Officials for Global Experience Specialists (GES) and the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters Local 1027, Mill Cabinet-Industrial division, which represents GES’ warehouse carpenters, have reached an impasse in contractual negotiations.
At midnight on May 31, the current labor agreement expired without GES and the union reaching a new, four-year contract. Although both parties negotiated in good faith over the last month, GES officials say they could not reach a “fair and equitable” resolution with Local 1027 while union officials claim GES will not agree to terms on par with similar labor contracts.
“We are standing our ground for our clients, for the industry and for the health of our business,” said Steve Moster, president, GES. “The number-one concern organizers and exhibitors shared with me is the rising costs of tradeshows and conventions. Although a labor action is something we work hard to avoid, we should not give in to outrageous wage demands.”
The wage demands would result in higher exhibiting costs for GES’ clients, which Moster says is not acceptable. But union officials counter the wage demands are reasonable and necessary to ensure the well-being of the workers they represent.
“While achieving solid agreements with GES’s competitors, talks with GES have stalled,” said Frank T. Libby, president and executive secretary-treasurer, Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters. “The union is negotiating for parity with other companies, securing fairness for its members and the ability to continue to promote Chicago as a tradeshow leader.”
The carpenters union’s contract proposal seeks to gradually reduce what they say is a competitive advantage of a $5.11 hourly rate savings GES has had over its competitors in the Chicagoland area for the last two years as a the result of past concessions made by the union. GES has countered with a significant rate hike, but neither side could reach an agreement.
“It’s necessary to take a stand to keep costs down, especially in our industry’s current economic climate and as Chicago works to regain its prominence in the convention industry,” said Moster. “We have offered the Carpenters Local 1027 a very generous proposal of a 15 percent increase over four years. The consumer price index is at 2 percent. Despite this, the union is demanding a more than 4 percent per-year increase. We rejected the union’s last, best and final offer in order to keep the overall cost of exhibiting down.”
Union officials want a wage increase of 17 percent over four years in addition to the gains they received from a wage and benefit package increase of 14 percent over the past three years, according to GES. Company officials say the union’s offer is detrimental to GES clients and Chicago’s tradeshow industry. Union officials do not agree.
“Chicago is known for its tradeshow excellence, but our city’s tradeshow industry has taken a tremendous downturn over the years,” said Libby. “The Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters is committed to doing what it can to help Chicago maintain its status as a tradeshow leader. The union approached the current contract negotiations with the goal of stabilizing contracts between GES and its competitors in Chicago.”
While contract negotiations have stalled, there is no word on when future talks might resume between the two entities. In the meantime, the labor dispute only affects the GES-contracted shop work with Local 1027, whose members have the “mobility” to do installation and dismantling work outside of the shop environment, said Libby.