This Just In

Chicago Unions Urge Contractor Audits at McCormick Place


Chicago, IL – The often-maligned Chicago unions serving McCormick Place have issued a call for an “exhibitor bill of rights” that seeks to solidify their public position as an ally against rising costs.

A coalition of unions said requiring audits of fees and charges at McCormick Place would help ensure that exhibitors get the most benefit from upcoming changes to the convention center’s business model. They also said closer communications between exhibitors and labor would be beneficial.

A statement issued January 15 by the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) was based on the unions’ previous stance that the costs that have displeased exhibitors were likely the result of mark-ups by general service contractors rather than the hourly wages paid to the worker. “Our labor rates are negotiated and reasonable,” said Tony DeGrado, president of United Steelworkers Local 17 Decorators Union. “Unfortunately, the labor rates that contractors charge to exhibitors are much, much higher. How is that fair?”

The CFL response came in response to last week’s dramatic proposal by the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority (MPEA) to overhaul the labor environment at McCormick Place to address growing complaints about labor costs from trade show exhibitors. The MPEA’s two-pronged approach is centered on the unions, but includes a provision to monitor the prices charged to exhibitors.

“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,” said Frank Libby, president of the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters. “We want to see change, and that begins with transparency.”

The CFL also proposed more direct contact between exhibitors and the unions as a means of addressing problems quickly, before the start of a show. In addition, the unions said the direct line of communication between exhibitors and workers on the floor would create a dialogue that would lead to improvements in operations at future events.

The McCormick Place reforms must be enacted through the Illinois state legislature, which will undoubtedly require the support of lawmakers who are traditional union allies. A bill was quickly passed that would create an interim MPEA board to conduct a detailed review of McCormick Place and the state of its convention and trade show business.

The industry has reacted coolly to the entire MPEA proposal. Numerous industry associations and show organizers have suggested that increased competition among service providers would be more effective at pushing costs down.

Reach CFL President Dennis Gannon at (312) 222-1000 or