Officials at the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which runs Chicago’s McCormick Place, are spearheading an effort to introduce a bill in the Illinois General Assembly to reform labor rules and contractor practices at the convention center. With the backing of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, MPEA leaders say the current labor system hinders the city’s ability to win and retain conventions. But not everyone is happy with the plan.
“Convention business in Chicago is at a crossroads,” said MPEA Chairman of the Board John Gates, in a press release. “The many stakeholders in Chicago’s vitally important convention industry must do what it takes to stay competitive and provide better value to customers.”
In recent months, Chicago has lost some major conventions, including those of the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society and SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association. Both cited labor costs as a major reason for pulling out of the city. “We can do what it takes, pass this legislation to modernize our business model, create new jobs and growth, or we can continue to operate at a competitive disadvantage and watch the steady decline of one of our state’s most important economic resources,” added Gates in the statement.
The legislation would establish MPEA as a public employer under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act. It would also bring all show labor in-house under the oversight of MPEA and permit MPEA to negotiate with all show labor (including workers employed by contractors) and prohibit strikes. Further, the legislation would reorganize the bargaining units and work jurisdictions from five down to three; give MPEA significant oversight over work rules; and free MPEA from bargaining agreements negotiated separately between contractors and show labor unions. Finally, it would give MPEA the authority to audit all contracts among show management, contractors, and exhibitors to ensure that labor costs are accurate.
However, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune, the plan faces opposition from some state lawmakers who don’t want to give more authority to MPEA. House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie proposed legislation to replace the 13-member MPEA board with a smaller, interim board to analyze the problems and find a solution, according to the article.
Show contractors also weighed in on the legislation proposed by MPEA. The International Association of Exhibitions and Events released a statement expressing “serious concerns” about the proposal. “Seeking legislative relief for marketplace issues always has the potential to be troubling,” reads the statement.
Further, IAEE officials contend that the MPEA proposal does little to address the core concern of customers: the “extraordinarily high electrical labor costs at MPEA facilities.”
Instead, IAEE urges the MPEA to convene a meeting of the task force of convention leaders, key customers, contractors, and exhibitors that MPEA created in November 2009 to help find a solution to the issues.