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Division of Labor

By Julie Krueger


  • Be aware of labor ownership
  • Don't do it all yourself — learn labor union rules
  • Know typical labor rates
  • Plan for electronics and voltage differences
  • Get help from a trusted local partner

Missed part one of this series? Get caught up on everything you need to know related to timelines and travel.

For international organizations coming to the United States, understanding the U.S. labor market can be one of the most perplexing challenges to hurdle. Exhibitors must be prepared to navigate an often-confusing labyrinth of customs, rules, and regulations.

We’ve developed this series of four articles to help exhibitors successfully tackle the complexities of bringing their brands to U.S. shows. In this article, we discuss the ins and outs of working with U.S. labor, along with tips and hints to help everything flow as smoothly as possible.

Be Aware of Labor Ownership

One of the most important things to understand when setting up at a U.S events venue is the difference in labor ownership structure. For example, in many European countries, services like electricity, carpentry, and rigging are offered collectively from a single source. That means only one proposal and invoice are needed.

However, this isn’t the case in most North American venues.

Instead, exhibitors must outsource these services to multiple union labor service providers. Each provider will send a proposal and invoice. The show’s exhibitor kit should provide more in-depth information about these requirements.

(Don’t) Do It Yourself

It’s typical for many U.S. venues to have contracts with local labor unions to provide trade show services. This means that the labor unions have the exclusive rights to provide service in those venues.

Some cities and venues require the usage of union labor workers for tasks such as:

  • Carpentry
  • Rigging
  • Electrical (and more!)

A union is an organization of workers formed to protect the interests and rights of its members. Labor unions provide venues with a pool of workers who are experts in these various areas.

Most convention centers require exhibitors to hire a union crew for setup and disassembly of booths larger than 3m x 3m or 3m x 6m (10'x10' or 10'x20'). These standard sizes are designed to be assembled and dismantled within one to two days.

Even for smaller exhibit venues, there is usually a cap on the amount of labor an exhibitor is allowed to do themselves, including painting, construction, etc.

Note that for Freeman-produced events, collective bargaining agreements have already been established with highly skilled trade unions and labor vendors throughout the U.S.
Know Typical Labor Rates

Hourly labor rates are regulated by local union contracts and will vary depending on the service needed. For example, the carpenters who build displays may have different rates than the electricians who wire the displays.

Nonetheless, average rates typically fall in the range of $100 to $200 (USD) per hour. This rate will depend on things like:

  • Seniority of the worker
  • Location, day, and time of the job
Be careful: Overtime and Sunday double-overtime rates can quickly get expensive. Help keep costs from escalating. Plan booth setup to minimize this exposure, even if it means adjusting arrival and departure times.

Also, don’t assume your budget for labor will be consistent from show to show and year to year. Costs can vary based on the city.

Additional Advice: Power Cords and Voltage

Although an electrician will need to be hired for the electrical components of the booth, exhibitors should plan for the difference in voltage. In the U.S., power is supplied at 110 volts, versus the typical 220 volts found outside of the U.S. This means step-down transformers may be required.

Most simple, low-voltage electronics like laptops and phones will be fine to use with a U.S. plug adapter, although know that most extension cords only offer a three-plug outlet. But using other types of electronics without power conversion can cause serious damage. Also, be aware that all electrical components must be UL/NEC certified.

It’s crucial to talk to local event partners before arriving. Have a plan in place to accommodate voltage power differences and UL requirements. An electrical services usage guide can help you:

  • Estimate your power usage
  • Provide sample layouts
  • Sketch out an electrical plan for your booth
Plan for Success

Exhibiting in the U.S. is a great way to generate broader brand awareness in lucrative markets. For best results, exhibitors must know what they’re getting into first.

Turn to a trusted resource for guidance — such as the exhibitor services kits Freeman produces for each show. In particular, when exhibiting at a Freeman show, be sure to keep the Quick Facts content close at hand. This can help you out with any emergencies or last-minute needs.

Note that most U.S. shows require payment before leaving or even up front. Be sure that whoever is representing your company has a personal credit card or enough cash to cover ancillary things on-site.

By consulting with a local partner and reading through all manuals and exhibitor kits carefully, you’ll find that everything about exhibiting in the U.S. will be easier — including working with U.S. labor. This will lead to a more positive overall experience, so you can focus on generating the strongest ROI possible with your exhibit.

Test Your Knowledge
Ready for more?
Check out our next article on international shipping and material handling for U.S. shows.
Read more

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