|Edward Coryell Sr.’s union had quit the Philadelphia Building Trades Council.|
Douglas McCarron, the decisive general president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, dropped in to tell Coryell that he was out.
The visit was short. Less than an hour. And Coryell had no idea it was coming, said friends and allies of the ousted labor leader.
By the time McCarron left, or shortly afterward, signs went up on the doors of the carpenters' headquarters on Spring Garden Street.
"At the direction of UBC general president Doug McCarron," the signs said, the council's 17,000 members and their union locals were closed and divided among councils based in Edison, N.J.; Pittsburgh; and Framingham, Mass.
While many aspects of Coryell's dismissal remain mysterious, one thing is certain, said John J. McNichol, chief executive of the Pennsylvania Convention Center: The change won't lead to union carpenters' returning to the building to set up and dismantle conventions.
"There is zero discussion or consideration of that," he said.
Fellow union leader John J. "Johnny Doc" Dougherty said he spent the day on the phone "talking to owners, developers, and contractors and letting them know there's continuity in the construction industry." Dougherty, who leads Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, now also heads the Philadelphia Building Trades Council.
Coryell's union had quit the council, a sore point among others in the building trades.
Dougherty said his role was to reassure: "The cool part of Philadelphia, you can change quarterbacks and the game goes on."
Running the show at the carpenters' headquarters is Michael Capelli, eastern district vice president under the direction of Frank Spencer, a McCarron lieutenant from Haddonfield and a top national vice president.
"Until we have everything in order, I'm handling this on a daily basis right now," Capelli said.
Capelli and others presided over a meeting of the council's business agents Thursday at the union hall on Spring Garden Street.
Capelli also said that carpenters should be reassured that their pension funds would be kept separate from the funds in the other councils.
Rob Naughton, one of Coryell's longtime officers, will take on the responsibilities of regional manager, Capelli said.
Capelli said McCarron's strategy has been to consolidate regional councils nationwide, but he had no explanation for why the smaller Pittsburgh council was not rolled into Coryell's larger organization.
Rumors had been flying for months that Coryell, 70, of Wenonah, N.J., was on his way out.
Coryell heard them, too - and denied them.
In January, Coryell went to the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the United Brotherhood to square his status with McCarron. "He had a great meeting," said U.S. Rep. Robert Brady (D., Pa.), a union carpenter, relating what Coryell told him about his talk with McCarron. Brady said they discussed the apprenticeship program and organizing efforts in Washington, a territory Coryell had taken over in January 2014.
"I was surprised as anybody" by what happened, Brady said.
Brady said Coryell's influence would be missed in Philadelphia. As a powerful labor leader, he had served on boards and was a player in the state and the region's political landscape.
"Ed Coryell was a guy with a lot of contacts," Brady said. "It will certainly hurt the city of Philadelphia to lose a major leader who was very well-respected."
"I think everyone was taken by surprise, the breadth and the width," said Patrick J. Eiding, who leads the Philadelphia AFL-CIO.
Perhaps the United Brotherhood of Carpenters is right when it says that consolidating the Philadelphia council with others increases union power to the benefit of workers, Eiding said.
"Then God bless them," he added.
When the news broke, Eiding was looking for some kind of graceful exit role for Coryell, maybe as a consultant or an adviser. It wasn't there.
Said Eiding: "I think it's unfortunate that someone who has been a great labor leader . . . I think he deserves to go out a little higher than that."