Illinois Passes McCormick Place Overhaul; No Labor Exclusives. Still Needs Governor Approval.

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Chicago, IL – The Illinois General Assembly passed a package of reforms for Chicago’s McCormick Place aimed at reducing the cost and the “hassle factor” for trade show organizers and exhibitors.

The legislation, which must be signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, takes aim at the sometimes maddening union work rules at McCormick Place. It does not include any provisions for labor or service exclusives. The controversial issue of an exclusive service contractor was briefly discussed by lawmakers, but was removed from the legislation after it was strongly opposed by show organizers and industry groups, such as the Exhibition Services & Contractors Association (ESCA).

“This is huge, and it will be monumental as soon as the governor signs it,” said Chris Price, vice president of Graphic Arts Show Company.

The measure also includes a provision for audits of trade show bills to ensure that cost savings reach the exhibitors. The audits were championed by labor, which contended that contractor mark-ups were responsible for the costs at McCormick Place. Price said the details of exactly what would be audited were still unclear.

The reforms were called for after two major shows announced last Fall they would be moving their 2012 events out of Chicago. Other major shows vowed to move as well without a thorough purge of outdated work rules that exasperated exhibitors.

“Our customers asked for more flexibility and lower costs, and Springfield delivered,” said Tim Roby, president of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Board (CCTB). “It is exactly the reform we need to keep our state vibrant and the trade shows coming back.”

“I urged Gov. Quinn to sign this bill into law quickly,” said John Gates, Jr., chairman of the Interim Board of the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority (MPEA). “When he does, it will be a new day in Chicago and we will have market offerings that no one will be able to top.”

Quinn’s office gave no immediate indication on when he might sign the bill. The potential legal challenge from organized labor is a possibility and questions remain about the audit authority granted to the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority [see second story on TSE‘s home page]. “This bill isn’t perfect, but there are a lot of reasons for people to have hope that Chicago can remain viable as a convention destination,” said Aaron Bludworth, COO of George Fern Company and immediate past president of ESCA. “Major reform was needed and this appears to be major.”.

Trade Show Executive will provide further details of the plan and reaction from the trade show industry as the story unfolds. In the meantime, here are key highlights:

  • Management:  An advisory council will be formed to provide guidance to the MPEA. The makeup of the council has yet to be determined. James Reilly will be appointed Trustee of the MPEA, with full CEO powers for 18 months while a private manager for McCormick Place is selected.
  • Unions:  None of the five unions was ousted from McCormick Place. The MPEA will have the power to determine jurisdictions. Standard crew size was set at two people. All stewards will be working. Contractors may request individual workers by name.
  • Overtime:  Straight-time shifts include any eight consecutive hours between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. The graveyard shift and Saturdays are time-and-a-half. Sundays and holidays are double time. Labor charges are based on a half-hour minimum.
  • Exhibitors:  Exhibitor staff will be allowed to do much of the light work on their booths during move-in and move-out regardless of booth size. However, they will not be allowed to used forklifts or other motorized devices to move freight. Exhibitor employees must also have been employed full-time by the exhibiting company for a minimum of six months.
  • Electrical and food:  Exhibitors may bring food into McCormick Place for personal consumption. McCormick Place will continue to offer food and electrical services for those customers who do not hire outside providers.
  • Audits:  The MPEA will hire an auditor who will conduct a “financial statement audit and compliance attestation examination” twice per year. The goal is to ensure that savings from the “exhibitors rights” provisions are passed on to the exhibitors. Show managers are required to provide materials considered “reasonably necessary” to complete the reports, which will be posted on the MPEA website.
  • Marketing:  The size of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Board is reduced from 100 members to 25. No more than two members will come from the trade show industry and no more than two from organized labor.

To view a webcast outlining the changes, go to

Reach David Causton, general manager of McCormick Place, at (312) 791-7000 or; Chris Price at (703) 264-7200 x221 or