The heads of the five Chicago convention families have reached an unprecedented agreement on litigation challenging the implementation of work rule reform. These new practices go into effect November 1.
The Metropolitan Pier Exposition Authority (MPEA), the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, the International Association of Teamsters Local 727, GES and Freeman reached a settlement that the MPEA believes will poise Chicago to be the industry leader in affable service.
“Chicago is now the most customer-friendly convention and tradeshow destination in the country,” said Don Welsh, president and CEO, Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau. “The restoration of exhibitor rights at McCormick Place, without any future threat, ensures that our customers will not only realize significant savings, but prosper as a result of exhibitors returning to their shows in full force.”
The MPEA’s main goal throughout this process has been to ensure a competitive edge and keep McCormick Place as what Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn called, “a cornerstone of Illinois’ economy.”
“These historic reforms will save exhibitors money by giving them the flexibility they need and help to attract even more shows to Illinois, while making sure the many hard-working men and women who support McCormick Place stay on the job,” said Quinn.
David Causton, MPEA general manager, released a statement explaining what is in the works to give the MPEA a competitive edge.
“What we’re really trying to do is align ourselves with our competition; to reduce costs, to provide flexibility,” he said. “When we do that, we’ll be able to compete with any destination in the country.”
When asked why the litigation was directed at labor reform by the MPEA instead of those who set prices, Causton replied, “It hasn’t always been about labor so much as how labor can be more flexible.”
He commented on some of the changes that will make the MPEA especially attractive to the exhibitor, such as allowing exhibitors to do the work themselves without receiving bills from anyone, including the exhibit house or the official contractor, and allowing the customer to choose their own electrical provider.
Another statement features Jim Reilly, MPEA trustee, expounding on his vision of McCormick Place’s improvements.
“It’s just terribly exciting,” he said. “People for years have compared us with Las Vegas and Orlando, and often, to our disadvantage, but now our prices are going lower than theirs. Our work rules for labor are going to be at least as good, if not better than theirs. Chicago gets it finally.”
Reilly said the changes that have been made are in direct response to customer demands.
“Now, working in partnership with labor, we have overcome some of the biggest obstacles to our efforts to lure new shows to the city,” said Reilly. “It is especially gratifying that all of the elements of the Chicago tradeshow industry – the City, the State, the Carpenters, the Teamsters and Freeman and GES – came together and generously contributed to reaching this historic settlement.”
With the completion of the agreement, it has been decided the two unions will join together with the MPEA in requesting the federal court for a dismissal on the suit filed earlier in the year. Under the terms of the settlement, four key reforms important to exhibitors have been solidified:
- The exhibitors’ bill of rights allows show managers and exhibitors to perform their own work in any size booth, using their own ladders or hand tools, cordless tools, power tools and other tools designated by the Authority.
- Key expanded straight-time (Monday – Friday) is restored, and additionally, provisions roll back double-time pay for the following holidays: Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and President’s Day and a more flexible schedule on Saturdays, which reduces double time.
- Auto small-utility vehicle (POV) provisions allow exhibitors to operate, load and unload their own vehicles at McCormick Place docks and designated loading areas.
- Crew size reductions will immediately allow work at McCormick Place to be done by two-person crews rather than the three-person crews required prior to the reforms.
On March 31, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Guzman overturned labor reforms enacted by the Illinois General Assembly for McCormick Place. As a result, a permanent injunction was entered, prohibiting the enforcement of those reforms.
The lawsuit, originally brought by Carpenters and Local 727, maintained that the bill was an attempt to override collective bargaining agreements and tip the balance of power in favor of employers. At one time, Carpenters’ president Frank Libby felt the judge’s decision was a win for the working man, though he also urged for continued negotiations.
“Legislation and expensive lawsuits will not solve the problems facing McCormick Place,” said Libby. “Only by sitting down and working together can we come up with fair and equitable solutions that will benefit our customers: the convention exhibitors.”
Now satisfied with the agreement at hand, considerations within the contract have been made for the inevitabilities of change, according to a release from the Carpenters union. With this agreement, the Carpenters union will work with the city and state to identify work opportunities in emerging markets.
As partners with Mayor Emanuel and Gov. Quinn, the Carpenters are working together to ensure federal and state money is used to train residents in these emerging markets and provide careers for the citizens of Chicago and the state of Illinois. It is anticipated that work stemming from this agreement and collaborative effort could produce opportunities for displaced workers within affordable housing, infrastructure, training/retraining programs and the state’s building performance initiative. These potential opportunities would benefit all of the building trades under this plan.
“This is an opportunity to put our displaced members to work in areas of current and growing need, while at the same time reinforcing our commitment to the tradeshow industry and Chicago’s place as the top convention destination in the country,” said Libby.
Sentiments of keeping Chicago as a forerunning destination for meetings resonates across the board.
“McCormick Place is a major economic engine for the City of Chicago, bringing more than three million visitors to the city every year,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “I am grateful that labor is our partner in implementing these reforms, which will keep thousands of Chicagoans working, save exhibitors money and ensure our city remains a competitive destination and leader in the convention and tradeshow industry.”
Causton also believes this collective effort can only help the Chicago land area.
“We think it’s going to increase employment,” he said. “Especially if we’re number one on the food chain, and we’re gathering more business because of it.”
The general contractors share the enthusiastic spirit circulating across the board.
“On behalf of our clients, we welcome the positive labor relations developments at MPEA,” said John Patronski, GES executive vice president, industry development. “The agreement between the MPEA, the Teamsters and Carpenters will preserve advances in exhibitor rights and work rules signed into law last year. These reforms have proven to be in everyone’s best interests.”
Chicago Teamsters, primarily responsible for moving freight in and out of booths, displayed a show of partnership and flexibility with the reduction of required crew sizes from three men to two.
After much struggle and intense litigation, the five convention heads have come to an agreement, which has yielded terms everyone can live with.
“Exhibitors report a better experience at McCormick Place. The labor force has more work. MPEA should experience business growth, and the City can now count on its convention business to produce jobs and revenues for many years to come,” said Patronski. “We believe these developments send a message to show organizers and exhibitors that Chicago is ready to recapture its status as a premier business exhibition and event destination.”