CFL News
October 19, 2011

Unions see progress toward ending McCormick Place labor impasse

Teamsters reach tentative agreement; carpenters' leaders are 'cautiously optimistic' they can reach a deal to protect workers, keep Chicago competitive in convention industry

Source: Chicago Tribune

By Kathy Bergen

The long-running battle to ease labor rules at McCormick Place is close to a settlement, with a tentative pact reached Tuesday with a key union.

Teamsters Local 727 has agreed to a host of changes aimed at cutting exhibitors' costs and keeping Chicago competitive with rival cities, said Brian Rainville, a spokesman for the Teamsters.

The proposal — which would cut crew sizes from three to two workers, give exhibitors the right to unload their own vehicles and lengthen straight-time windows — is similar to legislative changes imposed last year that were later tossed out in court after challenges by the Teamsters and the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters.

McCormick Place officials are appealing those rulings, but agreements involving both unions could put the lawsuits to rest.

The Teamsters local, which has about 200 members who work in the exhibition hall, will vote on the proposal Thursday.

The deal was brokered, in large part, by Gov. Pat Quinn, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and McCormick Place trustee Jim Reilly. Those officials could not be reached for comment.

The carpenters have been in negotiations as well. Terrance McGann, an attorney representing the union, said its leaders are "cautiously optimistic" an agreement will be reached soon.

"We have been working very diligently over the past 48 hours and I think we've made very good progress," McGann said Tuesday afternoon.

Quinn earlier threatened to call lawmakers back to Springfield this fall to try again to revamp show-floor rules if labor agreements couldn't be hammered out. If both unions approve pacts, that step would be unnecessary.

The Teamsters' tentative pact "achieves our goals," Rainville said. "We have a contract, we negotiated the terms and conditions, and we recognized that we're all in the same boat together. It's in all our best interests to have as many quality, big shows in Chicago as possible, and then everybody is working."

The Teamsters are responsible for unloading and moving booth materials on the show floor while carpenters assemble exhibits.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman ruled in the unions' favor in March, saying the National Labor Relations Act pre-empts states from enacting legislation that would interfere with the ability of private-sector employees to negotiate employment terms. Most trade union employees who set up and tear down shows work for private contractors.