Trade show labor costs can be a source of mass confusion. From the multitude of different categories that the work can fall into, to the different types of contractors and the regulations that govern them, it’s easy to feel even more confused after researching trade show contractors than before.
While understanding labor rules and classifications may seem intimidating, a firm grasp on the concepts will get trade show labor working favorably.
Unions are a guaranteed presence for trade show services, although the services they dictate is determined by city and state. The unions that will be providing labor at trade shows is decided in advance in negotiation between the trade show organizers and the local labor unions, and it will be communicated to exhibitors ahead of time. Trade show organizers frequently supply exhibitors with a manual or “Exhibitors’ Bill of Rights” explaining union and non-union labor guidelines. Furthermore, the trade show exhibition website should be a valuable resource for labor information, or if all else fails, the trade show’s operations manager should be able to provide those details.
Labor rates vary by state and city, as well, but usually the “straight time” of regular hours’ work is from 8am – 4pm Monday through Friday. Any work done beyond these parameters, including on weekends, is considered overtime at a rate of one and a half or two times the regular wage. Furthermore, holiday work is automatically double the regular wage.
Pay close attention to the tradeshow’s schedule and timing; if some of the work needs to be done on a weekend, holiday or after hours, this will drastically increase the cost of labor.
Early deliveries to the advanced warehouse help to expedite the work of union laborers, because they are able onto get on the show floor and start building ahead of the queue. Because these laborers are paid for the time they are onsite, not the time they spend working, it’s far more efficient for them to get started quickly. It’s also beneficial to provide guidance to laborers, so that their time on the clock is spent as efficiently as possible.
There are four different kinds of contractors, whose definitions are important and worth distinguishing: Official Contractors, General Services Contractors (GSCs), Exclusive Contractors and Exhibitor Appointed Contractors (EACs.)
Official contractors are the preferred providers of specific services chosen by show organizer. One contractor that frequently falls into this category is the security company responsible for supervising access to the show. Additionally, the registration company handling exhibitor and attendee data producing show badges is also a trade show official contractor, as is the lead retrieval system provider that has to be able to read what is encoded on the badges.
General Services Contractors (GSC)
General Services Contractors are hired by the show organizer or manager. These suppliers contract and accept responsibility of the tradeshow’s setup and dismantle. The GSC works to provide the exhibitors’ manual, as well as on-site floor services. Material handling from the advance warehouse, marshaling yard and freight docks are all responsibilities of the GSC, as well. The GSC hires the labor force, handles on-site storage of crates and cartons, hangs signage, pipe and drape, performs rigging and structural fabrication. GSC services are exclusive.
The exclusive contractors are listed in the venue’s contract, and it’s prohibited for an exhibitor to go outside of these contractors. Usually exclusive contractors include electrical, plumbing, compressed air and gas, telecommunications, wireless and wired Internet, even catering. Possible exclusive contracts may include audiovisual rentals and floor cleaning.
Exhibitor Appointed Contractors (EAC)
An Exhibitor Appointed Contractor refers to any subcontractor selected and used by the exhibitor other than the official contractors, general services contractors or exclusive contractors in the exhibitor services manual. EACs are technically a third party, and exhibitors must inform show management when using one, and subsequently fill out a form. EACs can be used for nonexclusive services or nonexclusive products at the show.
To summarize, exhibitors do not have control over official contractors, general services contractors or exclusive contractors. While occasionally the official contractor is not an exclusive one (for example, the show’s hotel of choice), exhibitor appointed contractors are the only ones that are always able to be selected by choice where EACs are permitted. GSCs and exclusive contractors are most likely to be union-related, but not always.
One common exception in strict union locations permits an exhibitor to set up their own booth if: the display is 10’ x 20’ or smaller, there are no tools required for setup or breakdown, and the execution can be completed in 30 minutes or less.
Understanding union rules and regulations as well as the different kinds of contractors can help you budget for labor cost at trade shows, and ease the stress and confusion in the process. With so many variables involved in trade show exhibiting, it’s incredibly helpful to feel comfortable with labor processes, and have one fewer element to be concerned about.