Working with AV unions can be really tricky. AV unions often have strict rules and restrictions, and sometimes they are hard to understand. It’s best to be educated and prepared when working with an AV Union to prevent being caught off guard. In today’s Whiteboard Wednesday, Will Curran will be taking you through how AV Unions work. He will cover the basics of contracts, how AV union staff is hired, shadow labor and more. To avoid costly mistakes when working with AV Unions you must watch!

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Video Transcription – How AV Unions Work 

How’s it going, Endless Fans? This is Will Curran back again with another Whiteboard Wednesday. Today, we’re talking about how AV Unions work. This is probably my number one asked question whenever I’m at conferences. People want them demystified, they want to understand what’s going on with these unions, why am I spending so much money. Sometimes people get a little angry about it when they have to spend more money. Today, we’re going to help you understand what they do, so then that way, you can have better conversations with them and ultimately, hopefully, drive down cost as well, so everybody is happy. Let’s jump right on in then to AV Unions.

Unions have contracts with the venue

Number one is that unions, if you didn’t know, always have their contracts with the venue. Far too often, people like to think that, oh, it’s because of X, Y, Z company has the unions, this and that. Usually, the unions will approach the venues and say, “Hey. We want to have a contract with you, we will provide all your labor, and therefore, here you go. Here’s our contract.” Obviously, I’m not big on the understandings of how those contracts exactly work, but you will always find that unions are tied to specific venues. The reason why you know this is because sometimes, you’ll be working inside one venue and they’ll say, “Hey, we have the union.” You go across the street, they will not have the AV union attached to them. That’s always just something to keep in mind when you are looking at your venues, is that venue specifically a union?

The reason why that it benefits them is that they get consistent labor and then that way, sometimes also, the unions, similar to in-house companies, will give kickbacks back to the hotels as well when they book business. Something to keep in mind.

Some cities have more than others

All right. Number two, some cities also have more unions than others. I mean, this is kind of the obvious thing, right? We typically like to think that unions are related to a city, right? Oh, Chicago has more unions. Oh, New York City has more cities than a West Coast place like Arizona, for example. However, it’s definitely true. However, one thing to keep in mind, again, because it’s related to the venue contract that you have, not necessarily like the citywide requirement, you might find, again, that some cities might have a little scattered within when it comes to unions. Something you just kind of keep in mind again. When you’re picking your venues and your cities for each of your events, unions definitely come into play.

Unions are specific to AV or other specific roles

All right. Number three, specific unions when it comes to specific roles. A lot of times, people think that it’s just the union that manages everything. Actually, there’s a lot of unions. For example, there are unions related to construction and building buildings. There’s a union related to carpentry at events. And it goes on and on and on and, obviously again, it depends on the city and the venue as well. But what you’ll find is that there are actually very, very specific unions for specific roles.

What that means is, you might actually have a union whose sole job is to push cases from the truck to where your events going to be happening in the venue. We call these loaders or pushers, for example. Something you just kind of keep in mind when it comes to it. Then you might have a separate union who’s in charge of running the AV for your event. Then you might have a separate union who’s building your set pieces and your booths and everything like that. You might have separate unions for all this different stuff. Always keep that in mind, you might have multiple unions that you’re talking to when it comes to it, and they all have their own rules, which we’ll talk about in just a little bit.

What this also means as well is you might also have multiple unions inside just the AV. You might have like a video AV union, an audio union, a lighting union. Hopefully, they make this pretty simple and they all have very, very lined up roles for all this sort of stuff, so they should be really easy to understand who is responsible for what different areas. But there’s definitely always, most likely, specific unions and you might have multiple unions just for one single event. Crazy, right?

Shadow Labor

All right. Next up is this idea of shadow labor. I don’t know if that’s an official term or anything like that, but it’s what we’ve kind of dubbed what a shadow labor is.

Because unions basically are designed to protect the people who are working it, to make sure that they’re getting work, all those sorts of things like that, right, like we all have kind of a basic understanding what an AV union is. Because they are designed to keep people working, a lot of times, for example, if you want to bring a third party AV company in who’s coming in from out of town or maybe they aren’t part of the union and they want to work the event and you want to utilize their engineers because they know your show, you trust them, whatever it may be, what you might find is the union’s going to say something like, “Okay. Well, we’re going to provide shadow labor then.” What that means is for every person that you are having onsite that is replacing that person’s potential job, so, for example, if the union would be hired, you’d need one lighting engineer. Well, because you’re bringing another lighting engineer in because you’re technically taking that job away from someone, they will then still keep that lighting engineer there. Sometimes, some unions will have different rates for that, so it might a little bit less expensive because they’re just shadowing, but more than likely, they’re going to get paid the exact amount, whether they’re working or not.

This is obviously something you want to be very well aware of because you just went from paying for one person to paying two people, and that can blow your budget real quick. But, also, it means that sometimes, you’ll end up having someone who just ends up sitting backstage and doing nothing. Obviously, this is your responsibility to make sure that you’re staying on top of these people or maybe your AV company, third-party AV company you’re bringing in to kind of whip them in shape and make sure that they’re doing work. But this can cause a lot of issues because the last thing you want to do is pay for two people, and the last thing you want to do is pay for two people and one person’s doing the whole job. Yikes.

Something to just keep in mind is that the shadow labor can exist, and if you’re bringing a third party AV company in that’s potentially taking a job away from the union, you want to make sure that you’re not paying twice the cost. Again, when you’re picking your venue, and this all sounds like a nightmare to you and you think, “Oh my gosh. This is the worst thing I’ve ever heard of. How could I ever pay for this sort of stuff?” Look at your venue contracts and look at your cities and where you’re doing it because you can avoid these sort of things as well.

Unions can be signed after you signed the contract

All right. Next up is that unions … a tip is that unions can be signed after you’ve signed the venue contracts. Let’s say for example you’ve picked a great city, a great venue, and they’re not union and then all of a sudden, during this process, I’ve seen this happen with clients, they say, “Oh. Now there’s an AV union with our venue.” Well, all of a sudden, now you have to abide by the union’s rules. This is obviously like a really scary thing to happen, right? You went from no unions, no extra cost for that sort of stuff, you’re bringing a third party AV company, to all of a sudden, there are all these extra costs. This can be a nightmare, obviously.

What you want to do is make sure that you have this conversation that is there any active conversations with you guys adopting any unions, are there … what happens if a union is adopted, will our pricing shift, will we have to adopt that union. That’s just something to be made aware of is that I have seen this, is that when you book your venue contract, all of a sudden you go from a non-union venue to now having a union, and obviously you don’t want to have that if you are looking to avoid union costs as well. Just keep that in mind. We don’t want to have you taking on any additional costs.

Hard to negotiate

All right. Next thing is number six, and this one’s kind of like a vague tip, but these are very hard to negotiate. You might be looking at all these rules and things and thinking, “Man, this is just a … it’s a nightmare. I want to get rid of this. I have to negotiate.” I like to say that everything’s negotiable, you can pretty much talk about anything. I still think that’s true, you have to have a conversation about this stuff before you sign the contract, otherwise, it becomes begging once you’ve signed the contract. But this stuff is very, very hard to negotiate. Obviously, unions have been around a long time, so we want to make sure that we’re protecting the people that are working these events, but this sort of stuff, these rules, very, very hard to break. Just make sure that you keep in mind when you are looking at what you’re doing, you have to respect that these rules are very, very hard to break.

Most senior people get the job

Speaking of rules when it comes to venues, a lot of people don’t understand exactly how the union works when selecting people, right, because you want to make sure you’re getting the best people possible for your event. One thing that you have to be aware of is that unions typically are based on seniority. Again, this might depend on what union, different cities, there are different rules for all these sorts of things and this is where you want to have conversations, but typically, unions are getting paid and getting work based on the seniority of their work. They’ve been in the union for 10 years, likely those 10-year people are going to get the jobs first versus the newer people. That’s just something to keep in mind. This can be good because A, it means you might be getting really experienced people as well, right? But also on the side note, it might be bad because then, it might be someone who’s been in the union for a long time, they don’t really care about their work, all those things like that. Well, we’ll talk about how we can avoid that in a little bit.

Preferred vendor sign up for the AV Union?

Well, one thing you might be thinking of is, okay, well I want to use this third-party vendor, someone to do my draping. Well, what I should just do is have them sign up for the union, right? That’s where we come into number eight, having your preferred vendor sign up for the union. It makes sense, right? Let’s get them right on into the union, then I can utilize them because they’re in the union and we’re all good. Well, no because you have to go back to the original point of the senior people. When that happens, what happens is you might have them sign up, well, the union’s still going to pick the senior people, not the company that just signed up or the people that just signed up into the union. You’ve got to keep that in mind when you are hiring your companies and what that’s all going to happen because it’s just not as simple as signing up for the union.

Vet before Event

All right. Talking about all these potential loopholes and all these things going on, especially talking about the senior people, yeah, they might be really experienced and awesome, but you might also find someone who has been in it for a long time, they don’t really care anymore. What you want to make sure that you always do is vet before the event. If you are utilizing the union and utilizing the labor, it is perfectly okay for you to ask for staff lists, bios, consider it like hiring a labor company essentially. You can ask for resumes, qualifications, previous work, all those sorts of things like that. Obviously, again, depends on the AV union and hopefully, they should work really well with you, but they want to make sure that you’re happy and that you’re getting a good experience, right, they’re not just trying to become a pain in the butt.

What you want to make sure is have a conversation about vetting the very specific people that are going to be working your event, your video engineers, your lighting engineers, your audio engineers, all that sort of stuff because then that way, you make sure you’re getting great people. You’re not getting the senior people who have been sitting around, collecting paychecks for years, but instead, you are getting the senior people who really know their stuff and can make your event awesome.

AV Unions are very strict on rules

All right. The last thing is related to more rules. I’m sorry, just so many rules for this video. Unions, something to be aware of, are very strict on the rules that they have. For example, you may have talked to an AV company in the past and heard about things, like for example, day rates, overtime, double time, and it’s all really … there are many blog posts, which I’m sure we’ll link down below, that explain these labor rules.

Well, where an AV company that isn’t in a union might be a little bit more relaxed about the different rules and what specifically is going to happen, maybe they’ll forgo having to charge you for food, meal breaks, all those things like that, maybe someone will work through lunch. Unions, typically, are very strict on following the rules. What that means is you need to make sure that you have plenty of breaks for everybody, you need to make sure that you have … are following the overtime rules. The best way to really do this is to go over your schedule with the union. The last thing that you want to do is need someone to work through a rehearsal during lunch and they say, “No. I have to walk away and leave,” and that screws up your entire rehearsal.

Just make sure that you know what the rules are related to labor and know that unions are extremely strict. Their whole job is to protect the people working inside of it, so they want to make sure that they follow those rules.


There you go, there you go. 10 total tips on how AV unions work. I hope this was super duper helpful for you. My goal is not to necessarily say that unions are bad, I really hope that everyone knows that. My big thing to make sure that you understand how they work, so then that way, if you are adopting and utilizing a AV union, you can work best with them to create a great relationship, but also at the same time, being aware of what is going on and knowing, hey, there are other options. Again, if you are worried about having to use a union in your venue, maybe you need to look at a different venue. Maybe the city you use has a lot of unions in it and you don’t want to utilize unions, well, maybe we need to look at the city. Then also, just making sure that you understand what’s going on because the last thing that we want is confusion and people not knowing what’s going on. It’s all about education and making sure everyone knows what’s going on.

All right. I hope, again, this was super helpful for you. How AV unions work. If you had any tips on your end, I’d love to hear it down in the comments below. Leave a comment as far as like how have you worked with unions in the past, do you have any tips that allow you to work really closely with them, what sort of labor rules have you seen that we didn’t talk about? I’d love to hear it all in the comments below, leave it down below.

While you’re also heading on down below, right below me is the subscribe and like button, go ahead and smash those right now and subscribe and like our videos. We’re going to be doing these all the time, every Wednesday, getting you guys tons of tips. If you haven’t heard of Whiteboard Wednesday, we basically take event tips and tricks and complicated topics related to AV and events and basically distill them, so simple that we can write them up on a whiteboard.

My name is Will Curran. This has been Whiteboard Wednesday. And until next week, we’ll catch you guys all later. Adios.



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Will Curran

Author Will Curran

Information junkie, energetic, and work-a-holic are just some of the words we can use to describe Will Curran. Aside from spending 20 out of 24 hours a day working as the Chief Event Einstein of Endless Events, you can catch Will ordering a chai latte or watching The Flash with his cats. He is also well known for his love of all things pretzels.

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