This Just In

McCormick Place Reforms Await Illinois Governor’s Signature


Chicago, IL – The long-sought overhaul of work rules at Chicago’s McCormick Place had yet to be signed May 12, and the exact date they would take effect on the show floor remains a mystery.

The measure passed late last week by the Illinois General Assembly is working its way through the bureaucracy toward the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn. Quinn is expected to sign the package and turn it over to James Reilly, the designated special trustee of the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority (MPEA), for implementation at a date of his choosing.

Chicago’s convention industry is raring to go as soon as Quinn signs the reforms bill. David Causton, general manager of McCormick Place, and Tim Roby, president and CEO, Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau (CCTB), had their bags packed and were ready to embark on a multi-city “road show” that will include sit-down meetings with show organizers. “We’ll discuss more about what this means from a cost savings and an experience standpoint for both the show organizers and the exhibitors,” said Roby. He predicts an increase in new business at McCormick Place and better retention of existing events.

The new way of doing business at McCormick Place still has some murky issues: Will smaller union crews take longer to complete their appointed tasks? What types of documentation will the MPEA auditors require from show organizers and service contractors? Will the unions challenge their potential loss of earnings and clout? How much will competition and the end of mark-ups for electrical and food services actually affect exhibitors’ bottom lines?

“We need to see how it all plays out, but all in all, anything that will lower the cost for exhibitors is a good thing,” said Jim Pittas, vice president, trade shows, Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute. “Even just the food service changes and non-exclusive electrical is a great deal for everyone who has a show or exhibits in Chicago.”

Other matters are more clear. The CCTB has produced a webinar that explains the basic changes. It may be accessed at Here is a brief summary of how things at McCormick Place will look:

Union Work Rules
Current:  Each of the five McCormick Place unions had its own distinct work rules, which led to understandable confusion among exhibitors. One show manager told Trade Show Executive that even the union members weren’t always clear on who was authorized to do what, leading to occasional squabbles between workers that delayed getting a booth set-up.

New:  The new work rules apply across the board to every union with jurisdictions determined by the MPEA. “That will make it easier for the exhibitors to understand how we do business here,” said Causton.

Crew Size
Current:  Standard crew size varies from two to three workers, depending on the union involved.

New:  Two-person crews are standard. Larger crews may be specified by the MPEA for safety and efficiency reasons.

Shop Stewards
Current:  Non-working union stewards added to the payroll and not much else.

New:  One steward per union. Stewards will be working. And with the rules streamlined, they should have to devote less time to sorting out disputes.

Pay Scales
Current:  Each union had its own rules on straight-time and overtime. Most straight-time was 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

New:  Straight-time is charged for any 8-hour shift between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. Midnight to 6 a.m. seven days per week requires double time. Saturday between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. is time-and-a-half. The 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. window on Sundays and holidays are double time. The hours between 10 p.m. and midnight were not addressed in the legislation.

Current:  Shows are required to use the McCormick Place provider FOCUS One for electricity and other utilities. Food services are also exclusive.

New:  No more exclusives. Organizers and exhibitors may contract for outside food and electrical service, or they can opt for the in-house services that will be provided. Electrical contractors must be approved beforehand by the MPEA.

Exhibitor Work
Current:  Exhibitors may perform some of their own set-up, but only if the booth is less than 300 square feet. No power tools allowed.

New:  Exhibitors may do work on booths of any size, including installation of their own signage, computers and audio-visual equipment. They can use hand trucks or hand-carry cases of soda and other materials to their booths from privately-owned vehicles. They may also use their own ladders and power hand tools, such as electric screwdrivers.

Reach David Causton at (312) 791-7000 or; Tim Roby at (312) 567-8500 or; Jim Pittas at (703) 243-8555 or

TSE Data Center