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ESCA Urges Patience on McCormick Place ‘Exclusive’ Proposal


Carrollton, TX – The Exhibition Services & Contractors Association (ESCA) voiced its opposition to proposed sweeping changes in the labor environment at Chicago’s McCormick Place and called for input from the trade show industry before any reforms are launched.

ESCA said it remained opposed to any changes that would amount to a labor exclusive. The association urged the Illinois General Assembly to delay any legislative moves until a detailed study of the labor situation at McCormick Place is carried out. “ESCA encourages a thorough review of all options, in a public and transparent way, with input from stakeholders and the exhibition industry,” the statement said.

The January 19 statement came in response to a proposal from the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority (MPEA) that would consolidate the convention center unions into three units and make their workers employees of the MPEA. ESCA said labor exclusives and “inflexible” politically mandated changes were not the answer. “If Chicago truly desires to improve its offerings to the exhibition industry and remain a destination of choice it should slow down, listen to its clients, and make changes that embrace a competitive open market rather than eliminating it,” the statement said.

In an interview with Trade Show Executive, Chuck Grouzard, senior vice president of national sales for GES Exposition Services and ESCA president-elect, said, “Speaking on behalf of ESCA, MPEA’s action is clearly an opportunity to address the cost issues voiced by show managers and the industry. I have three concerns. The first is: Has there been a collaborative discussion between all parties to find a long-term solution? Secondly, whatever program the MPEA establishes, will it be in the best interest of all parties ― the show managers, exhibitors, service contractors and unions? Finally, MPEA can roll out a new plan, but who is going to manage it?” Grouzard said that it is ultimately in the best interest of all stakeholders to address the issues head-on as a group.

“Although ESCA supports the ultimate goal of labor reform in Chicago, I find the entire concept as proposed quite interesting in view of the obvious challenges MPEA has had in managing their own exclusive electrical department,” ESCA Executive Director Larry Arnaudet told Trade Show Executive. “It certainly seems as though an open competitive market in that area of operations would have the effect of lowering costs and improving service.”

ESCA did not immediately comment on the section of MPEA’s proposal that would allow the MPEA to audit service contractor bills to ensure that any cost savings created by the union reforms were passed on to the exhibitors. Exhibitor complaints about high labor bills were cited in the decisions by two major shows to leave Chicago in 2012. McCormick Place unions seized on the audit provisions to bolster their claims that concessions they have made in recent years have not translated to lower costs for exhibitors.

The legislature this month passed a bill to appoint an interim MPEA board to study the situation. The bill has not yet been signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, but lawmakers have told Chicago media they anticipate the new board would have its report ready in May.

Below is a copy of the full statement released by ESCA.

Reach Larry Arnaudet at (469) 574-0698 or




ESCA Upholds its Opposition to Exclusive Labor Arrangements and Expresses Concern Regarding Chicago

ESCA supports the concerns of its members and other industry associations, including IAEE, regarding Chicago’s announced intent to implement exclusive labor polices through legislation.

Carrollton, TX – Last week the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA), along with Chicago and Illinois political leaders, announced its intention to seek legislation to address labor issues at McCormick Place and Navy Pier. The Exhibition Services & Contractors Association (ESCA) is concerned with several elements of the proposed legislation and with the potential negative results of the announced plans. ESCA encourages the MPEA and the Illinois Legislature to delay hasty implementation of the proposed legislation. ESCA encourages a thorough review of all options, in a public and transparent way, with input from stakeholders and the exhibition industry.


ESCA is opposed to exclusivity of services in exhibition venues, especially those venues which are publicly funded like McCormick Place and Navy Pier. Exclusivity inherently destroys market dynamics and always leads to increased costs and diminished service over time. Exclusive services are bad for the customer, both the exhibition organizers and exhibitors.


Using legislative powers to address marketplace issues is, at the very least, troubling. Once in place, legislation is inflexible and difficult to amend or retract. A more flexible forum should be used to address Chicago’s challenges as an exhibition destination. The legislative process is not the ideal forum for achieving real industry focused change which benefits the customer. Too many unintended and difficult to cure challenges are certain to present themselves eventually through legislation.

ESCA supports, in principle, the need to reform labor in Chicago’s exhibition facilities. However, the process to achieve reform should be open and transparent and focused on the customer. If Chicago truly desires to improve its offering to the exhibition industry and remain a destination of choice it should slow downlisten to its clients, and make changes that embrace a competitive open market rather than eliminating it.

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