Union Labor

“…make no mistake about it, whether you like it or not you must abide by the union rules if you are at a union contracted facility… know what you’re dealing with, what it will cost you, and how to make the most out of it.

Love it or hate it, it’s a reality

You can say what you want about union labor, as many others have before you. On one hand, local labor is needed to put on events and they need to have rules in place to protect themselves. On the other hand, union regulations can be difficult and costly to deal with and often times seem unfair.

But make no mistake about it… whether you like it or not you must abide by the union rules if you are at a union contracted facility.labor As an event planner, the best thing to do is to know what you’re dealing with, what it will cost you, and how to make the most out of it.

Union Labor Basics

Union rules and flexibility vary. Most unions are actually easy to work with, others are very strict. But there are some basic rules that you will find with all unions, no matter what sort of production you’re staging.

First, there are minimum calls. That means, no matter how much time (how many hours) union hands work there will be a minimum charge, usually 4 hours. Overtime rates will usually apply for anything over 8 hours in a day as well as any time worked between midnight and 6am. Holidays are often charged at overtime or double time rates. There are also required breaks every 2 hours and meal breaks every 5 hours. They will work past that but at overtime rates.

In addition to hourly rates, unions will charge fees for payroll taxes, insurance, and retirement accounts. These fees can be up to 60% of the hourly rate. So if the hourly rate is $35.00 per hour what you really end up paying is up to $56.oo per hour. Per person. Oh, and unions usually do not offer any payment terms, they will want to be paid right away.

One Facility, Multiple Unions

Did you say you have to work with the union – singular? There’s a chance there will be multiple union types you’ll be required to use.

There are unions to load and unload trucks, unions for stagehands, riggers, projectionists, video technicians, audio engineers, lighting, etc. You may be required to use more than one. This should be factored into your event planning.

Required Operators

Most unions will require that certain technical labor positions be filled by union personnel. This is part of a union’s contract with a facility and will vary from venue to venue. These event production positions are often camera operators, audio assistants (A2’s), follow spot operators and so on. Some unions are stricter, requiring union techs in positions even if you don’t need them, or requiring union techs in more key positions. You can use your own guys, but you’ll be required to shadow them with union technicians.

One-for-One and Shadows

“One-for-One” venues require that a union technician be hired for every non-union technician on site. A Shadow is a union technician that is required when a non-union tech is working a position that a union is contracted to provide labor for. Shadows are required to be present but don’t do any work since their position is already occupied (by the non-union tech). So if you want to bring your own camera guy from church, fine. You may be paying for a union tech anyway.

Can’t Touch This

In many venues the unions will not allow anyone to operate or turn on any equipment (even your own) without a union call. If you are planning rehearsals or want to see something on screen or listen to a track on the sound system a union call may be required. This should also be factored into your event planning checklist. In some cases you might get charged overtime rates for however long they estimate gear was being used without a union call. Do you have a guy at your church that owns his own camera and is going to shoot some videos at your conference? Even if your guy is a volunteer, if you’re at a facility that strictly requires union camera operators you will be required to hire a union tech for your production.


Union regulations will be different everywhere you go. Most unions are actually very reasonable to work with. Some are very strict and costly. Don’t take a chance. Find out what the rules are and stick to them. And, whatever you do, don’t try to do an end-run around the union. You will just make things more difficult for yourself.

When considering a facility, be sure to ask if they have any union contracts. If they do, ask for the name of the local union representative and give them a call. They will be very frank with you.

DO NOT rely on the facility to tell you what the rules are. They are often wrong and will sometimes downplay union requirements to get the sale. And ignorance will not help you if there’s a misunderstanding.

As always, make sure you talk to your AV provider about possible union requirements and factor them into your event planning.


Scott Reagles

IPG has been involved with production for over 25 years. Our team experience ranges from theatre, performance to lighting, sound, and scenery. We have unique appreciation for how audio engineering and video production effect the business of Event Production. Whether you're a corporation, non-profit, local organization or hotel; the Audio Visual, AV Rental & Staging, AV Project Management, and Live Event Video and Graphics Production will set you apart as an event to be frequented by attenders and a venue to be remembered for organizers.

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