Press Releases
January 10, 2010
Contact: Nick Kaleba, CFL (312) 222-1000

Unions propose customer “bill of rights” and other reforms at McCormick Place

Call for greater transparency in overhaul of business model, say savings from past contract adjustments not passed along to customers

Chicago, IL —

The unions representing workers at McCormick Place called today for a customer “bill of rights” for exhibitors, as well as greater transparency and auditing, as part of the major reforms that must be implemented in order for Chicago to remain a top destination for conventions and trade shows.

The reforms were proposed by labor leaders from the United Steelworkers Local 17 (Decorators Union), Machinery Movers, Riggers & Machinery Erectors Local 136, IBEW Local 134, Carpenters Regional Council, Teamsters Local 727.

“No one understands the importance of conventions and trade shows in the city and its communities more than the men and women of organized labor,” said Dennis Gannon, President of the Chicago Federation of Labor.  “That is why the unions at McCormick Place have worked with management time and again to lower their costs and make work rules more customer-friendly to improve the experience for exhibitors. But the whole business model must change, not just labor contracts.”

In the interest of making Chicago an even greater destination for conventions and trade shows, the unions proposed:

  • A customer “bill of rights” that clearly delineates standards by which labor and management must work with the customers to maximize their satisfaction with doing business at McCormick Place.
  • Audits of charges and fees to help shine sunlight on whether savings are in fact passed along to customers.

Over the last 15 years, the unions have agreed to three separate rounds of major contract adjustments, including reducing overtime hours, reducing overtime rates, giving exhibitors the ability to do more of their own setup work and removing jurisdictional designations between trades (see attached sheet).

“The men and women of organized labor who service conventions and trade shows are among the most skilled workers in the world,” said Tim Foley, Business Manager of IBEW Local 134.  “Just as they are committed to doing their job with the highest standard of excellence, they are committed to keeping these shows happy and keeping them in Chicago.”

The unions propose a “bill of rights” offering exhibitors a clear set of standards by which labor and management would work with the customers to maximize their satisfaction with doing business at McCormick Place.  The unions would like to give customers a chance to address any concerns they might have regarding labor before a show begins.  They would also like the opportunity to hear directly from customers about their experience—both positive and negative—so they can address any potential problems.

“The opportunity to have a direct dialogue with our customers would better educate us on their issues,” said Kevin McLaughlin, business representative, Carpenters Local 10. “This would help us to improve future experiences for both exhibitors and show managers.”

According to Tradeshow Week, the two biggest cost complaints by customers in the industry are materials handling (drayage) and exhibit space, not labor.  The union leaders noted that they haven’t received complaints about labor costs in five years during labor-management meetings. 

“The unions have demonstrated over time that we want to be a part of the solution,” said Frank Libby, President, Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters.  “Yet despite what we’ve done to help lower the cost by working with MPEA and the show contractors, those savings haven’t necessarily been passed along to the consumer.  We want to see change, and that begins with transparency.  Let’s get to the bottom of these costs that have shows considering options other than Chicago. We are committed to the industry and keeping these shows in town.”

According to Tradeshow Week, labor rates in Chicago are comparable to other large markets like New York and Los Angeles.  For example, the hourly rate charged to exhibitors for a carpenter is $96.68 in Chicago, compared to $148.89 in New York and $99.96 in Los Angeles (see attached spreadsheet on cost comparisons).

The hourly rate charged to an exhibitor for a carpenter in Rosemont is $85, where the workers are represented by the same unions as McCormick Place.  But the price charged to the exhibitor is almost $11 cheaper.  Rosemont exhibitors pay $55 per hour for drayage, but more than $80 in Chicago.  Drayage can account for close to 50 percent of an exhibitor’s show services bill, according to Michael Hughes, vice president of research and consulting for Tradeshow Weekly.

“Our customers have the right to know exactly what they’re paying for when they make a decision to hold their convention or trade show at McCormick Place,” said Tony DeGrado, President of Steelworkers Local 17.  “Our labor rates are negotiated and reasonable.  Unfortunately, the labor rates that contractors charge to exhibitors are much, much higher than the rates that we charge them.  How is that fair?”

The unions also call for audits to be performed, as they are supposed to, to review charges and fees, to review concerns raised by exhibitors and to discuss cost savings and whether they have—or have not—been passed on to the customers.

“It’s clear the business model is badly broken and needs to be fixed,” said Robert Fulton, Business Manager of the Riggers Local 136.  “Improving communication and customer relations as well as offering greater transparency of the costs will help make sure we keep these shows—and these jobs—in Chicago.”

With recent convention defections to Orlando and Las Vegas, local unions also point out that tourism dollars available to help lure business to Chicago don’t match that of its competition.  The Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau's 2010 annual budget is $13.7 million, down from $14.1 million last year. This pales in comparison to rival Orlando’s $47.7 million and the $143 million sales and marketing budget for Las Vegas. Las Vegas and Orlando hold the top-two places in annual tourism budget rankings.  Chicago places 16th on the list.

“The Teamsters want to ensure the services offered to McCormick Place exhibitors are executed by hardworking men and women who can most effectively do the job,” said John T. Coli, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 727. “The union is interested in reviewing the model for operation at McCormick Place without compromising the fine quality of service exhibitors deserve.”