Convention Center Dilemmas

Convention center management and labor organizations in some major cities cannot seem to stop fighting and driving business away. Just recently labor unions set up pickets to block the delivery entrance to a major convention center, and delayed a large event from moving out. Show organizers and exhibitors were all disrupted, and the host city’s reputation suffered a big blow.

Unfortunately this incident is not unique. Many convention facilities and large hotels in the US experience similar problems. Regardless of who is at fault, the result is disastrous for everyone involved, particularly to the affected venue and the host city. Most planners cannot risk hosting a meeting that might get disrupted or even shut down by a labor dispute.

It’s been said that “success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan." That’s not true in this situation. Here the ongoing failures at facilities around the country are caused by several parties:

Politicians
, who spent hundreds of millions in public dollars building majestic convention facilities, but who lack the political will to force management and labor into meaningful agreements on how those buildings can be efficiently run;

Labor
 Unions, which often insist on clinging to costly and inefficient 20th century labor staffing practices, while their planner customers face increasing pressure to streamline operations and cut costs; and

CVBs and convention center management
, who always follow a disruptive work stoppage with an announcement that a meaningful solution has been found–a claim usually proven untrue, causing the city to lose credibility in the eyes of potential customers each time the truth is revealed.

So should planners stay away from unionized convention centers? Not necessarily. These venues are usually located in prime meeting locations that attendees want to visit. Further, labor challenges are manageable with a few important steps:

1) Due Diligence
: Planners should investigate a convention center for labor issues and true costs of doing business. Do an Internet search and ask other planners who've met there. Become an informed customer.

2) Evaluate the Venue’s Suitability for your meeting
: Consider whether your event will work well given the labor climate at a facility. Can your exhibitors set up their own booths, or will they be required to seek assistance? Can the event host and the exhibitors afford the likely labor costs? Will your attendees cross a picket line?  If the answers are unsatisfactory, go elsewhere.

3) Contract Negotiations
: Insist on contract concessions that will ensure that the meeting is affordable and make any risks manageable. Ask building management or the local CVB to absorb excess costs to the host organization and exhibitors caused by labor slowdowns or pickets. Schedule an extra day for move-in to ensure that your event has sufficient time to set up even if labor issues delay a prior meeting from leaving the facility. Venue management will often be flexible with their concessions to offset the issues caused by potential labor disruptions.

It would be far easier to ignore these issues and hope for the best; but history proves that labor disputes aren't likely to go away anytime soon.  Planners need to avoid being the latest victims in this ongoing battle between labor and management. Due diligence and effective planning are the keys to holding a successful event.

Final Note
: This blog is not “legal advice”; rather, it’s a discussion intended to make you think and draw your own conclusions.  Legal advice can only be rendered after a discussion of your particular circumstances with an attorney competent in meetings law.

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