Too easy to blame McCormick unions
RICH MILLER firstname.lastname@example.org June 24, 2011 12:36AM
Updated: June 24, 2011 2:15AM
The Illinois General Assembly was back in Springfield for one day this week, but they might return again.
The House and Senate had to come back to make sure there were no delays in the state’s massive infrastructure program.
The Senate Democrats had tacked some budget spending onto a bill authorizing the construction, but the House had refused to go along. The Senate backed down this week, so everything is still on track.
The media tended to misinform about the Senate’s add-ons, neglecting to report that the Senate Democrats actually paid for much of that spending by redirecting money within the state budget. And if history is any guide, if the General Assembly has to double-back to Springfield once more this summer, the media will misinform again.
Talk is in the air of a special session to deal with a federal judge’s ruling that the state’s McCormick Place reforms violated federal law.
Unions at McCormick Place have forever been blamed for the high costs of conventions. And while I’d agree that many of the work rules were way out of hand, much of this is overblown.
The biggest problem at McCormick Place is the markup. Federal Judge Ron Guzman went out of his way to point out that problem when he ruled earlier this year that the state’s new “reforms” of union rules violated federal law.
Guzman refused to set aside his ruling this week while McCormick Place appeals, which prompted McPier czar Jim Reilly to suggest Thursday that an emergency legislative session could be needed.
Rosemont’s convention center uses the same unions and the same workers operating under the same rules as McCormick Place. Yet, for example, prices to move exhibits from Rosemont’s loading docks to its convention floor are 38 percent lower than at McCormick Place, according to a Crain’s Chicago Business report.
Rosemont acts as its own contractor. McCormick Place uses private contractors to handle its shows. Two of those contractors, GES and Freeman, are by far the largest.
So, why not just crack down on the contractors? If it were that simple, it would’ve been done already. Two contractors control most of the shows at McCormick Place as well as most of the big shows around the country.
Rosemont focuses on smaller shows. Because it isn’t trying to tap into the really big shows, it doesn’t need to bother dealing with those two contractors. But without those big shows, McCormick Place goes belly up. You might as well turn it into the world’s largest indoor skateboard park. McCormick Place has no choice but to submit to those two contractors.
If it’s that bad, you may ask, then why don’t the exhibitors revolt against the contractors and force them to lower their prices? That happens in some instances, and part of the new reform law allows it.
But most of the exhibitors belong to trade associations, and those trade associations make much of their annual profits with their conventions by jacking up the prices even higher. The trade groups are sometimes even showered with perks by the contractors.
Legislative leaders were deathly afraid of angering the two big contractors when they drafted their reform legislation last year. All proposals to cap contractor markups were ignored. But if the appellate court doesn’t lift Judge Guzman’s stay, then a special session may have to be held.
Gov. Quinn said Thursday that he wants all sides to sit down and negotiate a solution. But if the contractors refuse to budge, there’s nothing much anyone can do.
Whatever happens, it would be nice if the media in this town started reporting the full story.