should be open for business within the next week. Walk down Chestnut, and you can’t miss it. It’ll be the sleek and modern storefront amidst jewelry stores and low-end handbag shops. And, likely, it’ll be the one with a giant inflatable rat—they’re manufactured, by the way, at a nonunion shop in Ohio—pumped full of hot air. Nice reward for helping pull this little strip of the city out of the gutter.
“I would say I learned my lesson,” says Joyner.
Trade unions’ traditional war tactics rely on a balance of unabashed intimidation and harassment, murky political connections and public-relations campaigns that cast them as the victims.
The owners of MilkBoy Coffee, opening soon on 11th and Chestnut streets, say that with rates generally estimated to be between two and three times the rate of equally capable nonunion shops, it’s simply cost-prohibitive to hire all-union workers. But that didn't go over well with the Carpenters union.