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McPier work-rule changes could bring more events to Chicago

A carpenter carries away sign after Mid-AmericHorticultural Trade Show January 2010 McCormick Place West Chicago.  |  File photo

A carpenter carries away a sign after the Mid-America Horticultural Trade Show in January 2010 at McCormick Place West in Chicago. | File photo

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Updated: October 23, 2012 6:50PM



Mayor Rahm Emanuel has brokered another round of work-rule changes that will allow McCormick Place and Navy Pier to compete for “mid-sized events that are more meetings than trade shows” that would not even consider Chicago before.

The latest reforms resolve a jurisdictional dispute between the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers Local 134 and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 2 by allowing stagehands to complete work previously reserved for electricians.

Specifically stage hands would be free to “install, operate and remove” audio visual, sound and lighting equipment used for presentations or performances, such as general sessions, entertainment or meetings.”

Local 2 employees would also be free to plug the equipment in to permanent outlets or temporary electrical services provided by electricians. The change would include lighting and sound equipment suspended from the ceiling.”

Electricians would maintain their control over work inside exhibit booths and in other areas not used for “presentations or performances.” They would also continue to handle lighting and sound patched into permanently installed lighting and sound systems.

Armed with the new agreement, sources said Emanuel was poised to announce several new shows that Chicago had never before had an opportunity to attract. City Hall sources refused to reveal details pending Tuesday’s announcement.

McPier CEO Jim Reilly called the new round work rule changes “significant” and the “last piece of the labor reforms” needed to make McCormick Place and Navy Pier more competitive at all levels of the convention and meetings business.

“For a long time, there have been a lot of mid-sized shows that are more meetings than trade shows that have to do what is called production work. When you saw Steve Jobs wandering around on stage talking about some new product, that was on a stage built — either in a ballroom or on the trade show floor — not in a theater,” Reilly said.

“That’s production as opposed to work in an exhibit booth. Shows like that want to use stagehands — partly because they’re less expensive but also because they’re used to working with stagehands. Shows like that haven’t been willing to book McCormick Place or, on a smaller level, Navy Pier, because that jurisdiction heretofore belonged to the electricians.”

Now that the jurisdictional dispute has been resolved, Reilly said, “We can go after and book a whole category of business we’ve never been able to approach before. There are a few big ones like Microsoft. But there are dozens of mid-sized ones that need the same work done and want it done by stagehands.”

Terry Allen, business manger of Local 134, said the changes make sense, even though they require electricians to give up work to the stagehands.

“If we don’t start doing something — the unions — we’re done,” said Allen, brother of former Ald. Tom Allen (38th).

“What am I giving up? I’m getting more man hours than I had before. If you go throughout the country, a lot of the work that’s done in the trade show industry is done by different groups. We’re just trying to work together so we can bring the Microsofts and other shows to Chicago.”

The mayor’s office issued a prepared statement hailing the agreement.

“This is exactly the sort of common sense, practical labor agreement that we are seeking throughout the city,” Emanuel said. “This agreement makes Chicago more competitive, increases the number of trade shows and conventions we attract and creates more jobs. This is a win for everyone involved, especially the people of Chicago. I commend the union leadership as well as the leadership of McCormick Place and Navy Pier, for working with me to get this done.”

Local 2 business manager Craig Carlson predicted that the new agreement would “create more jobs for people who work in this industry. …There will be unprecedented trade show and corporate events taking place in the city” as a result of the changes.

Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez worked closely with Emanuel on the last round of McCormick place reforms to replace work rule changes mandated by the Illinois General Assembly that were subsequently overturned by a federal judge.

Ramirez said Round Two would help make McCormick Place even more competitive.

“I give these guys a lot of credit. It’s always a big deal when folks come together and work things out,” Ramirez said of the dispute between unions.

“A lot of folks in the trade show business have made a lot of accusations about work rules that get in the way. When disputes get resolved between crafts, they can’t say that anymore. We’ll be able to get more trade shows in here.”



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