Chicago Labor Reforms Overturned

Convention authority to appeal court's decision

Portions of major labor reforms enacted at McCormick Place in Chicago in May 2010 were overturned on March 31 by U.S. District Court judge Ronald Guzman, citing a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. At issue are rules that give exhibitors expanded rights to work on their booths and that extend union workers' straight-time hours.

The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns and manages the 2.7
million-square-foot convention facility, has asked the court to stay execution of the order, although it is not known when Guzman will rule on that request. Until then, the MPEA will continue to operate McCormick Place under the current labor laws while preparing an appeal.

Following the changes last year, Chi­cago saw a boost in new convention business, including a five-year contract to host the National Restaurant Asso­ciation's annual event, which attracts about 66,000 attendees, and the return of the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society, which lately had chosen Las Vegas over Chicago, citing the city's high labor costs.

Though only a portion of the law is under fire (changes in food service, electrical contracts and the power of the Interim Board to turn McCormick Place over to private management remain intact), the MPEA is worried the ruling could hinder Chicago's convention business.

"Returning to the previous labor standards would have a huge impact on our ability to keep our existing customers happy and to attract future business," said David Causton, general manager of McCormick Place. "To change everything we have done this past year would create irreparable harm to our destination and facility."

The law entered the court system when the Chicago Re­gional Council of Carpenters and Teamsters Local 727, which spent more than $150,000 on litigation fees, filed a lawsuit questioning the legislation's constitutionality.

"We completely support making changes that attract more business to Chicago, but not when those changes violate contracts and take away the union's bargaining rights," said Maggie Jenkins, communications director for Teamsters Local 727. "These reforms can be negotiated in the next collective bargaining agreement, but until then, we have to fight for our members' rights."

The current agreement expires in 2012.