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Officials Discuss How To Keep Chicago Conventions Competitive

McCormick Place Meeting

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Gov. Pat Quinn were among those who attended a meeting to discuss how to maintain work-rule changes that are credited with saving the trade show business at McCormick Place. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 07/26/11 12:54 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other elected leaders met Tuesday to talk about ways to make shows at McCormick Place less costly in the face of recent court rulings.

As WBBM Newsradio 780 Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports, the courts, so far, have blocked union work-rule changes that the Illinois General Assembly tried to impose at McCormick Place.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780 Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports


The new rules would reduce the costs of mounting shows at the convention complex, but rulings from the bench have said the state and Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority may not unilaterally change existing contracts.

The 75- to 80-minute meeting was held in a conference room at the Thompson Center. Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), House Republican Leader Tom Cross (R-Plainfield), and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) were among the others in attendance.

Across party lines, everyone agrees that going back to the old rules will be detrimental, according to those who attended.

“Everyone was on the same page, in that we intend to make sure the work-rule changes stay in effect so McCormick Place can stay competitive,” Radogno said.

She said there are three options to achieve that goal.

“We can wait for the court to decide, we can do legislation, or we can do negotiation. Clearly, the most optimal thing is negotiation, and the governor has agreed to get them back to the bargaining table, but there certainly is the potential of legislation as well, and the is the broad agreement that we have to make sure the work rules stay in place,” Radogno said.

Quinn said prior to the meeting that the convention and tourism industry is vital to Chicago and Illinois.

“Conventions, tourism, hospitality – they’re worth 303,000 jobs in Illinois, and we must maintain and grow them – continue to grow them,” Quinn said Monday at the Tech Week Conference, underway at the Merchandise Mart. “Some of the folks here are people who have come to Illinois for a convention, for a gathering, and we have to understand how important these gatherings are to ideas and to our jobs and to our economy.”

U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman ruled against the union work-rule changes in March. Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit denied a request to keep the show-floor changes in effect temporarily on appeal.

Back in January, the news coming from McCormick Place seemed to be good. Two years after bolting over high costs, the Healthcare and Information and Management Systems Society decided to return to McCormick Place in 2015 and 2019.

Healthcare Information and Management Systems met for the first time at McCormick Place in 2009, drawing 27,000 attendees and generating an estimated $55 million in spending. The show was supposed to return in 2012, but instead chose Las Vegas for cost reasons.

In addition to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems convention, the International Plastics Exposition announced in the fall of 2009 that it was moving to Orlando, Fla., after being held in Chicago since 1971. Championship Auto Shows Inc. also moved its O’Reilly Auto Parts World of Wheels Show from McCormick Place to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.

In addition to the high union fees, exhibitors complained that there were too many different unions, jurisdictions and work rules involved in the setup process.

The resulting outrage resulted in the state-mandated overhaul. State lawmakers passed a bill that cut labor costs by allowing exhibitors to do their own setup, and also by letting them use outside electricians and bring in their own food, bypassing convention center unions. It doubled the ground transportation tax charged on trips to and from Chicago’s airports to boost tourism spending.

The overhaul survived a veto by Gov. Pat Quinn, and then-Mayor Richard M. Daley credited the changes with keeping McCormick Place alive.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)