The Riggers and Decorators are the same unions that earlier this year successfully quashed labor reform legislation drafted by the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) in Chicago, which manages McCormick Place and Navy Pier. (See "Chicago Labor Legislation Faces Uphill Battle," February issue, page 11.) Local press reports suggest that the unions offered Rosemont the concessions in an effort to further undermine the bill, by demonstrating that legislation is not necessary for reform.
"We've got the bill on life support," declares Tommy Thomas, president, Decorators Local 17. But, he adds, blocking the bill was not the only reason to make a deal with Rosemont. "The number-one reason is the customers," Thomas says. Even though the two unions oppose the legislation, they do favor reform, Thomas insists. "We've been trying to get an agreement for our customers at McCormick for two years. We went to Rosemont, met with the mayor, and accomplished this [agreement] in two hours."
But those concessions are not nearly enough to satisfy MPEA, counters John Devona, senior director, marketing MPEA. "[The Rosemont agreement] does not address the issues which our clients say are most important," he says. Five unions still have jurisdiction in Chicago, more than in any other city. The legislation would have consolidated four of the unions into two groups.
Secondly, says Devona, "[the agreement] takes a small step, but not a dramatic step, toward improving the overtime situation. It does not go, in our opinion, nearly as far as our customers want."
The MPEA has tabled the reform bill for now, Devona concedes, because legislators asked the Authority to try to address the labor problems through negotiations with the unions, rather than through legislation.
Currently, MPEA, the unions, and the general contractors are holding meetings, but no one is commenting on thedetails, as there is a media blackout.
Asked about their progress, Devona said, "I can't predict a time period [as to when an agreement might be reached]. If we can't reach a voluntary agreement, we will revisit the legislative solutions. We have not in any way given up. We are still confident there will be improvements."