Court Blocks Some McCormick Place Reforms; MPEA to Appeal

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Chicago, IL – A Federal court March 31 blocked some of the long-sought reforms to the work rules at Chicago’s McCormick Place on the grounds Federal law does not allow the state legislature to mandate changes to union contracts.

The ruling was in a response to a lawsuit filed by two McCormick Place unions challenging changes that permitted trade show exhibitors to do more of the assembly and disassembly of their booths.

“This is a victory for the workers in the trade show area because what the (Illinois) General Assembly was trying to do was legislate them out of the process,” said Terrance McGann, an attorney for the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, in a Chicago Tribune article.

The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) said it would appeal the ruling and seek a court order that would effectively keep the new work rules in place. “We believe the ruling is faulty in several ways, and are very hopeful that it will be overturned on appeal,” said MPEA Trustee Jim Reilly. “On Monday, we will ask the District Court to stay execution of the order pending appeal to the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.”

The ruling could potentially derail the sweeping changes to the labor landscape at McCormick Place. Trade show organizers had demanded significant changes to the center’s work rules in order to slash the bills exhibitors were being asked to foot, especially as the recession increased the pressure on exhibitors’ trade show budgets. Some shows pulled up stakes and moved to other cities and others threatened to leave as well.

Allowing exhibitors to do more basic assembly work without paying a union member to perform relatively simple tasks was a major step in cutting exhibitor costs and keeping Chicago competitive.

The reforms were implemented in the form of legislation passed by the Assembly last year rather than through negotiations with the unions. The carpenters and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters sued on the grounds the U.S. National Labor Relations Act barred state legislatures from passing laws that interfere with the collective bargaining process.

Reilly said business would continue as usual as the legal wrangling moved into its next phase. “The ruling does not affect other aspects of the reform legislation,” he said. “These include the Trusteeship, the power of the Interim Board to put in place a private firm to manage McCormick Place.”

The Chicago Sun-Times said U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman noted in his ruling that there did not appear to be much hard evidence that the reforms were even achieving the goal of cutting exhibitor costs. David Causton, general manager of McCormick Place, told the newspaper that the MPEA planned to soon start an audit program that would ensure costs savings were indeed being passed on to the exhibitors.

Reach Jim Reilly at (312) 791-7500 or jreilly@mpea.com