State lawmakers and industry organizations voiced opposition following the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority's unveiling of Chicago labor reform legislation to the Illinois General Assembly last week. The proposal would, among other things, establish the MPEA as a public employer and prohibit strikes at its facilities. House lawmakers responded to the legislation, which was backed by Governor Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, by voting to oust the current MPEA board and replace it with a smaller, interim panel to examine the recent loss of convention business due to growing labor expenses.
Exhibition companies Freeman and GES immediately released a statement expressing their concern over the controversy: "Freeman and GES believe that fundamental labor reform in Chicago is necessary, and while we support the goals of the proposed legislation, we share the concern of many of our Chicago customers regarding the potential cost and customer service implications of this specific approach." The International Association of Exhibitions & Events also voiced concern, saying in a statement, "It is bad enough to be taking matters that are best resolved in the commercial marketplace to the legislature. But trying to rush a solution through the law-making process only invites new, unpredictable and potentially destructive legislative actions."
In addition, the Chicago Federation of Labor issued a statement last week indicating that the unions representing workers at McCormick Place have called for a "customer bill of rights" for exhibitors, as well as greater transparency and auditing, as part of major reforms needed to keep Chicago a competitive convention destination.