Governor, Mayor Back Pro-Convention Legislation in Chicago

Hoping to attract and retain more meetings, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley have announced their support for legislation that would reform labor laws and contractor practices that caused Chicago to lose at least two major conventions in November, Chicago's Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) announced this week.

MPEA, which owns Chicago's McCormick Place convention center, plans to introduce the legislation in the Illinois General Assembly. If passed, reforms would establish MPEA as a public employer under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (IPLRA), which would allow it to negotiate and audit contracts with all "show labor," as well as prohibit strikes.

"Convention business in Chicago is at a crossroads," MPEA Chairman John S. Gates, Jr., said in a statement. "The many stakeholders in Chicago's vitally important convention industry must do what it takes to stay competitive and provide better value to customers. The choice is clear. 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."

Currently, there are five unions representing MPEA and trade show employees at McCormick Place. The new legislation would consolidate those into three new units that MPEA said would allow it to negotiate show labor agreements with "new value, transparency and flexibility for the customer." The legislation also would give MPEA "substantial oversight" of operations at McCormick Place, allowing it to end "cumbersome and inefficient work rules" that "add costs" and "confound and infuriate customers."

"This is a jobs bill," Gates continued. "By modernizing the work rules for a few hundred workers in one building, cutting management and increasing transparency, we can preserve and expand the 65,000 jobs that our industry supports."

Citing the high labor costs that MPEA hopes to lower, the Society of the Plastics Industry announced in November that it will hold its 2012 and 2015 trade shows in Orlando instead of Chicago, where it's been for nearly 40 years. That announcement came just a week after the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society announced it would be moving its 2012 annual meeting to Las Vegas from Chicago.