Changes in labor regulations at
convention centers tend to come slowly and in small increments.
Recently, for example, unions and contractors have been tinkering
with 25 percent reductions in certain overtime wages or the
extension of “straight time” windows, during which regular wages
apply. These are measures planners appreciate but acknowledge won’t
impact their bottom lines drastically. However, key decision makers
in some cities have realized labor regulations need to be bent more
dramatically in favor of exhibitors, or convention centers will
risk losing business to places where trade shows can be put up in
less time for less money, with fewer surprises and fewer headaches.
“Whatever we can do to encourage exhibitors to participate in trade
shows and experience control over their participation is a good
thing,” says Jim Wurm, executive director of the Bend, Ore.-based
Exhibitor Appointed Contractor Association.
In the past few years, Chicago,
Detroit, Philadelphia and St. Louis -- all strong union cities --
have accomplished significant revisions to their work rules, some
with more fanfare than others, and in doing so have created more
flexible or affordable working environments for exhibitors,
particularly the smaller players. Planners who haven’t organized or
participated in trade shows in those cities recently might be
surprised to discover how much conditions have evolved. And more
change is on the way.
to Customer Service
Last month, when a new collective bargaining
agreement went into effect at McCormick Place for the union
representing carpenters, convention center executives promised that
the expanded straight time windows, reduced “double time” hours and
the new ability for contractors to negotiate directly with the
union would build on the customer-friendly contracts that had been
signed in the past two years with riggers, decorators and
electricians. Those contracts created new flexible start times for
workers and reduced certain mandatory crew sizes.
McCormick Place is becoming a better
environment for show organizers and exhibitors alike, says Steve
Drew, assistant executive director for the Radiological Society of
North America, based in Oak Brook, Ill., which holds one of
McCormick Place’s largest annual meetings. In 2006, at the first
RSNA show under the initial wave of new rules, exhibitors saved a
total of $300,000 on labor costs, and they saved even more last
year, Drew estimates. David Causton, general manager of McCormick
Place, says exhibitors at the biggest trade shows collectively can
save up to half a million dollars.
Improvements continue to be sought. A
labor-management council regularly brings unions, building
representatives and clients together to propose changes -- some of
which relate to issues not immediately visible to planners, such as
how unions receive information about the event calendar.
Last fall, the council produced the
“Chicago Commitment,” a statement of promises regarding customer
service that the convention center, the unions and contractors have
signed. Among the guarantees: Customers will “know what to expect,”
“not be involved in jurisdictional issues” and “know that we
appreciate them.” The document doesn’t provide for the enforcement
of the principles, but Causton says it’s a start.
The unions are getting the message.
Robert Fulton, business manager for the Riggers Local 136, says his
workers now receive more customer service training than ever and
constantly are reminded about their role as city ambassadors.
Moving forward, Causton says he wants
to enact a comprehensive drug-free workplace policy at the center
(see “Crackdown on Drugs”). Also on the horizon: The
Teamsters contract is due to expire at the end of the year, and
Drew, for one, wants to see them follow the lead of the other
unions. “I hope the baseline has been set,” he says.