CHICAGO — Several exhibitors at Plastics USA in Chicago said they noticed a change in attitude on the part of the city's union workers who set up booths.
Of course, brand-new union work rules — partially instituted for the first time for the show —may have had something to do with the sunnier dispositions on the floor.
``I've been coming to McCormick Place for 30 years,'' William Roebuck, vice president of marketing for JSW Plastics Machinery Inc. said Oct. 6 from the show. ``I think we finally got our act together as far as working with the various trades. We worked as a team for the first time.''
In previous shows the trade unions tended to get involved in every aspect of setting up the show, to the point of actually doing internal wiring for machines, Roebuck said.
This time JSW's own engineering personnel did the internal work, leaving outside connections to the union electricians.
Machine maker Milacron Inc. also had an easy time setting up for the show, according to Linda Roush, Milacron's marketing services coordinator for trade shows and events.
``Setup went very smoothly,'' she said. ``The trades were very responsive and easy to work with.''
That has not always been the opinion of trade show exhibitors coming to McCormick Place.
``Forever we have been trying to improve the working situation in McCormick,'' said Barbara Voss, executive vice president of show organizer Hall-Erickson Inc. ``Chicago is one of the few cities, along with Philadelphia, that have done virtually nothing to make it easy for show managers to do their jobs.''
But Voss said that is changing in Chicago.
``What finally got them to stand up and take notice was that they started to lose business,'' she said.
Two long-term McCormick shows recently decided to pull up stakes and head to Orlando, Fla., for future events. Complaints included high union-labor costs.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, show organizers and unions in June started an initiative to change labor work rules, among other efforts, to attract more business to McCormick Place. The convention center contributes about $5 billion annually to the city's economy.
The new union work rules are part of that effort.
``Our unions have agreed to form one unified labor force to put up and tear down convention exhibits,'' Paul Astleford, president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, said in an Oct. 1 letter to show organizers. ``Now exhibitors will no longer have to wait for different union crews to finish parts of an exhibit job, so everything can be done at once.''
Another proposed change is that smaller exhibitors that do not require power tools to set up their booths will not need unions at all, Voss said.
Those rules do not fully become reality until January, but the changes already lured the National Housewares Manufacturers Association back to Chicago after it said it planned to move its annual show to Orlando.
Plastics USA exhibitors also were pleasantly surprised with changes that took effect on the day many firms were setting up their booths.
Exhibitors now can hook up their own computer equipment and run a single video camera or VCR without an electrician.
``We've broken down a lot of barriers that used to make it miserable to set up a show,'' Roebuck said.