The Achilles heel of Chicago is the labor situation. We need drastic action," says Ben Wold, vice president of the Chicago-based National Marine Manufacturers Association and a member of Friends of McCormick Place, a group of 25 of the center's top customers. Many convention and tradeshow organizers agree with Wold's view--and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, operator of McCormick Place and Navy Pier, is responding.

The agency drafted legislation to address chronic labor problems, and tied it to a request for funds to improve the facility. But the reform effort hit a major setback on the opening day of the Illinois state legislature's winter session in January, when opponents introduced counter-bills that included the capital improvements request but dropped the labor reform piece. It's a move, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune, calculated to kill the MPEA bill.

MPEA officials assert that they have not given up, but have decided to delay introducing House Bill 18 until at least the end of February.

"Some of the news reports suggest the legislation is dead. It's not," says John Devona, senior director, marketing, MPEA. "I want to make it clear that [the legislation] will not be introduced until we feel the time is right. We remain committed to it."

With other cities such as Orlando, Dallas, and New Orleans expanding their convention facilities, Chicago now has competition. Despite the city's numerous attributes, the legislation is crucial, say proponents, if Chicago is to remain a top tradeshow destination. The bill would help reduce costs and "the hassle factor," says Tom Mobley, general manager, McCormick Place. By making trades workers employees of McCormick Place, they would fall under the state's collective bargaining law--meaning that McCormick's management team would have the power to bargain for "a fairer set of work conditions that reflect the tradeshow industry," Mobley explains. Specifically, the bill would empower MPEA to address the following trouble spots:

* Currently, four unions have jurisdiction in McCormick Place--more than in any other city. Under the new structure, those four would be consolidated into two groups, one for building booths, and one for moving freight.

* Trades workers are paid overtime after 4:30 p.m.--even if they just began their shifts--one of the many work rules that aggravates exhibitors and show organizers, since most trade shows move in and out during weekends or evenings. That rule, and other work rules, could be abolished if the bill is passed.

Last fall, reform looked promising. The MPEA had garnered the support of the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL), including the two major unions, the Teamsters and Carpenters, after the unions negotiated for changes in the original proposal. A version of the bill passed the House during the fall session in November, but lost in the Senate by just one vote. Following the bill's defeat, the labor coalition fell apart, and, according to the Chicago Tribune, the CFL announced it would no longer lobby for the package. Not only did proponents lose that powerful lobbying support, but the Chicago-area Riggers and Decorators unions, which have been vociferously opposed to the legislation from the beginning, fearing they would be trampled by the bigger unions, stepped up their efforts to stifle the legislation.

The bill faces other obstacles. While some in the tradeshow industry blame unions for rising costs at McCormick Place, the unions, according to the Chicago Tribune, say that when they have made concessions in the past, the general contractors pocketed any cost savings, instead of passing savings on to the exhibitors. And the general contractors worry that the new legislation would allow McCormick to benefit by marking up labor costs.

According to sources, general contractors have many concerns about the proposed legislation. The revised bill addresses those issues, says MPEA's Devona. Unlike New York's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which took over hiring and payroll during its reform effort several years ago, McCormick will not take over those responsibilities. The new bill clarifies that contractors would remain in charge of selecting labor and payroll. "There was a fear that we would mark up the labor," Devona acknowledges. "The new legislation specifically prohibits us from doing that. Our plan is to keep costs down, not mark up costs."

Another touchy issue: General contractors were concerned that they would have to disclose their own fees. "The original legislation said we had the authority to audit, to ensure that cost savings and labor concessions were being passed onto the consumer," explains Devona. "The new legislation removes the word 'audit' and replaces it with language that still accomplishes that goal."

Chicago-area spokespersons for the two major contractor companies, GES Exposition Services and The Freeman Companies, declined to comment at press time on the revised legislation. As for exhibitor-appointed contractors, any partnership with the MPEA is very much a work-in-progress. "What the MPEA has done is afford us the opportunity to rewrite language in the legislation, should House Bill 18 pass, so that we were comfortable with it as employers," says Tom Cassell, director, Illinois chapter of the Exhibitor-Appointed Contractors Association and owner of Convention All Services, both located in Addison. Do those changes mean that exhibitor-appointed contractors are now supporting the bill? "To my knowledge no one has said we were for or against anything," says Cassell.

White Elephant? Without labor reform, Chicago will lose important shows that have been there for decades, warn the bill's advocates. Already, the Radiological Society of North America, based in Oak Brook, Ill., which had met in Chicago for most of its 83-year history, has taken its meetings to Orlando, reportedly in part because of the labor problems at McCormick. Other shows may follow suit. "[Except for one year] our show has been here 38 years," says Wold, of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. "But it's gotten too expensive."

Like those other groups, the American Academy of Family Physicians, Kansas City, Mo., encountered numerous problems with unexpected costs and labor hassles during its September annual meeting and trade show in Chicago. "The bureau and the center are so super to work with. I want to say that first of all. They helped smooth over a good deal of the pain--and there was pain. The problem is the unions," says Mickey Schaefer, CAE, vice president for membership, meetings and conventions, and administration, and the 1998 president of the Professional Convention Management Association.

Although she doesn't have the final figures, Schaefer estimates that it cost the AAFP about $500,000 more in labor costs to meet in Chicago than it would have to meet in cities such as New Orleans or Orlando. Referring to primarily labor costs, along with some support services costs, Schaefer says, "We projected a 30 percent increase in costs. We should have projected 50 percent."

An example: The AAFP puts on video CME (continuing medical education) at its meetings. In other cities, says Schaefer, AAFP staff handled the videos themselves. Not in Chicago. "We had a union person sitting there, to push a button to play the tape, rewind it, play it again, over and over again, seven times a day in five different rooms," she says. "It cost $25,000 and that was just the labor cost. This is ridiculous.

"We don't mind working in a union city," she clarifies. "But unions have to understand our jobs and our budgets and how we evaluate a city. We are on the line to make a profit with our conventions. I wish the unions would wake up and realize a lot of other cities are expanding their centers. They aren't the biggest game in the country anymore."

Adds Wold, "There are five venues that we can go to with our show, versus the one or two that existed before. If there isn't substantial change, the new McCormick Place is going to be the biggest white elephant around."

New IACVB President Aims for Stability Edward Nielsen took over as the new president and CEO of the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus this January, replacing Karen Jordan, who resigned earlier in the year. Nielsen, who had served as executive vice president and CEO for the Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians for the past ten years, says his first priority is to establish stability within IACVB. "I'm the fourth CEO in two years," he points out. "I want to give the staff an abiding sense of security."

Nielsen's predecessor, Karen Jordan, resigned because, as she put it, "it became too difficult to carry on a 1,200-mile relationship," referring to the distance separating the Washington, D.C. IACVB office from her family in Texas. Reflecting on her situation, Nielsen says that conflict between personal and professional commitments is rampant in the industry. "It's ironic that in the hospitality industry, we are great at taking care of everyone but ourselves," he says. Jordan's dilemma stirred IACVB board members to reconsider meeting schedules, Nielsen reports. "It was the Jordan effect," he says. "At our October board meeting, we asked, 'What are we doing?' We voted unanimously not to hold meetings on weekends."

What kind of leadership will IACVB provide to its members as the continuing development of information technology raises the possibility of rendering some CVB services, such as housing, obsolete? "It would be foolhardy for any association to ignore serious dialogue about strategic alliances with technology," Nielsen says. He adds that he would love to see discussion about an alliance such as the American Society of Association Executives just developed with Microsoft.

He also says that he hopes IACVB will be very active in the development of industry-wide standards, primarily through the newly launched Convention Liaison Council initiative called APEX. As for the future of convention and visitor bureaus, Nielsen predicts that associations will see an evolution in the quality of service offered by CVBs. "All the right elements are there to leap forward," he says.

ASAE Launches Tech Alliance With Microsoft The big news at the American Society of Association Executives Management & Technology Conference, held December 7 to 9 at the Baltimore Convention Center, was the announcement of the ASAE/Microsoft Technology Alliance Program. The alliance is designed to position ASAE as the technology leader in the association community and help ASAE members make better use of technology.

"Technology has never been more important in the lives of association executives," said ASAE president and CEO

R. William Taylor, CAE, speaking at the general session.

"We're not just talking about technology," added Gary LaBranche, CAE, vice president, education and convention services, ASAE, in a later interview. "This [alliance] will bring associations face to face with technology and get them to experiment and innovate with it."

The project is not an affinity relationship, stressed LaBranche. Even though ASAE uses Microsoft software, it is not endorsing Microsoft, and will not receive revenue resulting from sales of Microsoft products.

As part of the program, Microsoft Corporation will enhance ASAE's Web site so that it will become a "a template for associations wishing to build online communities," said Burton. The upgraded site, at www.asaenet.org, will include features such as an interactive tradeshow floor map, and, through Microsoft's NetShow server, on-demand audio- and videoconferencing of events.

Beginning in January, the Alliance will sponsor technology seminars for members. A technology resource center is scheduled to open at ASAE headquarters early in 1998, offering members hands-on access to hardware and software. Other aspects of the program include

* discounted training on Microsoft products for ASAE members,

* a free copy of Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 for ASAE members, and

* a Web-based news-wire service featuring articles on technology that associations can use in their publications.

ASAE M&T '97 drew 2,200 association executives and 600 exhibitors.

New Record for IAEM The International Association for Exposition Management (IAEM) drew a record 2,238 registrants to Atlanta for its December 2 to 5 annual conference and trade show. In keeping with the association's efforts to balance representation from members and associate (supplier) members, there were 773 exposition managers and 1,248 associate members--a more balanced ratio than at the 1996 annual meeting.

In the opening keynote address, former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young pointed to the city as an example of racial harmony and integration at work. And Karen Howe, CEM, group tradeshow director for Diversified Expositions, Portland, Maine, handed over IAEM's chairmanship to Lawson Hockman, CEM, COO of the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C. Hockman has served on IAEM's board for seven years. He said his goal as chairman is to renew the association's commitment to education, carry out the long-range business plan for the association, and work on chapter development and services.

IAEM's educational sessions focused on international opportunities for trade shows, technology developments, and various issues around labor unions, general contractors, and convention centers.

Among the trends predicted: more co-location of domestic and international trade shows, more show management focus on attendees versus exhibitors, and continued pressure for labor reform from exhibitors. Medical trade shows are expected to continue their rapid growth and diversification as managed-care reforms continue to unfold. IAEM's mid-year meeting will be held June 9 to 12 in Reno, Nev.--Regina McGee

Congratulations Vernita A. Grimes, meeting coordinator for the National Black Child Development Institute in Washington, D.C., won a Florida vacation package when her name was randomly drawn from a list of readers who had submitted ballots for the 1997 Association Meetings Inner Circle Awards, which are given annually to properties earning the most votes for excellence from the magazine's readers.

"It's cold outside, but we have hot barbecue and the greatest jazz bands in the country," declared Wayne Chappell, president and CEO of the Kansas City (Mo.) Convention & Visitors Bureau, during the lively opening session of the Professional Convention Management Association's 42nd annual meeting, January 7 to 10 at the Kansas City Convention Center in Missouri. PCMA drew a record-breaking 2,460 attendees, including 695 planners--another record for the association.

Organizers pointed to Kansas City's terrific efforts in helping make the convention a success. During a warm and wryly humorous welcome speech at the opening session, Mayor Emanuel Cleaver II encouraged delegates to "lose as much money as you can," at the Party With a Purpose, held at a casino. The $110,000 raised at the party goes to various Kansas City charities, as well as to PCMA's Education Foundation and Network for the Needy.

Helping those in need was a strong conference theme: Westin Hotels (see photo to right) sponsored a very different kind of reception, and GES Exposition Services donated $50,000 to fund a full-time position for PCMA's Network for the Needy Program, which helps conventions organizers donate surplus food to shelters.

Spiking his keynote speech with humor, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and presidential candidate Robert J. Dole said, "I don't see many men out there [in the audience]. That's probably a good sign--this speech is about leadership." Dole predicted that a woman would emerge as a presidential or vice presidential candidate in the next election.

Meeting industry leaders, both male and female, expressed their views during a standing-room only session on facility overrides, rebates, and commissions-- issues that still remain volatile for both planners and suppliers. Throughout that session, and others on housing, ethics, and disclosure, attendees stressed the importance of communication among all parties involved in meeting planning, and the need for industry operating standards and recommended practices.

That long-awaited goal may actually become a reality under the leadership of newly installed PCMA president Mickey Schaefer, CAE, vice president for membership, meetings and conventions, and administration for the Kansas City, Mo.based American Academy of Family Physicians. Calling the drive for standards her "passion," Schaefer announced that she had proposed a plan for implementing recommended practices to the Convention Liaison Council and that the CLC has taken the first step and authorized hiring a consultant with expertise in technology to examine the feasibility of CLC undertaking such an effort. (See "CLC to Undertake Standardization," December 1997, Association Meetings, page 13.) The project, initially called MISTI (Meeting Industry Standards and Technology Initiative) has been renamed APEX (Accepted Practices Excellence Exchange).

"We want to make sure we do this right," Schaefer said at a press conference. "It's scary but it's very, very exciting."

To effect industry-wide standards, organizations will have to work together. That collaboration was highlighted by the presentation of PCMA's first Lifetime Achievement Award to R. William Taylor, CAE, president and CEO of the American Society of Association Executives. Taylor, who is retiring in August, joked as he accepted the award, "At times we considered ourselves a little bit competitive." In a serious tone, he continued, "The partnership with PCMA has been one of the highlights of my career with ASAE."