Two members of IBEW Local 98 stand next to an inflatable rat during a demonstration at the Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy.

Two members of IBEW Local 98 stand next to an inflatable rat during a demonstration at the Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy.

by Sue Ann Rybak

The rat is back, courtesy of two members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 98. If you didn’t see the 15-foot inflatable rat camped along the avenue on Thursday, April 3, in front of the Trolley Car Diner and Deli, don’t worry he will probably be back.

One protester said he was videotaping for IBEW’s records, while another handed out fliers with Ken Weinstein’s photo and phone number calling him “the 1 percent of Philadelphia.”

Weinstein, owner of the Trolley Car Diner and Deli, 7619 Germantown Ave., said he thought that members of the IBEW Local 98 had stopped protesting but the change in the weather has reignited their ire that Weinstein’s organization, Philly Office Retail, decided to hire nonunion workers for a multi-million dollar project in Germantown.

The union is upset that Weinstein’s firm hired McCoubry and Overholser Inc., a Mt. Airy-based contractor, to renovate St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, at Wayne Avenue and Harvey Street in Germantown.

The Gothic stone church, chapel, rectory and parish house sit on roughly two acres of land and were designed and built by the noted Philadelphia architects Frank Furness and George Hewitt. The buildings were listed by the Philadelphia Preservation Alliance as some of the most endangered historic properties in the Philadelphia region.

Weinstein said his organization is investing almost $6 million into the Germantown development, which is one of the largest in Germantown in many years. He said the project will create about 100 temporary and permanent jobs.

Weinstein said his organization did get quotes from the IBEW, but that their bids were 30 to 40 percent higher than non-union contractors.

In an earlier interview, Weinstein said the development project will transform “a long vacant and deteriorated property in Germantown into a vibrant and active Waldorf School.” He added that the development used no government funding, other than historic tax credits that were awarded to help preserve the property.

The union claims that Weinstein “is helping to destroy things that were once great in this community – fair hourly wages, benefits and pensions” because he signed a contract with McCoubry and Overholser Inc., who hired ATB Electric for the electrical work at the project. The union claims that ATB Electric pays its employers substantially less than wages and benefits set by the Metropolitan Regional Council.

In a statement emailed by Frank Keel, spokesperson for IBEW Local 98, Jim Snyder, assistant business manager for IBEW Local 98 said, “IBEW Local 98 is engaging in a peaceful, lawful protest and exercising its First Amendment right of free speech to notify area residents that Weinstein is helping to destroy area wages and benefits.

“Mr. Weinstein fancies himself a community activist in his Germantown/Mt. Airy/Chestnut Hill community,” Snyder wrote. “He speaks of the democratic principle of inclusiveness, yet when we offered him the qualified services of Eley Electric, a minority union contractor, he rejected them as being too expensive.”

Weinstein said the reality is “if you can’t compete financially at $166,400 a year, which is the annual cost of an [union] electrician, then you need to bully and intimidate in order to get your way.”

“If you can’t afford that [$166,400 a year] then you can’t afford to do development,” Weinstein said. “We are fighting for development.”

Elliot Schwartz, owner of the Carol Schwartz Gallery, 101 Bethlehem Pike, who was leaving the diner, said the protest was “ridiculous.” He added that Weinstein hired “the most local contractors” and said Weinstein doesn’t have control over whom a business hires to complete a project.

Schwartz said it was “awful” that the union was trying to make Weinstein look like the bad guy. He added that Weinstein is very “supportive of the community.”

“I am going to come here to eat every day to eat as long as the rat is here,” Schwartz said. “Is this how these guys make a living?”

Anne Itzkowitz, of Mt. Airy, told the protesters that Weinstein is “a great guy.”

“I eat here every week sometimes two or three times a week,” Itzkowitz said. “I don’t know who they are, but they are not from Mt. Airy. If they were, they would know Weinstein is very supportive of the community.”

In the IBEW statement emailed to the Local, Snyder, wrote: “We don’t differ with Mr. Weinstein’s desire to ‘help make Northwest Philadelphia a better place to live, work, learn and enjoy,’ … But, left to his own devices, Mr. Weinstein’s actions betray his words.”