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Show Labor That Gives You "Labor Pains"

Talk about a segment of the trade show industry that's gone awry, this last week I saw proof of what I'm speaking about and it's not pretty to say the least, but first let me take you back with a little history lesson so you'll see where all of this emanates from.

Back in the early 80's, a guy named Jack McEntee and two partners realized that there was a dramatic need in the trade show industry for qualified, knowledgeable, show labor to set up and tear down exhibits at organized trade shows. The need grew out of the fact that the labor which show contractors were supplying, was quite often the least skilled people available, due to the fact that the more qualified and skilled employees that the show contractors employed were needed to just get the show floor set, supply show management needs, and to generally keep exhibitors happy with regard to their freight and general furniture orders. Their company was called I & D Inc. In order to guarantee quality labor, they employeed off-duty firemen in cities around the country due to the obvious quality of the individuals, and the time on/time off nature of their primary job.

At the time the general contractors fought the whole idea of having another service contractor on the floor that would be competing with them, but the ESCA (Exhibit Service Contractors Association) members in general realized that what the new upstart companies were attempting, had some merit and resigned themselves to the fact that they would have a new competitor. For some contractors, me being one of them who was in the business at the time as a show contractor, these new companies took a weight off our shoulders and they were begrudgingly welcomed within the industry as a whole.

Fast forward to today and you now see in some heavily unionized cities, the entire concept unraveling whereby being a union member is your qualification for being on the show floor, and not your skill, because when the show labor rates on weekends exceed $190 to $260 per hour, other inexorable forces come into play. 

Case in point is Boston where recently I hired 6 men from a show labor company, and not a single person on that crew could hold a candle to the least talented person I've hired in last year in Denver or Las Vegas, but because they were in Boston, they had a job and the union doesn't even require that they provide their own tools. When unskilled labor is allowed on the show floor and the client is paying $119 for straight time, $196 on Saturdays and $260 on Sundays, the obvious happens which is the number of hours to complete the task goes up as mine did by 55%. 

5 Tips to Protect Yourself When Hiring Show Labor:

1) Insist on only paying for labor whose skills are commensurate with the rate you're paying. In other words, if you're paying $260 per hour, that person should have a fading resemblance to a brain surgeon. 

2) If the labor can't read set up instructions, or can't read at all, send him back.

3) Each crew member should be knowledgeable in the set up of a variety of systems as well has flooring.

4) You crew must have a completely stocked toolbox and bring along minimum supplies like duct tape, velcro, etc. Ladders should also be available as well as a few nuts, bolts, and screws. 

5) If the show labor company can't guarantee the same person on the out, as you had on the set up, go somewhere else. 

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