by Brendan M. Lynch | June 01, 2005

Leticia Peralta Davis, CEO of the MPEAMPEA CEO Davis announcing labor deal.

Following a year of hard negotiations, participants hammered out a deal on May 5 to relax complicated workplace rules and bring down labor costs at Chicago’s McCormick Place, the country’s largest convention center.
The agreement, between union representatives, major service contractors and officials from Chicago’s Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, came only after several major events had departed McCormick due to costly labor (see “Chicago Loses Shows Due to Union Blues,” Newsline, May).

    “Chicago is a premier destination for meetings and conventions, but we also know that to retain this position we must remain competitive,” said Christopher Bowers, CEO of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. The reforms “are a very positive demonstration of the first step in responding to our customers’ needs,” he added.
    The following agreed-upon changes were to be implemented at McCormick Place immediately:
    " A Labor Management Council is being formed, composed of MPEA officials, labor representatives, service contractors and customers, with authority to make future changes to workplace rates and rules as needed.
    " Work begun from 6 to 8 a.m. will be billed as straight time (not time-and-a-half or double time as previously) across all union jurisdictions.
    " Exhibitors of all sizes will be allowed to hang signs and plug in equipment without hiring union labor.
    " Union crew sizes will be determined on a job-by-job basis, eliminating the required minimum of three union workers.
    " Audiovisual technicians will be paid a rate equal to 60 percent of a journeyman’s wage. (A journeyman is a skilled laborer, e.g., an electrician or carpenter. )
    " A formal auditing process will ensure savings from union concessions are passed along to exhibitors rather than pocketed by service contractors. In the past, union officials expressed frustration that lower wages resulted in higher profits for contractors rather than cheaper rates for customers at McCormick. According to Leticia Peralta Davis, CEO of the MPEA, such auditing “serves as a guarantee that these changes will exist not only on paper, but in practice.”
    While some long-desired reforms, such as consolidating the numerous unions with jurisdictions at McCormick, were omitted from the agreement, exhibitors generally praised the rule changes.
    “Anything that makes it a little easier on the exhibitors makes it easier for us to sell the space,” said Gerri Hopkins, show manager for the Red Bank, N.J.-based Association of Retail Marketing Services’ Supermarket Promotion Show, which is held at the Chicago center each spring. “We expect to be back at McCormick Place in 2006.”