Labor Law Overhaul at McCormick Place Gets High Marks

12 Oct

The 2010 International Manufacturing Technology Show was one of the first shows to operate under new labor rules at McCormick Place.

Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center’s newly-implemented labor laws were put to the test at the Association for Manufacturing Technology’s (AMT) International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS).

The changes were implemented Aug. 1 to make Chicago more competitive with lower-cost rival cities.

This was the first major show to operate under a new state law aimed at giving exhibitors greater leeway to do their own work and thereby reduce labor costs. The new rules also reduce crew sizes and the potential for overtime billing by McCormick Place union labor. In addition, the convention center has reduced prices for its food and electrical service.

IMTS, which ran from Sept. 13-18, spread over all four convention center buildings. It included approximately 1,200 exhibitors setting up more than 40 million pounds of machinery, or roughly 4,000 truckloads. There were about 85,000 attendees representing companies such as Boeing, Caterpillar and Harley Davidson.

Peter Eelman, vice president, exhibitions and communications for AMT, which is based in McLean, Va., has been involved in labor talks at McCormick Place as a committee member for the past 20 years.

“The new labor agreement is common sense,” Eelman said. “The former rules didn’t fit the way we do business.”

In fact, the association would not commit to future shows at McCormick Place until the changes became law. The venue has hosted the show since 1970. After the rule changes, AMT signed a three-year contract for the show to run at the convention center in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

Under the new law, McCormick Place will charge exhibitors and show management the “at-cost” rate for all labor provided by electricians. This rate will also apply to work done by plumbers and telecom workers. Exhibitors will save about 20 percent over previous rates for straight time, overtime and double time.

In addition, the venue will no longer charge for the time required to install or remove electrical services smaller than 208 volts. For 208 volt and larger services, McCormick Place will charge a minimum of one hour of labor for installation and one half hour of labor for tear-out service using the “at-cost” rate.

Also, McCormick Place will no longer charge for the tear out of booth work performed by McCormick Place electricians (excluding rigging). For theatrical and stage productions including rigging, and general session or stage work, McCormick Place will continue to charge for tear-out labor.

Finally, exhibitors and show management can now perform a variety of tasks that were previously only completed by labor. This includes performing work within their own booths using their own ladders or hand tools, cordless tools, power tools and other designated tools. It also includes delivering, setting up, plugging in, interconnecting and operating the exhibitor’s electrical equipment, computers, audio-visual devices and other equipment.

Chicago Restaurant Partners, in conjunction with McCormick Place, implemented a 10 percent price reduction on catering and exhibitor catering menu items. A larger reduction was enacted on certain high-volume items, including coffee, soda and bottled water. In addition, Chicago Restaurant Partners eliminated its delivery charge on orders totaling less than $250 and instead has enacted a $35 minimum order.

A 20 percent price reduction has taken effect at certain non-branded concessions throughout McCormick Place. While this change does not include facilities such as Starbucks, Au Bon Pain, McDonald’s, Manny’s, etc., it will include Chicago Restaurant Partners operated locations in the Food Courts, and Exhibit Hall Food Pods. This will reduce the price of a standard meal — consisting of an entrée, side, and 16 oz. fountain drink – in main food courts by $3.05 including sales tax. Examples of meals that are now available for less than $9.50, before sales tax, include a one-third-pound Angus cheeseburger, French fries and coleslaw; pizza with side; crispy chicken sandwich with sides; hot panini sandwich served with kettle chips; and beef and broccoli served with steamed rice or noodles.

Chicago Restaurant Partners will continue its policy of not increasing prices on orders placed during the weeks immediately preceding a show. It is a common practice at many competing facilities to increase catered food and beverage prices inside of a specified period from the start date of a show. At one national competitor, bottled water normally priced at $60 per case increases to $66 within a 30-day show window. At another facility a case of soda that was $72 becomes $83 dollars if ordered less than 21 days prior to the start of the show. Chicago Restaurant Partners at McCormick Place offers the same pricing regardless of when the order is placed.

McCormick Place has also enacted an exhibitor personal consumption policy, allowing outside food into the facility.

This represents the first phase of changes in the policy regarding foodservice, and more changes will be in place for 2012.

IMTS exhibitors reported higher levels of satisfaction and flexibility as a result of these changes.

At the last IMTS two years ago, John Memmelaar, Jr., vice president of Oakland, N.J.-based Royal Masters Grinders, had issues while attempting to move a box in his booth.

“We felt pressured to use union workers for even simple tasks,” Memmelaar said.  “We also were forced to use McCormick’s laborers to set up our machines, which we would have to redo afterwards ourselves. We paid money for jobs that were made harder and took longer to accomplish.”

Exhibitors are now able to set up and tear down booths quicker. Under the old rules it could take up to two days for labor availability.

“We are pleased with the feedback regarding the Phase One implementation at McCormick Place,” said David Causton, the convention center’s general manager. “These changes are designed to provide the greatest flexibility and cost effectiveness to our show organizers, exhibitors and attendees.” — Lisa White

Interviewed for this article: David Causton, (312) 791-7000; Peter R. Eelman, (703) 827-5264; John Memmelaar, Jr, (201) 337-8500


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