Finger Pointing Erupts After Conventions Bolt

It's not just a labor problem, we're the easy target, labor spokesman says

By Andrew Greiner
|  Wednesday, Nov 18, 2009  |  Updated 4:00 PM CDT
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Organizer Understands, Bemoans Departure of Conventions

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Its his fault.

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Organizer Understands, Bemoans Departure of Conventions

Conventioneers used to tolerate things costing more in Chicago because the city provided a great experience. Now money matters most.
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The city and its labor unions are playing a finger pointing game after second convention in as many weeks decided not to come back to Chicago because of high labor costs.

Alderman Manny Flores suggested during a city council meeting Wednesday that the labor unions would have to make concessions in order to retain critical convention business for the city. 

"We all have to share the sacrifice,” Flores said.  “If there's no business here then there's no wages either."

But a representative from the Chicago Federation of Labor says the unions are being played as a scapegoat.

"It's not just a labor problem, we're the easy target," the spokesman said. “We want to be part of the solution. Hopefully we can all take a hard look at the way the city runs the convention business."

This back and forth comes after the plastic industry announced that it would move its triennial trade show from McCormick Place in Chicago to a hall in Orlando in an attempt to save up to $20 million in fees. This group has been anchored in Chicago since 1971.

A post on typifies the problem: 

The total charge for four cases of Pepsi, delivered to our booth, was $345.39. The invoice breaks down to $254 for the four cases of Pepsi, a 21 percent service charge, and a 10.25 percent Illinois state sales tax, a 3 percent Chicago soft drink tax, a tax on the service charge, and a food and beverage tax. Government taxes totaled $38.06, which is more than the legitimate retail price of the soft drinks.

Now, a nice man in a tuxedo delivered the Pepsi, along with a couple of buckets of ice and a few cups. Good service? Sure, but not worth $345.39.

A week before the plastics people bailed, the Health Care Information and Management Systems Society announced that it was moving its convention to Las Vegas.

One exhibitor from the Health Care group said its electrical-services bill jumped from $4,000 when they held their convention in Orlando to $40,000 in Chicago for the same booth.

After the health care group announced it was leaving Mayor Daley every Chicago group related to the convention business needed to work together on a plan.

"Everybody has to get together. The unions, the convention and tourism people and figure out how to compete," Daley said.

To that end, Alderman Bob Fioretti introduced an ordinance to restore the city’s tourism budget, which was recently cut in the wake of a budget crisis in the city.

"We're cutting 500 thousand but the state matches it, so we're losing a million," Fioretti said. “Now is not the time to slash budgets promoting Chicago, instead the city should be adding to it.”

But with the labor unions blaming the city and the city blaming the unions, progress is coming in drips not waves. 

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