Truths and Myths of Trade Show Labor

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trade show union labor

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If you exhibit at trade shows in the USA you have most likely run into issues with trade show labor regulations at some point. The rules will vary depending on the city you are in. Some states have laws protecting exhibitors. These states are often referred to as “right-to-work” states.  The following link includes a map state-by-state. The map looks very similar to the electoral college map during elections. The blue states are right to work. Even in a right to work state there can still be regulations as to what you can and cannot do that are mostly based on the contract you signed when you decided to exhibit. It is common for strict union labor states to also allow some exceptions based on the contracts between the show management, General Contractor and exhibitors.

Common Exception

The common exception waiver in strict union states is to allow an exhibitor to set up their own display if they they meet all of the following requirements. 1. The display is 10′ x 10′ or smaller, 2. Tools are not required, and 3. It can be completed in 30 minutes or less.

Trade Show Labor Options

When show labor is required the local union sets the price per hour in each city. The rate per hour can range from $85 per hour all the way up to $185 per hour depending on where you are exhibiting. Show management will have a contract with a general contractor that can provide the labor, but you can also hire a 3rd party, union certified contractor to provide your labor needs. The cost is almost always exactly the same, but when you hire a 3rd party company you have a higher probability of receiving very experienced workers as well as an account rep that wants you to be happy.

Unfortunate Truths

Unfortunately, many shows manipulate the schedules which can cause very inflated costs for show labor. Standard show labor rates are based on “straight time” which is typically between 8 AM and 4 PM Monday through Friday. If your hire labor for any other hours you will have to pay time and a half or even double-time for each hour. It’s not uncommon for a show to require you to setup during off-hours or on a weekend which automatically causes the additional labor rates to apply. If this is a concern to you, be aware and always request the setup days and times with your show rep before booking space. Show management may be willing to offer you a discount on your floor space to combat this issue if you know to address it upfront.

Exhibitor Appointed Contractors

Any 3rd party that you hire to work on the setup or dismantle of your exhibit would be considered an Exhibitor Appointed Contractor. (EAC) You will be required to inform the show management that you plan on using an EAC. Your show book will include a form to fill out to use an EAC.

Get To Know Your Labor

If you often exhibit in the same cities you should make every attempt to form a relationship with the floor manager and exceptional labor that you may have received. Treat your labor with respect and they will often reciprocate. If you chose to hire an EAC or work with the show management’s GC you should try to get to know the players and make arrangements to use them again in the future. A few notable stand-outs that we work with are Jason Pirotti with Spectrum at the Javits Center, Ken Mattingly with Zenith in Las Vegas and “Cali Bob” with Freeman in Anaheim. Please give a shout-out to your notable laborers in the comments section. We encourage you to elaborate on this article and share any labor-related stories in the comments below.

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5 thoughts on “Truths and Myths of Trade Show Labor

  1. Natalie Relf

    You did a good job of summarizing the intricacies of the labor/contractor relationship with exhibitors. There are many and I also appreciate, being a part of that labor force, that you point out that it is show management that manipulates the labor time requirements. We are often blamed for forcing the overtime hours when it in fact is NOT our choice at all. The best advice you can give your readers is to build a rapport with the labor force. It doesn’t matter if they are EAC or GC. We often know the ins and outs, as well as short cuts to expediting the set-up/tear-out process. In the last decade the exposition industry has become highly customer driven and good connections are invaluable no matter what city you are in!

    1. Joe Bottone Post author

      That’s so true. Thanks Natalie. Please feel free to share your company name and city here.

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