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Working with AV unions can be really tricky. They 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. An absolute must-watch for everybody who is trying to avoid costly mistakes when working with AV unions!

av unions

Unions Have Contracts With The Venue

The first thing you need to understand is that unions always have their contracts with the venue. Usually, the unions will approach venues and say that they want to have a contract with them. And why does this matter, you ask? Because sometimes, when you’ll be working inside one venue, they’ll say that they have a union. That’s always just something to keep in mind when you are looking at your venues: is that venue specifically a union?

We’ve emphasized time and time again that pre-event venue walkthroughs are important. Inquiring about AV unions is just another reason why you should definitely consider it as part of planning your event!

Some Cities Have More Unions Than Others

The next thing to keep in mind about AV unions is that some cities have more unions than others. However, you might find that some cities might be a little scattered within when it comes to unions. When you’re picking your venues and your cities for each of your events, unions definitely come into play.

AV unionsUnions Are Specific To AV Or Other Specific Roles

A lot of times, people think that it’s just one union that manages everything. But actually, there are a lot of unions that work together to bring your event to life. There are unions related to construction and building buildings. There’s a union related to carpentry at events. What you’ll find is that there are very specific unions for specific roles.

You might actually have a union whose sole job is to push cases from the truck to where your event is going to be happening in the venue. We call these loaders or pushers, for example. Then, you might have a separate union that’s in charge of running the AV for your event. There’s also a separate union that’s building your set pieces and booths. You might need to talk to multiple unions and they all have their own rules.

What this also means is you might have multiple unions inside just the AV. You might have a video AV union, an audio union, a lighting union. After all, there are several positions within the AV workforce!

Shadow Labor At AV Unions

If you want to bring a third party AV company in from out of town or outside of the union, what you might find is that the union is going to say that they will provide shadow labor. For example, if the union would be hired, you’d need one lighting engineer. Because you’re bringing another lighting engineer in and thus taking that job away from someone, they will 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 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 quickly affect your budget. Additionally, you might end up having someone who just ends up sitting in backstage and doing nothing. The last thing you want to do is pay for two people and only one person’s doing the whole job.

AV Unions Can Be Signed After You Signed The Contract

Another thing to consider is that unions can be signed after you’ve already signed the venue contracts. Suddenly, you have to abide by the union’s rules. 

What you want to do is make sure that you have conversations with people who are responsible. Questions you can ask them are: What happens if a union is adopted? Will our pricing shift? Will we have to adopt that union?

AV unionsThey Are Hard To Negotiate

Another thing you must keep in mind with AV unions is that they are hard to negotiate with. I like to say that everything’s negotiable; you can discuss anything. But this stuff is very hard to negotiate. 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 these rules are 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. One thing that you have to be aware of is that unions are typically based on seniority. Again, this might depend on the union and the city. Typically, though, people who’ve been working the longest are going to get the jobs.This can be good because it means you might be getting really experienced people as well. But on the side note, it might be bad because you might end up with somebody who’s been in the union for a long time and they don’t really care about their work.

Preferred Vendor Sign Up For The AV Union?

One loophole you might be thinking of is that you can simply sign up your third party vendor 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. Not necessarily – the union might still pick the senior people, not the company that just signed up or the people that just signed up into the union. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that.

AV unionsVet Before Event

What you want to make sure that you always do is vet before the event. If you are utilizing the union and the labor, it is perfectly okay for you to ask for staff lists and bios. Consider it like hiring a labor company! You can ask for resumes, qualifications, and previous work. They should work with you, making sure that you’re happy and that you’re getting a good experience.

Have a conversation about vetting the very specific people that are going to be working your event: your video engineers, your lighting engineers, and your audio engineers. That way, 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

Today’s final tip has been echoing through the entire lecture: unions 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 day rates, overtime, double time, and other AV labor terms.

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 and meal breaks. 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 and you need to make sure that you are following the overtime rules. The best way to do this is to go over your schedule with the union.

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.


In conclusion, my goal is not to say that unions are bad. I want to make sure that you understand how AV unions work, so then that way, if you are adopting and utilizing an AV union, you can create a great relationship with them. 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 if you don’t want to utilize unions, maybe we need to look at a different city.

Hopefully, you now understand just how exactly AV unions work. If you have any questions, shoot us a message, and we will take care of you in no time!

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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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