Chicago Labor Deal Good For Groups

Originally published June 12, 2006 in MeetingNews

The nation's two leading exhibition services contractors are hailing their new labor agreement with riggers at McCormick Place as one that will benefit trade show exhibitors through lower costs and greater work-rule flexibility.

"I have been part of the Chicago exposition services industry for over 20 years, and this is the most significant exposition labor agreement made between the local contractors and labor," said Doug Van Ort, senior vice president, central division, of Freeman, which along with GES Exposition Services signed a new five-year contract with Riggers Union Local 136.

Although the contract provides for worker raises, Van Ort said it nonetheless "should improve overall exhibitors' costs with regards to rigging booth work."

Steve Drew, assistant executive director of the Radiological Society of North America, agreed with Van Ort that the new deal is a plus for exhibitors at McCormick Place, a major U.S. convention center.

"Speaking for one of the largest shows at McCormick Place, I can say unequivocally that this is the most welcome news on the labor front in many years," said Drew. "It will save exhibitors money. It will enable show management and their exhibitors to set up and tear down shows with greater flexibility."

Key features of the new contract, which covers more than 300 workers and went into effect June 1, are the following:

-- More flexibility in how much week-day work is done on straight time, or time and a half, than before.

-- Saturdays will now be charged at time and a half instead of double-time.

-- A significant amount of booth work that previously required three workers will now require only a two-person crew in most cases.

The new agreement is due in part to a more cooperative atmosphere between unions and contractors which began a year ago with a number of reforms, including the creation of a Labor Management Council, according to Leticia Peralta Davis, chief executive of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which operates McCormick Place.

"The reforms set the stage for this new agreement with the riggers, a contract that we believe will set a precedent for future labor agreements and other changes that will foster a new culture of competition at McCormick Place," Davis said.

The contract with the decorators' union expires June 30. Contracts with the teamsters' and carpenters' unions expire in 2008.