Radiological Society of North America officials say their first meeting in Chicago since the city resolved its much-publicized labor problems was an unqualified success. They are so pleased that they have agreed to return to the Windy City through 2010.

"Everything went fine," says Janet Cooper, RSNA's managing director of convention operations. "It was very smooth."

RSNA had threatened to bolt from Chicago because of the city's high labor costs and trade show restrictions, but is among a number of organizations giving high marks to a labor agreement that took effect on January 1, 1999. The new agreement is designed to reduce the city's chronic labor woes and beef up hotel room availability. (See "Chicago - No Longer Singing the Labor Blues?," MM, December 1998, page 15.)

David Noonan, deputy executive vice president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and a member of the Chicago Customer Advisory Board, which had urged the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau to resolve its labor problems, says he's satisfied the new labor system is making a difference. "Those who have been there are reporting much smoother operations," he says.

Nevertheless, meeting planners eyeing future conventions at McCormick Place or the Navy Pier may want to be cognizant of some potential hitches.

First, the labor agreement is expiring at the end of 2000. City officials are confident that the reforms will remain intact when the agreement is renewed, and they characterized the negotiations as focusing on general economic issues rather than the terms of the 1999 agreement.

Second, while helpful to exhibitors, the changes have done little to make life easier for the people who actually run the meetings, says Glen C. Ramsborg, PhD, director of programs and meeting services for the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

His staff was frustrated by labor rules requiring them to use union workers to distribute materials to meeting rooms, rather than simply distributing the materials themselves. Even though he praised CTB staff for doing everything they could to make the meeting run as smoothly as possible, Ramsborg said the labor rules complicated AV setups and jacked up the expenses for a banquet because he had to pay union members $5 for every chair they set up.

"The changes so widely publicized mainly had to do with exhibitors," Ramsborg said. "In my 18 years of doing this, I've never paid for the placement of chairs." He estimated that the labor rules added 5 to 10 percent to his costs. However, he said the association will likely return to Chicago because the attendees were highly enthusiastic about the city.

Under the labor agreement, union workers are paid time-and-a-half, rather than double time, for working evening and weekend hours, and the two unions involved in booth construction have formed a unified labor pool. To reduce meeting hassles, exhibitors whose booths are 300 square feet or smaller can assemble their own booths; and staff, speakers, and exhibitors can plug in their own computers and other equipment. In addition, hotels have agreed to provide large enough room blocks for mega-shows and offer more competitive room rates.

All Work, All Play Who better to know about playground safety than orthopedic surgeons? They often are the ones who treat the broken bones. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons took their knowledge - and their muscle - to the streets during the academy's annual meeting in Orlando in March and, as a community service project, built a safe, handicapped-accessible playground for the Magnolia School, many of whose students have disabilities.

About 250 people - doctors and their families, AAOS staff, and volunteers from the community - gathered at the school and built the playground in one day. Of course, lots of planning went into the project, says Lawrence E. Rosenthal, PhD, deputy executive vice president and CEO of AAOS. "It started months before, and from the beginning with the design, the local community was involved," he says. In fact, students at the Magnolia School used crayons and paper to show what they wanted in a new playground, and those ideas were incorporated into the plans, Rosenthal says.

AAOS enlisted the design help of two nonprofit organizations for the Magnolia School structure: KaBOOM! (www.kaboom.org) and Boundless Playgrounds, groups dedicated to creating safe and accessible playgrounds throughout the country.

Funding and physical labor for the playground came from Orlando community organizations such as the West Orlando Rotary, Silver Star Lions, Orange County Schools, West Learning Community, and a number of orthopedic industry firms and organizations.

The project also served to launch the academy's new national injury prevention and awareness program, "Prevent Injuries America!" Doctors will get out their hammers and saws again at the AAOS Annual Meeting in San Francisco in 2001. The project was honored by the American Society of Association Executives at its annual meeting in Orlando in August as a winner of ASAE's Summit Award in recognition of innovative volunteer community service.