Carpenters sue to stop new McCormick Place rules

Posted June 3, 2010 at 3:44 p.m.

By Kathy Bergen | The Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters filed suit Wednesday seeking
to halt implementation of a new state law aimed at overhauling
operations at McCormick Place.

The five-count complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago,
claims the new law’s imposition of work rules and conditions at the
convention center violates the federally protected rights of the
carpenters and their private employers to arrive at terms of employment
through collective bargaining. The new law also violates both the U.S.
and Illinois constitutions, the suit says.

The new law gives exhibitors the right to do much of their own booth work and imposes more-flexible union work rules that would cut crew sizes and overtime billings, among other changes.

The lawsuit, which was expected, was filed against Jim Reilly, the trustee overseeing the restructuring of McCormick Place; the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the state-city agency known as McPier that owns and operates the convention center and Navy Pier; and Lisa Madigan, the state’s attorney general.

“The current legislation will have a devastating effect upon the carpenters who have earned their living working at McCormick Place and Navy Pier for many years,” the carpenters council said Thursday in an announcement of the suit. “This lawsuit is not about the union or some political agenda. It is about the men and women working in this industry and their federally protected rights to negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment without governmental interference.”

Reilly, who as trustee heads the exposition authority, said, “We are confident that the court will uphold the MPEA Reform Act.”

McPier, as a participant in the convention market, has the legal right to set the terms for use of its property, Reilly said earlier this spring, before the new law was enacted.

Madigan’s office has “received the lawsuit and will be reviewing it,” said spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler. “We will defend the law.”

The carpenters union is one of the five main unions that work the exhibition complex. It can have 800 to 1,000 workers on the show floor during set-up of a major show, said Frank Libby, president of the council.

The lawsuit also seeks unspecified monetary damages to compensate for lost wages and fringe benefit contributions.



  1. South Side June 3, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    You unions just don’t learn. I hope a few more conventions leave and then some of you carpenters will get laid off and then you’ll be moaning that you don’t have a job……

  2. just me June 3, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Aw jeez, gimme a break you whining crybabies. You’ve been overpaid and underworked for decades now, and it’s way past time that your gravy train comes to a halt. I used to work at Mc Place, and these ‘carpenters’ aren’t able to frame a doghouse if their life depended on it. I can’t understand how they can call themselves carpenters.

  3. Sonny June 3, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Carpenters? Bwaaaaaaaaaa these morons cant hang signs straight and they have priced themselves out of a job

  4. Dan June 3, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    “”The current legislation will have a devastating effect upon the carpenters who have earned their living working at McCormick Place and Navy Pier for many years,”
    What effect will Trade Shows leaving because you jokers made having conventions too expensive have on your union?

  5. bigdog0319 June 3, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    I am along-retired industry worker, so I like to see fairness to the men and women who work hard for the hours they’re given. And if there is a collective bargaining agreement for union workers, nonunion workers or whomever, that should be enforced and protected. It’s been apparent from following this tradeshow saga that the local men and women workers are the ones having reputations tarnished and, with this new legislation, their roles diminished. The wages that have circulated in the press are not the wages the labor force sees. There are significant markups forced upon customers, mainly by the contractors, which are for all intents and purposes unaffected by this new legislation and free to continue their onslaught against the exhibitor. All we ever hear about are the complaints against “labor rates,” and people automatically — and even understandably — think labor = workers. That’s unfair and inaccurate. So now we have the local men and women — often cited as the best tradeshow labor workforce in the country — taking the brunt of this new legislation. I personally respect the Carpenters for not only fighting for fairness on behalf of their own workforce, but fighting for ALL working men and women.
    As an aside I would be very worried if customers will now be coming into these convention centers and using their own power tools, ladders, etc. I don’t know who takes on that liability, but I hope the insurance coverage is premium.

  6. joe June 3, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Um, what will these carpenters do for work when all the trade shows go to Vegas and Orlando?
    Do they get paid even when there are no shows going on?
    To be honest, I do really hope all these shows leave Chicago.

  7. ForFarkSakes June 3, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Unions are the reason business is leaving McCormick, and still these idiots cannot see the folly of their ways.
    Unions are an outdated concept. In their current form, they exist only to enrich the union bosses, and to protect lazy, stupid, incompetent workers from getting fired, like they should be.
    I hope they win. I hope more conventions leave the city of Chicago completely. I hope the union members find themselves unemployed. Maybe that is what it will take for these idiots to understand reality.

  8. jfr June 3, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Time for some more conventions to leave our fair city! Leave now and avoid being gouged by the union greed!! Have a good meeting, wherever you decide to go and am sure you’ll be able to post some savings in the process.

  9. Alex Garcia June 3, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    @ BigDog: Well, those “men and women who work hard for the hours they’re given” are about to work even fewer hours if more trade shows walk. Better consider that before filing suit claiming your rights have been breached.

  10. chicagoK June 3, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    It is time to run labor unions out of the city of Chicago! The corrupt practices have bankrupted the city by driving tourists and conventions to states not burdened by corruption. Illinois should become a Right to Work State. If the suit moves forward the people of Illinois should file suit to make the labor unions pay billions for the business they drove away. If the labor unions want to turn around and sue the Democrats, that would be fine. Two corrupt organizations going down will save Illinois.

  11. UnionGreed June 3, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Serves the union right. This country doesn’t need unions any more. All unions are these days are corrupt machines of bloated power fighting to guarantee workers wages over and above what is fair. What garbage! I hope all the trade shows boycott Chicago and McCormick goes under. Good bye unions. Keep crying until the cows come home. You have priced yourself out of existence. Bu-bye!

  12. Joe June 3, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    I worked the restaurant show years ago and (It was way b4 cell phones mind you) there was FOUR guys who had to install a phone. Installation required a simple phone jack plugged into the wall. I am NOT kidding. Each employee was paid $25 an hour with a two hour minimum.
    So, it cost our booth and every other booth that wanted a phone which was most of the thousands of booths, $200.00 just to plug in a phone. You were NOT allowed to do it yourself. And guess what, the same cost to uninstall it applied.
    I am sure they have many things like that now that we live in age of cell phones.

  13. Charles June 3, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    When I have to shell out 80 bucks to an electrician to plug in a lamp, or to a carpenter to stick a pin in a cork-board, that’s a bit beyond the scope of unions’ purpose of protecting the workers.

  14. pam June 3, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    I want to say about the crybabies in the carpenter’s union is not printable in a family newspapers. I hope more conventions leave. It would serve these greedy @##@##@## right.

  15. Darwin June 3, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Darwin says: the weak and stupid perish.
    Goodbye guys! Nice knowing you. Have fun certifying for unemployment benefits. FYI – that call usually takes around 5 minutes and 32 seconds to complete.

  16. Jeff June 3, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Bigdog, you’re dead wrong. I’ve exhibited in Vegas, Orlando and most other cities in the US and they are MUCH cheaper than McCormick Place and have much more liberal rules for setting up your own booth. There are no “contractors” that you pass the blame onto. These people are a joke. They’ve already run off some of the great business shows that used to sustain the local trade show business and now they’re suing to ruin the rest all to keep their greedy slice of the pie.

  17. Craig June 3, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    “So now we have the local men and women — often cited as the best tradeshow labor workforce in the country”
    Are you freaking kidding me, bigdog? McCormick and Rosemont have some of the worst workforces in the country. I’ve exhibited (and set up) about 100 times at various venues around the globe, and these two are the ones I hate.
    Would *you* care to explain why I can’t hang a foam board sign myself and need to hire two people at double time for an hour each to do what is about 1 minute of work?
    Do the GES and Freemans of the world deserve vitriol, too? Sure. They rip off the exhibitors, too. But that doesn’t excuse the blatant theft that you folks have done for years.

  18. kate June 3, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    My father, a life-long union carpenter himself, even thought that the guys lolling around McCormick were ridiculous. My dad was about an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. On top of the outrageous fees at McCormick, the “carpenters” there would make you wait for hours, which can make or break you with a client whose booth you are putting up. Either you’d have to pay “the fixer” (guy riding around on a golf cart–about $50 minimum) to make sure that you got good labor that would do the work efficiently.

  19. kate June 3, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    My father, a life-long union carpenter himself, even thought that the guys lolling around McCormick were ridiculous. My dad was about an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. On top of the outrageous fees at McCormick, the “carpenters” there would make you wait for hours, which can make or break you with a client whose booth you are putting up. In addition to crazy standard fees, you’d have to pay “the fixer” (guy riding around on a golf cart–about $50 minimum) to make sure that you got good labor that would do the work efficiently.

  20. kamden1130 June 3, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Bigdog is 100% correct. Currently, it will cost an exhibit or booth at McCormick Place a couple thousand bucks to set up the booth. Do you think the carpenters are pocketing that. This is how is has been since the beginning of time. McCormick place holds the contract w/the convention and they implement all of the rules/fees/costs. They inturn pay the company that the carpenters work for. It’s not the laborers, electrician or carpenters making their own rules. They abide by the rules that are in place, cause if they don’t they will be fired. Yes that can happen. Are they paid a decent wage…well hopefully. “Most” are trained for years before they can be hired for that wage. Yes I agree that it is getting out of hand, but place blame where it is due.

  21. Mike June 3, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    “Ordinary” Americans should be outraged at how much union workers make per hour, compared to what the national average worker makes per hour. I remember the media was correcting the General Motors’ average worker wasn’t making $75/hour but “only” $35/hour. I have to tell you, I would LOVE to make that much without having graduated high school.
    I used to do IT tradeshows at McCormick Place back in the late 90’s and they had those same 4 guys all standing around to hook up a phone line or internet connection. So funny. And then I asked one of the guys “How much do you make?” He said since it was Saturday he was making double time so about $50/hour. Not bad… Not bad at all…
    And these same people are complaining now that business is leaving McCormick Place? It is such a shocker.

  22. brm June 3, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Aw geez these guys wont be able to make the 150 thou they were making, well to bad. let them make a livable wage like the rest of us. if you cant accept that then get another job. so what if your days are cut down or others get to finally do their own work. You have to live within your means. not live with lots of money. Most people work for a quarter of what you make so get a life and get off the money train and shut up.

  23. JACK MEORFF June 3, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    It’s too late for the unions. The three largest conventions that made Chicago home for decades have left, and for good. Why? The unions. We couldn’t even staple a note to the drywall without retribution from the unions. They sealed their own fate. Good ridence. Unions suck.

  24. TheBrotherLoveKarma June 3, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Unions are stupid and people who join them are lazy.

  25. Joe Breaktheunions June 3, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    The unions did themselves in. Run them all out of Chicago. They inflate costs, they enable corruption, they feed on the fear of idiots.

  26. brm June 3, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    The unions at McCormick place have had it too good for too long, it is time for the unions to be destroyed there and real jobs be done and money coservation efforts in full swing to keep the conventions we still have and to get the ones we lost back.

  27. gowster June 3, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    The carpenters better be careful! President OTO might allow carpenters in from the 52nd state (Mexico) at a much lower price! Hey, Mexicans don’t have to follow the same laws as Americans do in this country!

  28. Jerry H June 3, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Big Dog’s comments are misleading and largely incorrect. Although it’s true contractors jack up the price to the conventioneers and the union journeymen don’t get all of that money, it’s the ridiculous union work rules that are killing McCormick Place. And concerns over safety – always the last-ditch argument of the unions – are unwarranted in most instances. I don’t think conventioneers will be too seriously injured by taping down extension cords, setting up folding chairs and tables, and carrying in their own cases of soda – simple, everyday tasks the conventioneers have been forced to pay union workers hundreds and even thousands of dollars to do.

  29. JEN June 3, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    They are going to sue themselves right out of a job!

  30. Logical June 3, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    ANY job is better than NO job.

  31. betty 48 June 3, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    I belong to an organization that use to have their annual show here & the moved it away to Columbus, Ohio several years ago because the costs were too high. They couldn’t do a thing in their booth unless qa union worker came & did it for them – even screwing in a light bulb! When the union members negotiate, they need to be “accomodating” They can be just downright nasty. when we mived into our building, we had to wait until the union operator on the elevator left because he wouldn’t allow our movers on it – come on guys – maybe you all should get with the program a bit more too!!

  32. Scott June 3, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    I agree with the fact they are making a lot of money but think about this. Don’t you remember a couple of months ago the newspapers reported how much the McPier Management was making. Most in the triple figures and most retiring to triple figure pensions. That adds up to hold an exhibit at McCormick Place. Also do you and family go to a sporting event or a movie. What about those overpriced union workers?

  33. OriginalBill June 3, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Aww, … poor babies!
    They think that they’re owed a job!
    The only thing that they are “owed” ….. is the unemployment line!
    Welcome to the REAL world.

  34. gposner June 3, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Thank goodness these new rules don’t apply to electricians.

  35. Not-A-Blogger June 3, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    The reality is that the reorganization of McPier is merely a window dressing and reveals little about the real problem. The current untenable state of the union contracts at McPier is a result of years of collective bargaining. In other words, over the years the employer has agreed to accept terms that ultimately hurt the business. Also in this case the employer happens to be a gov’t entity. Gov’t entities are controlled by politicians. Politicians only answer to those that fund and help them get re-elected, i.e., labor unions. Unless we change this paradigm, we’re doomed!

  36. Danno June 3, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    See Machinists v. Wis. Employment Relations Comm’n, 427 U.S.
    132, 147, 96 S.Ct. 2548, 2556, 49 L.Ed.2d 396 (1976), where there was a union policy to refuse overtime work while
    negotiating for renewal of an expired labor contract. The union’s policy was a form of self-help designed to bring economic pressure in its favor upon the employer to negotiate a favorable labor contract. Unable to succor relief from the NLRB, the employer turned to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (“WERC”)for aid. The employer sought and received a declaration that the
    union’s refusal to work overtime constituted an unfair labor
    practice under Wisconsin law. The WERC entered a cease and desist order commanding the union to withdraw its policy of refusingovertime. The union appealed the decision on the grounds that the WERC lacked jurisdiction. Upon review, the Wisconsin appellate court and Wisconsin supreme court denied the union’s appeal. Upon review, the United States Supreme Court held that the Wisconsin law was preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Instead of filling a regulatory gap, the Supreme Court found that the State of Wisconsin had in effect attempted to regulate economic pressure that Congress had deliberately left unregulated.
    In Cannon v. Edgar, 33 F.3d 880 (7th Cir. 1994), the union challenged the Illinois Burial Rights Act that required cemeteries and gravediggers to negotiate for establishment of a pool of workers designated to perform certain religiously required interments during labor disputes. Upon review, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court holding that the Act was preempted by the NLRA. In doing so, the appellate court stated that the act “directly interferes with the abilities of cemeteries and gravediggers to reach an agreement unfettered by the (labor) restrictions of state law.”
    See also
    In short, there may very well be merit to ths lawsuit.

  37. Chicago 20 June 3, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    Contrary to most media reports, this legislation does not protect the concerns or interests of exhibitors at McCormick Place.
    This is a poorly conceived, reactionary piece of legislation that only serves the specific special interests of Freeman and GES.
    Any lawyer knows this legislation violates both State and Federal laws, all it will turn out to be is another public relations stunt, funded by the people of Illinois.
    I am sure more “surprises” will follow, since no one bothered to research anything.

  38. Joe Momma June 3, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    The pols need to remember the non union taxpayers outnumber the union members 10 to 1. The unions are more organized, holding protests during work hours to get on TV, but they are a minority. Our elected leaders need to remember if the union members are for them but the non union taxpayers are against them, they will lose by an embarrassing margin. OTOH, if the unions are against them but the rest of us for them, they will cruise comfortably to victory and can legitimately claim a mandate for change.
    If you want to see something eye opening, check out and look at the payroll database. (Free reg required unfortunately.) The amount city employees is absolutely mind boggling, and there’s a reason they don’t talk about it-they know taxpayers would hit the roof. Why do crossing guards make $16 an hour, Denver booters make $30 an hour, truck drivers make $40 an hour while all the rest of us see our property taxes go up as our income goes down?

  39. George June 3, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    As a former union member I have to wonder sometimes what is malfunctioning in the minds of some of these members. No matter what they’re paid it’s never enough, no matter how rediculous the demand. It’s their blind loyalty to the bosses that got them into this situation and it’s their blind loyalty that has them marching right off the cliff.
    Rest asured it won’t be the bosses collecting unemployment checks soon.

  40. JimBob June 3, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    “The carpenters union is one of the five main unions that work the exhibition complex. It can have 800 to 1,000 workers on the show floor during set-up of a major show, said Frank Libby, president of the council.
    …..where 200 are needed.

  41. James P. June 3, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Rotten to the core unions are worse than communists! No more unions! They are half the reason that cities and towns are broke. They demanded unreasonable wages and benefits to the point where they were unsustainable by local governments (tax payers). Let them all strike and be put down once and for all like rabid dogs!

  42. Amer-i-can June 3, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Do the work rules include the bribes you have to pay to get things do on the day you actually rented a booth? Thanks in advance.

  43. Chicago 20 June 3, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    Post a copy of your invoice.
    What show as this?
    What building were you in?

  44. James June 3, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    If every ignorant person wants to get rid of union workers lets start with policemen, firemen, postal workers,airline employes,street and sanitation workers, funeral directors, embalmers,hotel workers, parking lot attedants,ups drivers,truck drivers, bartenders,elevator repair and operators,window washers, building engineers,plumbers, electricians, carpenders,bakers, butchers, crain operators,sheet metal workers,construction workers, and on and on and on. SO which ones do you think you can do without in your daily life? Then tell all the rest they will make min. wage and see what kind of service you will receive.All are paid by the hour and work for some company, and the company bills you, not the worker. Its the same at McCormick place. Everyone works for FREEMAN or GES and they get their hourly rate and the company bills you for way more then they are paying the worker.The union work at McCormick place are PART TIME JOBS . NO one is guarrenteed a 40 hour week.Most shows move in withen 3 days and you sit home while the event is running then go back in and work 2 days to take the show out. Thats 5 days in a two week time span.A majorty of the workers salery comes from collecting unemployment. Look it up

  45. THOMAS June 3, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Really nice, the state wants to cut work rules and crew size. Just what the state needs is to put MORE PEOPLE OUT OF WORK. You are talking about several hundred good jobs done by hard working people. If you ever been on your knees for a 10 hour day installing carpeting in booth after booth till you cant take it but you have to make a living for your family. Try to drive a fork truck for 12 to 20 hours taking out the Auto Show so the next show can start moving in on time.Comes December you sit home til Feburary and collect unemployment that hardly covers your bills. You had a good year last year, you made $40,000.00 Thats a good year. In the last 5 years you are lucky to make $30,000.00. If you dont get enough hours you get no insurance or pension points.The economy is terrible here and Las Vegas and Orlando. All shows are getting smaller and smaller every year.WE really need more people out of jobs in Chicago.Vegas lost a total of 402 shows and meetings last year, Orlando lost 114 we lost 2 , who is doing better than the other guy?

  46. James June 3, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    First the carpenders sue, next will be the Teamsters, then the Riggers, then the electricians, then the decorators and they will all win because all contracts are protected by the federal goverment. So here it starts.

  47. haphead June 3, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    I agree with James these people work partime and barely
    make 700 hrs. in a year for work and you call that
    alot of money.