A year and a half of uncertainty around union work rules at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center appears to be over. The labor unions and McCormick Place officials have agreed on new labor reforms, which go into effect November 1, and the unions will ask the courts to dismiss a lawsuit they filed against the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which runs McCormick Place.

The settlement, brokered by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, includes four key changes:

  • Show managers and exhibitors can perform their own work in any size booth, using their own ladders and tools.
  • The straight-time window is longer Monday through Friday, making for less over-time pay.
  • Exhibitors can load and unload their own vehicles at McCormick Place docks and designated loading areas.
  • Union work crews can consist of two people, rather than the three-person crews previously required.
Other reforms already implemented include measures that lower food-and-beverage pricing and improve menu options. Also, show organizers now have the flexibility to select an electrical provider of their choice (from an approved vendor list).

“It is a new day in Chicago and we look forward to sharing that good news with all our present and prospective customers,” said Dave Causton, general manager at McCormick Place.

The settlement marks an apparent end to the 18-month legal battle that developed after MPEA established work rules at McCormick Place in May 2010, designed to make the center more customer-friendly and reduce costs for exhibitors. The unions, Teamsters Local 727 and the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, subsequently filed a suit calling the changes unconstitutional. Earlier this year, a U.S. District Court judge sided with the unions and struck down the reforms. MPEA officials sought a stay, asking for the new rules to remain in place until they had an opportunity to appeal the decision, but in June the stay was denied. At that point, the unions and MPEA decided to head back to the negotiating table, and the result was this settlement, announced October 21.

MPEA Trustee Jim Reilly says the agreement will help ensure that Chicago keeps pace with its key competitors. “We made changes last year in direct response to what our customers demanded. Now, working in partnership with labor, we have overcome some of the biggest obstacles to our efforts to lure new shows to the city,” he said.

“The restoration of exhibitor rights at McCormick Place, without any future threat, ensures that our customers will not only realize significant savings, but prosper as a result of exhibitors returning to their shows in full force,” said Don Welsh, president and chief executive officer, Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. “On behalf of Chicago’s entire visitor industry, I commend the core group of customers for their counsels and unwavering commitment throughout this process.”