After another legal setback, it’s back to the drawing board for McCormick Place officials in their effort to create more user-friendly work rules at the nation’s largest convention center.
Earlier this year, a U.S. District Court judge struck down new labor rules passed in Chicago last year that were designed to reduce exhibitor costs, crew sizes, overtime pay, and customer hassles. The judge sided with the Teamsters Local 727 and the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, who filed a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (which owns McCormick Place), calling the changes unconstitutional. MPEA officials sought a stay from the U.S. District Court, 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 and the new work rules were tossed out.
Subsequently, MPEA brought its case to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, but on July 11, the appeals court denied the request for a stay until the appeal is heard. The appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is still pending.
“With today's ruling on denying the motion, we are compelled to seek whatever it takes to save Chicago's convention andbusiness,” MPEA officials said in a statement. “We wish to express the importance of the city's convention industry as an economic engine that cannot be overstated. The 66,000 jobs we support and the $8 billion in Illinois spending are far too important to let other, more competitive destinations capture our business. Our customers have expressed their needs, we responded with a viable solution to provide a level playing field to help retain our competitiveness. With the support of the entire political leadership of our city and state, we will continue to advocate for our customers and work toward a long-term solution that will ensure the vitality of Chicago's convention industry.”
Despite the court ruling, at least one of the five unions working at McCormick Place, the Machinery Movers, Riggers & Machinery Erectors Local 136, have agreed to abide by the “new,” recently tossed work rules, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.
In addition, the carpenters union and Teamsters have expressed a willingness to return to the negotiating table to hammer out a new deal. “Workers have been the only ones asked to make concessions to change the climate at McCormick Place,” said John Coli, secretary-treasurer, Teamsters Local 727. “If the contractors aren’t part of the solution, we won’t be able to significantly reduce costs for exhibitors,” he added. “All the stakeholders—legislators, labor leaders, contractors, and exhibitors—need to work together to fix the problems at McCormick Place,” Coli said. “Equal sacrifice is the only way to once again make Chicago the country’s top convention city.”
The prospect of union negotiations is one sign of a renewed urgency to make McCormick Place more competitive with other destinations. In addition, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said he will call on legislators in September to fix the problems if MPEA officials, labor leaders, and other stakeholders can’t hammer out a new deal by then, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune. "We've got to get moving," said Quinn in the newspaper’s July 27 edition. "We're not going to have a cloud of uncertainty fall over our convention, tourism, and hospitality business in Illinois." He is looking to get the two sides back to the negotiating table.