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Chicago ordered to back off convention center work rules

By James B. Kelleher

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday ordered officials in Chicago to stop implementing work rules at the city's convention center that were imposed last year to reduce costs and make Chicago competitive for trade shows.

For years, exhibitors had complained that the five unions representing workers at the massive convention center known as McCormick Place made Chicago an expensive and difficult place to do business.

As one trade show after another pulled out, state officials acted, imposing rules that gave exhibitors more leeway to set up their own booths and limited the amount of overtime they had to pay union crews, among other things.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman, who ruled in March that the new rules violated federal labor law, on Wednesday denied a request by convention center officials to keep the rules in place while they appeal his March decision.

Guzman said convention officials "have some chance of success on appeal but it is not strong enough to outweigh (the unions') interest in obtaining relief and the interests of the public and other stakeholders in eliminating the cloud hanging over the statute."

The ruling is a setback for Chicago's new Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has said he would make the convention center competitive again.

In a letter to trade show organizers sent out ahead of Guzman's ruling this week, Emanuel and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn promised that "one way or another, you have our word that McCormick Place, Chicago and Illinois will not back down from the changes in practices at the Center which you asked for and which we delivered."

(Additional reporting by Mary Wisniewski and Andrew Stern)

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