On Wednesday, June 22, U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman denied the MPEA’s appeal to reinstate the labor reforms at McCormick Place. Guzman has issued a permanent injunction that prevents the MPEA from operating under any of the previously implemented reforms.
The lawsuit, initially brought by the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters and the Teamsters Local 727, contends that the new provisions attempted to override collective bargaining agreements and tip the balance of power in favor of employers.
After Guzman’s March 31 initial ruling, which stated that the labor reforms were harmful, the MPEA immediately filed an appeal.
According to the court, the MPEA argued that “denying a stay will harm customer relationships and competitive position” and that “undoing the statutory changes will cause more harm than if they had never been implemented.”
The argument did not persuade Guzman.
The Memorandum Opinion and Order released by the courts states that, “Because defendants could have avoided the harm they now decry, it is not a compelling reason to grant a stay. Moreover, entering a stay would expose plaintiffs to substantial harm.”
The Order continues to say that the labor reforms have already caused members of Local 727 and the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters to lose income, healthcare coverage and pension contributions.
The permanent injunction strictly defines the labor reforms that are now prohibited at McCormick Place. This includes the exhibitor’s ability to set up or plug in any of their own electrical equipment, the ability to skid and re-skid all exhibit material and machinery, and the ability to request specific union employees by name.
Shortly after Guzman’s ruling, The MPEA released a statement in regards to the appeal denial.
“We will be asking the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay while we present our case as to why Judge Guzman’s ruling should be overturned. Chicago’s convention industry is an extremely important economic engine. Much positive development has occurred since the reforms were put in place.”
Guzman, however, based a portion of his decision on the fact that the MPEA implemented the labor reforms while the lawsuits were pending.
“The only ones who were asked to make concessions were labor organizations,” said John T. Coli, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 727. “Legislators let their own feelings of panic cloud their judgment and they bowed to the tradeshow managers. Workers shouldn’t have to suffer because of that shortsightedness.”
In response to the latest injunction, prominent Illinois legislators declared their persistence in retaining the new labor reforms in a letter addressed to tradeshow organizers.
The letter stated that the governmental leaders of Illinois “are absolutely committed to maintaining the McCormick Place reforms enacted in May 2010, whatever it takes. One way or another, you have our word that McCormick Place, Chicago and Illinois will not back down from the changes in practices at the center which you asked for and which we delivered.”
Those who signed the letter are Pat Quinn, governor of Illinois; Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago; John Cullerton, president of the senate; Michael Madigan, speaker of the house; Christine Radongo, minority leader; Tom Cross, minority leader.
Adding fuel to the fire
In the weeks leading up to Guzman’s decision, Crain’s Chicago Business published a three month study into the effects of the new labor practices at McCormick Place. The report found that labor represented a small share of exhibitors’ costs and that the trade associations and show contractors are responsible for the high prices at McCormick Place.
“For more than a year, this is exactly what we have been trying to tell lawmakers: labor is not the problem, the contractors are the problem,” said Coli. “Finally, someone has done their homework and discovered we were right all along.”
On Friday, Frank Libby, president of the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, called on the MPEA to drop the expensive litigation and begin a dialogue to find real solutions to the costs associated with doing business at McCormick Place.
“While our day in court has ultimately proved gratifying and substantiates our position, we recognize that the favorable ruling does not solve the many issues defined by the judge and brought to light through recent media investigative reports,” said Libby. “The working men and women won today, yet unless all parties involved match our interest to sit down and develop a meaningful solution to the cost issues at McCormick Place, there will be no winner in the Chicago trade show industry.”
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