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Labor Deal At McCormick Place Revives Work Rule Changes

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McCormick Place

McCormick Place (CBS File Photo)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – They’re calling it the start of a new era of labor peace, saying that Chicago is now open for trade show business. Two Chicago labor unions today announced they are dropping their court fight and agreeing to new work rules at McCormick Place.

As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, the agreement appears to be the end of a battle over work rules that started two years ago.

The deal calls for the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters and Teamsters Local 727 to end their federal lawsuits challenging many of the reforms passed by the General Assembly in June 2010. A federal judge had ruled in March that the work rule changes ordered by the General Assembly were illegal because they went beyond the terms of an existing labor contract.

The pact, announced at a Friday press conference, will revive those work rule changes.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser Reports

The reforms include allowing show managers and exhibitors to set up their own booths, use their own tools and equipment, and load and unload their own vehicles.

The unions also agreed to allow work to be performed by two-person crews, rather than three-person crews. The deal will also include reduced parking rates, lower prices for food and drinks at McCormick Place and free Wi-Fi access.

Trade show organizers also will be allowed to choose electrical service providers from a list of approved vendors, to provide for competitive pricing.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley and state lawmakers had sought the work rule changes after several major trade shows threatened to leave Chicago for other cities.

The push for work rule changes was always all about keeping Chicago competitive in the trade show world, people feeling ripped off by costs at McCormick Place and conventions threatening to leave town.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn announced the deal on Friday, but it was really the heads of the Teamsters and the carpenters union who saw the writing on the wall and made it happen.

“I think it’s important that we tell the whole country – indeed tell the whole world – that we’re the best place in the country in America, the best place on planet earth to have a trade show,” Quinn said.

“Everybody gave a little, but everybody won a lot, because people are gonna go to work,” Emanuel said.

Some of those who will be going to work are the Teamsters who were watching the event unfold from the back of the hall.

“It’s all about saving jobs and we saved our jobs,” said one union member.

Asked what was the toughest pill to swallow in the new deal, Chicago Teamsters President John Coli said, “Crew size going from three people to two; to look at our members and out of every three, telling one of them, ‘You’re not gonna work today.’”

The agreement was actually brokered by Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez.

“They got together and said what’s best for the industry and what’s best to keep our people working,” Ramirez said. “That’s what happened here. This is the type of collaboration that needs to happen around the country and in other cases around town.”

The deal marked the end of a battle that began when the Health Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS) show people cried foul over electricians’ charges two years ago.

“We said help us. We need to do something, we need to raise the level of awareness that the city has some labor practice issue,” HIMSS vice president Karen Malone said.

Others followed, complaining about the $100 cases of Pepsi and about having to pay more to move exhibits onto the convention floor than it cost to bring them from Europe to Chicago.

New rules were imposed, then challenged in court, where a judge ruled they were illegal because the General Assembly imposed new rules outside the scope of existing union contracts at McCormick Place.

But, with the unions realizing the city wasn’t giving up on work rule changes, they decided to make a deal and drop their lawsuits.

“This is the worst news for Orlando and Las Vegas. McCormick place is open for business,” Emanuel said.

The mayor also announced late Friday that he’s got commitments for $500 million in hotel construction and renovation, due to better prospects for convention business.

But a more important development might be the precedent-setting offer from the unions and the involvement of the federation’s new president.

Ramirez has clearly decided his members would be better positioned as partners, rather than opponents, in the battle to stay economically viable.

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