After months of negotiating, the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, Chicago'sunions, and McCormick Place have finally reached an agreement to cut costs and hassles for meeting planners. Effective January 1, 1999, the new agreement tackles the chronic labor and hotel room shortage problems that have threatened to undermine Chicago's successful meeting, convention, and trade show industry.
So far, response to the agreement has been encouraging. Right after the agreement was signed, the National Housewares Manufacturers Association, which had been considering moving its annual show to Orlando because of labor troubles, announced it would stay in Chicago, at least through 2003. That decision is a major coup for Chicago, as the association puts on the eighth-largest trade show in the country, drawing 60,000 attendees.
The Details * Power Plan: Do your staff, speakers, or exhibitors really need a union electrician to connect their computer monitors? Not any longer. Convention personnel can now set up their own computers, plug in electrical equipment, and also operate their own VCRs and video cameras.
* No More Waiting: Unlike other cities, Chicago has two unions, the Decorators and the Carpenters, involved in booth construction, causing hassles for exhibitors. Now, the two unions have created a unified labor pool, so members of either union can perform the same work.
* Build It Yourself: But exhibitors don't have to wait for either union anymore. Exhibitors whose booths are 300 square feet (10 feet by 30 feet) or smaller--and 70 percent of the exhibitors booths at McCormick fit into that category--can opt to assemble their own booths. (Union personnel will still have to be called in to use power tools and ladders.)
* Dump the Double Time: Union workers will now be paid time-and-a-half, not double time, for working evening and weekend hours--the times when most of Chicago's shows move in and out.
* The Intimidation Factor: Convention and trade show organizers have complained about more than labor union costs and multiple jurisdictions: Their exhibitors and staff have reported being mistreated by union personnel. These changes should help alleviate that problem, says Paul D. Astleford, president and CEO, Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau.
"One of the most important issues of the whole, that nobody has really talked about," Astleford says, "is that it will prevent the intimidation of exhibitors." That's because exhibitors will no longer have to work around the [union] system to get things done efficiently, he explains.
* Getting There: Transportation to McCormick Place will also be improved. By 2001, the city has plans to open a dedicated bus lane to the convention center, as well as a 3,000-car parking garage. And McCormick Place has also agreed to absorb half of the busing costs for conventions and trade shows.
* Hotel Concessions: Hotels, as well as labor unions, have made concessions to keep Chicago's exhibition business healthy. They have agreed to provide large enough room blocks for the mega-shows and to offer more competitive guest room rates. On the other hand, hotels are not party--at least not yet--to the union concessions made to McCormick Place and the Navy Pier. However, those negotiations may happen in the future.