Saturday, October 22, 2011

Labor Agreement, Hotel Upgrades Boosts Illinois Tourism

Chicago's trade show industry sighed with relief yesterday with the joint announcement by Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel that unions representing workers at the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority have agreed to work rule changes.

The two unions had sued over exhibitor-friendly work rules the General Assembly ordered last year. In March, a federal judge sided with the unions and threw out some of the reforms on the grounds that the Legislature was overstepping its authority.

The judge’s ruling threw the convention business into an uproar. Some show managers threatened to cancel bookings at McCormick Place, citing a fear of escalating costs.

With the new deal, the unions and McPier, as the McCormick Place board is commonly called, will agree to end the litigation.

McPier now can put in place an “exhibitors’ bill of rights” that lets show managers and exhibitors set up their own booths with simple tools. Exhibitors also can drive and unload their own vehicles at McCormick Place, and union work can be done by two-person crews instead of the old minimum of three.

The effort to change the work rules and preserve Chicago's trade show status has been in the works for two years now.

Meanwhile Emanuel's office also announced that Chicago hotels are pledging $500 million in rehabs and upgrades "to help bolster the local convention industry as city leaders strive to attract more trade shows."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office made the announcement Friday. Hotels making commitments include the Chicago Hilton, Hyatt Regency Chicago, Strategic Hotels & Resorts, Inc. (Fairmont Chicago and InterContinental Chicago hotels) and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (W. Weston and Sheraton hotels).

Emanuel also wants to increase the city's bed tax by 1 percentage point, jacking it up to 4.5 percent. When state and other bed taxes are included it would make Chicago's overall rate to 16.4 percent, one of the top three in the country.

It doesn't seen like it, but the moves will help tourism throughout the state, including Southern Illinois. Chicago convention business is the single biggest factor in the state's bed tax receipts. When Chicago hurts there's less money for tourism promotions throughout the state, less money for state's tourism grants that help fund local tourism bureaus, marketing campaigns and development projects.

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