Exhibitors Praise Work-Rule Changes At McCormick Place

CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s been cooking for months, but on Monday the National Restaurant Association made it official: Its trade show will remain in Chicago through 2016, pumping millions into the local economy.

The expo was among dozens threatening to leave until major labor-cost concessions at McCormick Place brought down the costs of mounting a show there.

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CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole talked with exhibitors who say the changes are helping them come back to Chicago.

On his own, small businessman Pete Pubben was setting up his display booth to help market his touchless faucets at the upcoming Green Home Convention. The fee for the space was $10,000.

“This is a very technically complex booth, and you can’t just hand it over to someone else to do,” he said.

But in the past, Pubben had to spend thousands more at McCormick Place. Exhibitors were required to use union personnel for even the simplest of construction projects, like plugging in lights or hanging a sign. They were even paying overtime for any work done after 4 p.m.

But that has changed.

“There’s a much more liberalized environment where they allow the exhibitors to come in like ourselves to do our own work in the booths,” Arne Chardukian of Modular Millwork said.

Before, “we actually avoided having shows here because we are a small company  with 30 people,” he said.

On a much larger scale, the changes, which include fewer union positions at McCormick Place, have convinced the National Restaurant Association to renew its commitment to Chicago through 2016. The show pumps some $108 million into the local economy annually.

“In order to be competitive, and in order to keep these jobs … there has to be change and the change will be good in the long run,” Mayor Daley said at a news conference.

At least eight other shows have now re-committed to McCormick Place. The economic impact is considerable. The American Heart Association conference currently in town generates $32 million for local businesses.

The changes were set in motion last spring when a new state law overhauled operations at McCormick Place. The carpenters union, however, continues to challenge the cuts to its workforce in court.

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