Pacts Ease Union Rules

New agreements with labor unions mean it will cost less to set up displays at upcoming dealer-sponsored auto shows in Chicago and Detroit. The pacts aim to make the shows more user-friendly for exhibitors who have complained about the high cost of union overtime and unreasonable work rules. It took 10 weeks and 1,500 unionized workers to erect the elaborate exhibits for the 2005 North American International

New agreements with labor unions mean it will cost less to set up displays at upcoming dealer-sponsored auto shows in Chicago and Detroit.

The pacts aim to make the shows more user-friendly for exhibitors who have complained about the high cost of union overtime and unreasonable work rules.

It took 10 weeks and 1,500 unionized workers to erect the elaborate exhibits for the 2005 North American International Auto Show at the Cobo Conference and Exhibition Center in Detroit.

The event cost $200 million to stage, says Richard Genthe, the show's senior co-chairman and past president of the sponsoring organization, the Detroit Automobile Dealers Assn.

Genthe says he is unable to estimate how much money will be saved, but he hails the 5-year pact as “historic” and intended to contain costs to auto makers and other firms that exhibit at the automotive extravaganza in January.

The agreement calls for:

  • Additional work to be performed at straight time by beginning shifts earlier.
  • Three staggered shifts with pay differentials rather than overtime.
  • Contractors to determine crew sizes based on safety and work requirements.
  • Reducing the number of supervisors.
  • Using more apprentices, who earn about 20% less than journeymen.

The added shifts mean there will be 400-500 more unionized workers setting up displays on the 700,000-sq.-ft. exhibition floor. But reduced overtime more than offsets the cost of additional workers.

“It seemed like the same group of guys were making all the overtime anyway,” says Walter R. Mabry, executive secretary-Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, one of the affected unions.

He estimates the average show worker earns $30-$32 an hour in straight time.

Several show exhibitors have beefed about stringent union rules. Some of those have been relaxed.

“You will no longer need to have an electrician to plug in an extension cord,” says the DADA's Bill Cook, who was last year's show chairman.

Several union leaders say the agreement helps ensure the show stays in Detroit. However, Cook says that wasn't an issue.

“Our biggest fear was not in the show leaving Detroit, but in exhibitors leaving the show,” he says. “This agreement demonstrates to exhibitors that we are coming together to contain costs.”

Adds Genthe: “We realize the pressure many auto manufacturers are under, and we've seen them cut back on auto shows elsewhere.”

Talks between the DADA and the unions began in late 2004. It wasn't until early October that a full agreement was reached, says Cook.

“We weren't sure we had the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) aboard,” he says. “The reason we succeeded in getting an agreement is that we didn't screw with base wage rates.”

Says John McCandless, a spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., “Our folks responsible for the auto show budget will be pleased.”

Other unions involved include: Ironworkers Local 25, the Detroit Stage Employees Union, Teamsters Local 299 and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 38.

In Chicago, similar changes were agreed upon by local unions and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns and operates McCormick Place, home of the Chicago Auto Show that takes place in February.

There will be more occasions for straight-time work, a perennial request of exhibitors. Crew sizes will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Exhibitors need no longer defer to union personnel to do simple tasks, such as put up a poster.

“This is a new day for McCormick Place, one which means lower costs, greater flexibility and a more efficient show for customers,” says Leticia Peralta Davis, the authority's CEO.

The agreement also calls for a labor management council to design and implement future changes.

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