McCormick Place: New Day, New Rules

Vendors at first trade show since new union rules took effect say they like what they're seeing

By Charlie Wojciechowski
|  Wednesday, Aug 11, 2010  |  Updated 7:30 PM CDT
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New rules reducing crew sizes and standardizing labor costs for the six labor unions that serve McCormick Place are a welcome change, vendors say.

New rules reducing crew sizes and standardizing labor costs for the six labor unions that serve McCormick Place are a welcome change, vendors say.

When Valspar erected its last booth at a Chicago hardware store convention two years ago, it took riggers almost two days to hang the 360 feet of signage.

On Wednesday, Valspar employees did it themselves in under two hours, saving the company more than $25,000 in labor costs.

"It’s been a 180 degree change for us," said the paint company’s Steve Vandever.

Valspar is one of hundreds of home improvement companies showing their products at the Orgill Fall Dealer Market, the first show to load in since the Illinois General Assembly approved major changes in rates and work rules at the McCormick Place.

The changes, which took effect Aug. 1, were designed to stop a hemorrhage of trade show business from the lakefront venue.

Phase 1 of the implementation gives exhibitors more rights to do some booth work themselves. It also reduces crew sizes and standardizes the straight time, overtime and double time provisions for the six labor unions that serve McCormick Place.

"This was going to be our last show in Chicago," said Steve East, Orgill’s Vice President of Advertising and Promotions.  "We were at the point where we were saying, 'We can’t take it anymore.'  We may change our minds now."

Many exhibitors at this show said the changes go beyond the rules to the attitude of the McCormick Place laborers.

"They are smiling now, asking if they can help," East said.

The new rules are also encouraging exhibitors to return to McCormick Place after avoiding it for years.

"We had no problems setting up," says Tony Craddolph of Minwax.  "This year it’s been great.'

Orgill also stages trade shows in Orlando, Boston and Las Vegas. Chicago was its most difficult city in terms of cost and work rules, the company said.  Now, East says there has been a 100 percent change.

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