With the opening today of the new Great Lakes Expo Center in Euclid, word comes that the facility is being picketed by representatives from Teamsters Union Local 407. It’s asking patrons to boycott the 67th Annual Cleveland Home & Garden Show which christens the facility, and it plans to picket the show throughout its run, which ends January 31.

The show’s move comes after its was held for many years at the I-X Center in Brookpark. The new facility, a former K-Mart store across from Euclid Square Mall, is managed by Expositions Inc., which also puts on the Home & Garden Show. In a press release, Expositions Inc. president Chris Fassnacht says, “The increasing cost of doing business [at the I-X Center] was making it nearly impossible to make a profit. Not only were attendees tiring of escalating costs but so were our exhibitors.”

Exhibition facilities typically hire unions to load in and load out, set up booths and do the electrical work typically required for such temporary displays. The Teamsters say that at the Great Lakes Expo Center, exhibitors are now allowed to do all this work themselves.

“Even though the union contract jobs aren’t the highest paying jobs in the world, they’re good jobs,” says Teamsters Local 407 president Frank Burdell. “Now they’re going to have exhibitors doing all the work, whether they’re qualified or not — everything, from beginning to end. The exhibitors have the right to bring in own material, load it, unload it from delivery trucks, wheel it across floor, set up own booths, do their own electrical, do their own decorating. It brings up a lot of questions about safety, about skilled trades. For 50 years, our members have done the loading and unloading; they’re pretty skilled at material handling. Sometimes shows have heavy machinery; you need people who are skilled at handling that stuff. I think it’s greed and another way regardless of health or safety to reap more profits. We’re opposed to it."

It’s convenient to put the blame for rising costs on unions, but the issue of union work rules at exhibition facilities is complicated — and most certainly, only one piece of the problem. Currently, Chicago’s McCormick Place, a facility legendary for its costly union work rules — like requiring a union electrician, hired at scale for an hour, to plug in a lamp or a computer — is embroiled in controversy as major shows are bolting. Just this week, it was reported that the International Home & Housewares Show, held in Chicago since 1939, is considering a move to Las Vegas or Orlando. But other issues — including mismanagement, padded payrolls, and a plethora of city taxes and fees — are in the mix as well. It seems like there should be a middle ground between exhibitors forking out lots of money to sit by idly and watch while union laborers perform simple chores and a free-for-all situation where it’s every exhibitor for himself. — Anastasia Pantsios

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