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How to Avoid Hidden Union Fees?


The word ‘union’ can be intimidating, especially when building out your event budget. We all know it’s going to be pricier and require more labor, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and book a union venue. Fortunately, in addition to the standard site visit questions, there are a few questions you can ask in advance that will help you determine exactly how much you’ll need to set aside.

Are shadows required?

Some unions allow you to bring in your own AV leads then supplement the remainder of the crew with mandatory positions. However, some unions require a “shadow” for each of your leads, meaning for every person you bring in, the union assigns someone to, yes, simply shadow them. While this means paying for two people to do one position, keep in mind you can never guarantee the quality of a union lead.

Is there a list of all positions the union is required to provide?

All unions provide the standard labor: Stage Hands, Audio Hands, Lighting Hands, Riggers, etc. However, occasionally you’ll be surprised with a specialty service, such as teleprompter. Always ask in advance what positions are required so you’re not caught off guard with additional fees down the line.

What are the mandatory breaks?

All unions will require mandatory breaks. Frequently, it’s a 15min break every 2 hours and a lunch break every 4-5 hours. However, it’s incredibly important understanding what the rules are in advance, especially if you already have an idea of your conference agenda. These breaks frequently extend load ins or room resets, so you may need to contract a space earlier or bring in extra labor to accomplish your timelines.

How many unions are required to execute my conference?

Some cities, such as Philadelphia and Chicago, have multiple unions required to provide labor for one event. For instance, in order to set  directional signage in the halls, you may have to bring in teamsters to unload the trucks and drop structures (in some venues this can be two different unions), stage hands to place the structures, and decorators to attach the sign. That being said, unions are frequently negotiating so the rules can change year to year. It’s vital you ask this question in advance in order to fully understand how much you need to set aside for labor.

What positions does the venue provide?

Some venues have their own in-house union labor. You’ll commonly see this when it comes to power. Make sure you ask the procedures for power orders and drops, as this is an area where your can get pegged with additional fees. Is your AV team able to run their own distro cables or is in mandatory for the venue to do so? Are the power drops priced differently in various parts of the venue? We need everything dropped across the venue at the same time – are you able to do this with just one crew or will you need to call in multiple crews? All of these are areas that can end up costing more than you expected.


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