McCormick Place labor deal touted as boost for convention business

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John Coli of Teamsters Joint Council 25 answers reporters’ questions as Gov. Pat Quinn, left, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel listen during a press conference to announce agreements with labor groups to settle disputes and lawsuits against McCormick Place Friday, Oct. 21, 2011, at McCormick Place in Chicago. | John J. Kim

Labor agreements with the Teamsters and carpenters unions will give large conventions the certainty about costs that they need to book shows at McCormick Place, officials said Friday in announcing the agreements.

In talks brokered by aides to Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, McCormick Place managers and union leaders agreed to terms that substantially followed labor reforms the state Legislature ordered last year. But the unions said they won commitments that new work rules, intended to lower costs for convention exhibitors, won’t be abused.

Jim Reilly, trustee of McCormick Place’s governing board, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, said the deal inaugurates “a new era of progressive labor peace” in Chicago’s convention industry, which supports 66,000 jobs.

“Everybody gave a little and everybody won a lot” in terms of better prospects for the industry, Emanuel said. He joined Quinn and leaders of Teamsters Local 727 and the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters in announcing the deal.

“This is the worst news for Orlando and Las Vegas: McCormick Place is open for business,” Emanuel said.

The two unions had sued over exhibitor-friendly work rules the General Assembly ordered last year. In March, a federal judge sided with the unions and threw out some of the reforms on the grounds that the Legislature was overstepping its authority.

The judge’s ruling threw the convention business into an uproar. Some show managers threatened to cancel bookings at McCormick Place, citing a fear of escalating costs.

With the new deal, the unions and McPier, as the McCormick Place board is commonly called, will agree to end the litigation.

McPier now can put in place an “exhibitors’ bill of rights” that lets show managers and exhibitors set up their own booths with simple tools. Exhibitors also can drive and unload their own vehicles at McCormick Place, and union work can be done by two-person crews instead of the old minimum of three.

Union leaders said McPier agreed to new terms for implementing the rules. They also said McPier will conduct “robust audits” to verify that labor savings are passed on to exhibitors and are not used to pad profits for show managers.

“They gave a lot and they gave ’til it hurt,” John Coli, president of Teamster Joint Council 25, said of his members. He said Local 727 members ratified the agreement unanimously Thursday night.

Carpenters union President Frank Libby said his members do not have to ratify the agreement because it does not alter collective bargaining terms with McPier.

Unions also agreed to expanded hours under which only straight time will be paid to members.

Reilly said a main difference is that the agreement was reached through consensus with the unions, whereas last year’s legislation was forced on them.

Unions representing electricians, riggers and decorators at McCormick Place already have accepted the new rules.

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