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More efficient, affordable Cobo Center results from new labor pact

Holding events at the Cobo Center in Detroit will be more efficient and affordable because of a new labor agreement that streamlines services and makes costs more predictable.

“This agreement makes Cobo’s costs more competitive with standards for the exposition and meeting industry,” said Thom Connors, general manager of the Cobo Center for SMG. “This is a significant step forward to clarify and maintain exhibitor rights and make our operations more efficient and competitive.”

The agreement results from two years of dialogue and negotiations aimed at streamlining work


Labor and management negotiators pose before a painting of former Detroit Mayor Albert Cobo after sealing a new pact.

rules at Cobo. The ultimate goal was to improve the customer experience by transforming the relationships between facility and show management, exhibitors and local labor.

The Cobo Authority also is transforming the facility with a $279 million capital-improvement program. This summer, Cobo will open a new 40,000-square-foot ballroom, 25,000 square-feet of new meeting rooms and a 30,000-square-foot atrium, most of them with a grand view of the Detroit River.

“We have seen the positive changes that the convention facility authority and SMG have made to the work environment and the facility, and we are proud to be a part of the effort to bring tradeshows and convention visitors to Detroit,” said Dick Reynolds, executive director, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters. The carpenters council is one of five unions who are parties to the agreement and supply services to exhibitors.

Among highlights of the labor agreement are:

•    Exhibitors could save up to 33 percent on material-handling labor.
•    The first eight hours of work counts as straight time from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. instead of the prior overtime start after 3 p.m.
•    Exhibitors may carry exhibit materials into and out of exhibit halls if motorized equipment is not needed; and,
•    Exhibitors have greater leeway to set up their own booths.

“Local union leaders have stepped forward to help us transform the way Cobo Center operates, and they have joined the team that is putting Detroit back on the map as a viable and attractive location for tradeshows, conventions and corporate meetings,” said Larry Alexander, CEO, Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The five unions participating in the efficiency agreement were the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters Local 687, represented by Executive Director Dick Reynolds and past Pres. Rich Davis; Local 58 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, represented by Business Manager Michael Richard and Business Rep. Ric Preuss; and Local 25 of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, Rigging, Machinery Erectors & Reinforcing Ironworkers, represented by Business Manager Jack O’Donnell.

Also negotiating for labor were Local 38 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Pictures Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada, AFL-CIO, CLC, represented by Business Agent Cal Hazelbaker (not pictured); and Local 299 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, represented by Pres. Kevin Moore and Secretary-Treasurer Ken Kwapisz.

Negotiating on behalf of Cobo Center management were Thom Connors, general manager; Claude Molinari, assistant general manager; and Scott Balutowicz, director of human resources, Cobo Center; and Gary Helmer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Regional Council. Representing the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority were board members Waymon Guillebeaux (not pictured), Mike Carroll, Larry Alexander, Juliette Okotie-Eboh and Joseph Abdoo.

With 723,000 square feet of exhibit space, Cobo Center has one of the largest contiguous exhibit floor spaces in North America and is the 19th-largest convention center in the country.

Since 1977, SMG has provided management services to more than 220 public assembly facilities including arenas, stadiums, theaters and performing arts centers, equestrian facilities and convention, congress and exhibition centers. With facilities across the globe, SMG manages more than 11 million square feet of exhibition space. As the recognized global industry leader, SMG provides construction and design consulting, pre-opening services, venue management, sales, marketing, event booking and programming.

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