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The story continues in Chicago

On May 27, the Illinois state legislature overturned an amendatory veto by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on legislation aimed at addressing changes in the policies and procedures at McCormick Place in Chicago.

The vote was a staggering 93-19 in the House and 51-2 in the Senate, mirroring the original vote passing this legislation. Quinn opposed this legislation because he said more changes were needed to reverse the loss of shows in recent months.

However, many have questioned Quinn’s motives, largely because of campaign contributions from the teamsters union, which stood to benefit from the changes he proposed. For example, under his plan jurisdictions at McCormick Place would have been reduced from five to three, and the teamsters would have absorbed the riggers local while the carpenters union would have taken over the decorators.

Concerns were raised when the teamsters union made contributions of $75,000 two weeks before the legislation was handed to Quinn for his signature. In addition, since January of 2009, Quinn received $127,612 from various teamster locals.

The legislation, which the Illinois legislature passed, was designed to adjust labor rules and lower prices charged by contractors and service providers. A couple of high profile shows have relocated to other cities creating a near panic environment with legislators who usually treat the industry with benign neglect.

Some of the more notable elements of this bill include that exhibitors can set up any size booth, including the use of power tools and ladders. They are also allowed to bring in their own workers to set up the booths as long as they have been employed with the company for at least six months.

They have expanded the hours for straight time to eight consecutive hours between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., allowed the selection of certain workers by name, and reducing crew sizes. They have eliminated the requirement to use the in-house electrical service in McCormick Place and have allowed exhibitors to bring in food and beverages for personal consumption.

They’ve also extended the life of the bonds for the convention center for an additional 18 years. Furthermore, they’ve doubled the tax on cab fares, which will bring an additional $6 million for the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, and $2 million to Rosemont’s marketing efforts.

They also replaced the current CEO with Jim Reilly, who is a controversial choice because of his reputation as politically connected appointee. He was the CEO of McCormick Place in the past and many insiders have questioned his consulting work done for Freeman and GES, which they perceive as an unacceptable conflict of interest.

It’s hard to understand why Quinn chose to block this legislation, which had bipartisan support in the legislature, as well as overwhelming support from the associations responsible for bringing shows to Chicago. Some of these association said without passage of this legislation they were considering moving their shows elsewhere.

Quinn faces a tough upcoming re-election campaign and many voters view him as a temporary occupant of the governor’s office. He became governor when his running mate, Rod Blagojevich, was removed on corruption charges.

Some government control of the tradeshow industry is inevitable, because tradeshow facilities are state operated buildings and there must be legislative oversight to make sure public money is properly spent. In the best scenario, tax money is being carefully and prudently managed, but in the worst case scenario, individuals can abuse the public trust to further their own ambition and self interest. This legislative battle clearly demonstrates examples of both.

Chicago faces economic challenges but so does every city involved in the tradeshow business, the economy has necessitated adaptations to the business model which has existed for years. Certainly economic conditions have changed along with everything which we have learned to expect from the industry over the past few decades.

But one constant never changes, we are a service industry and without people, service is impossible. Exhibitors are an essential component of our industry, but so are the people who provide the services they rely upon. A balance must be struck to address the concerns of exhibitors, but also protect the livelihoods of the people who provide the services which define our industry.

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