Kelly Holleran Oct. 24, 2013, 1:01pm

A local convention center claims it lost numerous contracts after the director of a trades council called numerous businesses and falsely told them that the agency refused to hire Illinois union workers.

Gateway Center of Collinsville filed a lawsuit Oct. 16 in Madison County Circuit Court against Dale Stewart, who is the executive director of the Southwestern Illinois Construction and Trades Council.

In its complaint, Gateway alleges it lost numerous contracts with various businesses after Stewart called them with false information.

Gateway claims that Stewart was upset after it awarded a bid on an HVAC removal and replacement contract to a Missouri company and not to an Illinois contractor, according to the complaint.

Gateway receives local tax subsidies that are used to cover part of its operating expenses.

Stewart contacted Gateway to express his dissatisfaction, saying the company should have awarded bids to contractors that utilized Illinois trade unions only, the suit states. Gateway attempted to defend itself, saying it had hired the lowest bidder, the complaint says.

Shortly after Gateway’s contact with Stewart, it claims it began receiving phone calls canceling contracts.

For instance, the Southern Illinois Construction Advancement Program (SICAP) was contemplating canceling a contract with the Center, which normally leases SICAP space for an annual expo, according to the complaint. It was considering the cancellation after local unions announced plans to boycott the expo because Gateway Center had hired a Missouri company to complete the HVAC work, the suit states.

The Council of Owners and Construction Associates canceled six events that were scheduled for the Gateway Center.

Even the HVAC work may be delayed because of a picket line. The company that was hired to perform the crane operating work refuses to cross the picket line that Illinois union workers have formed. The project cannot occur unless a crane operator is found, according to the complaint.

Due to Stewart’s “falsely manufactured problem between Gateway Center and the local trade unions,” Gateway Center claims it has lost and will continue to lose tens of thousands of dollars from lost contracts.

“The harm to plaintiff’s reputation is substantial and irreparable in that plaintiff’s reputation is a major factor potential customers and current customers consider when deciding on where to hold their events,” the suit states.

Gateway Center claims the allegations that it refuses to hire local unions are false.

In its complaint, Gateway Center seeks actual and punitive damages, plus costs and other relief the court deems just. It also seeks an injunction that would prevent Stewart from contacting its customers, contractors and subcontractors.

John B. Barberis Jr. of the Law Office of John B. Barberis Jr. in St. Jacob will be representing it.

Madison County Circuit Court case number: 13-L-1735. 

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