Two or three weeks ago I had a business trip that took me to Chicago, the land of Obama and Rod Blagojevich. It was my first time to the city and there were things that I liked about the city, and things did not sit well with me.
For starters, the city was cleaner than I suppose I was expecting it to be. This could simply be a matter of perception and preconceived ideas, but it was pretty comfortable. I was on foot the whole time and walked over 6 miles of the city in one day. The city was pedestrian friendly, the people seemed nice enough, and there was no lacking of things to see or do.
One of the places I was able to eat at was Topolobompos, a grille from the TV chef Rick Bayless. It was amazing. By far the best Mexican inspired food I have ever tasted. If anyone is in the city I highly recommend it. Then I got my check....
11% tax rate?! Seriously? It's almost as if the city is asking for the tip, not the server. Compared to the 6-7% rate in most Utah cities, this was a reminder to me of my good ol' California days and part of the reason I left the state.
Then it came to the reason for my trip there, a convention for the US Grains council for which I was a hired sound engineer. There I encountered the Unions.... after all Chicago is the Union Mecca in many ways. There were 9 unions that had a "hold" on the one hall that we were using at the McCormick Center. The Teamsters were the union that takes gear off the truck and moves it (and I am not exaggerating) 15 ft from the loading dock, to the entrance to the convention hall - that is it - no one else is allowed to do that. From there, another union could have asserted themselves to take it to the back of the hall (no more than 100 ft) but were not to found (thank goodness). From there, the electrical union was to run a power cord to our sound equipment. We travel with sound booths as part of our setup and those need to be set up as well. If they weren't assembled and held together via velcro, or if a power tool was needed to set them up, that would have required the carpenters union to put together our own equipment and booths. If we had something plugged into the electrical equipment that used a light bulb and that light bulb was used to project an image, that would require the projectionists to come in and plug in our cable for us - not anything else, just plug in the power cable. Then there was the food staff union, the ushers union, and others....you get the picture.
So what's the problem here? Well, these unions cost a lot of money. What may take me and my partner 6 hours to set up and cost the client 600 in labor for the day, would have cost them 20,000 if they had to use all the unions for the same work and possibly done in the 8 hour work day. Recently, the city of Chicago who owns the convention center, has seen a pretty steep drop off in convention use due to the overwhelming reason, "because the unions make it cost too much to put on an event there." So, Chicago of all places, has backed off on enforcing union work at all phases of the production. We were able to plug in our own cables, and we were able to do our own work. It was great, and our client saved tons of money.
Now, think of what that could do to the automotive industry, home construction, or other area's where union dominance is crippling their own industry.... just a thought. For now, I enjoyed my visit to Chicago. But due to high tax rates, and the heavy hand of unions in my chosen profession, I will not be moving to Chicago anytime soon. Too bad, I could become a regular at Topolobompo's - easy.