Bad Blood

Ever hear the one about the unions and the convention bureau?

In a telephone interview, Reisinger expressed additional complaints, including dowdy America's Center furnishings, a lack of downtown entertainment and limited lunch options.

Calls by RFT to other customers (independent of the CVC's suggestions) were either not returned, or the requests for comment for this story were refused.

Says Local 143's Bill Watkins: "This whole perception that we have labor problems — I think the CVC has helped create it and keep it going. I think they fanned the flames."

Both sides say they're fighting for their survival. And so far, neither is willing to relent. The unions have been awaiting word of the next round of talks since they filed a collaborative response to the CVC on April 6.

As to whether the groups can reach a middle ground, perhaps Chicago and Philadelphia will serve as models. Both cities experienced similar problems a few years ago, prompting their respective mayors to help negotiate labor agreements between the exhibit halls and unions.

It remains to be seen if St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay — who draws voters from labor's rank and file — will step into the fray. Both the St. Louis locals and Ratcliffe have reached out to him. Slay's office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Contractors, for their part, say a building takeover could actually ramp up costs and cause other headaches. According to Cecil Adams, an Exhibition Services & Contractors Association board member who works on labor issues, compromise may only be possible if contractors such as Swank and Klance Staging intervene.

"I think unions have their place, especially in metro areas," Adams observes. "I think they tend over a period of time to increase their demands to the point that they start becoming a liability rather than an asset, in some cases. And I think it's the contractor's job to negotiate with the union to make sure that doesn't happen."

Perhaps the only certainty currently is labor's strength in numbers.

Ratcliffe would have been reminded of that during an afternoon meeting with Terry Nelson, Frank Condellire and Dan McKay (president of Teamsters Local 600) at Dan Dierdorf's Town & Country home, just a few days before the CVC put its parleying offensive in motion.

The CVC leaders apprised the tradesmen of the talks — and assured them America's Center has no intentions of taking over their members.

"I could see [Dierdorf] is in a quandary," recounts McKay. "He's been a union member all his life with the National Football League — this has to be hard on him, and I know it's hard on the people at the Center. But it's also hard on the unions. And as I told Dan Dierdorf, if they throw a picket line up there, the Teamsters will not cross it."

Says Condellire: "At the end of the day, the unions will back each other."

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