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Non-union labor calls increase beyond tradeshows

The need for non-union labor has always existed, especially for companies that diversified beyond supplying to tradeshows.

Past economic downturns affecting the tradeshow industry have demonstrated the risks of putting all eggs in one basket.

Frank Vavpotic, president & general manager, SOS
Frank Vavpotic, president & general manager, SOS

If they hadn’t before, many companies took on retail and museum projects; special and private events, and sponsorship opportunities. These endeavors allowed companies to continue growing during the ups and downs of the tradeshow industry, which usually parallels the performance of the U.S. GDP, according to Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

For the most part, unions don’t have jurisdiction over non-tradeshow projects or right-to-work venues. Therefore, companies hired non-union laborers.

“There’s always been and continues to be great demand for non-union, specialized workers. Union tradeshow labor experience and associated hourly rates are not appropriate [for] these projects, or venues, and actually cause an exhibit display house to both be excluded from bidding and lose the project,” stated Frank Vavpotic, president & general manager, Specialized Onsite Services (SOS).

Vavpotic launched SOS as a provider of specialized, non-union labor in 2010. The company formed as a co-operative. Its eight member companies are suppliers to the tradeshow industry. The SOS board of directors approves the addition of any new members, and each member receives monthly financials.

“As tradeshow revenue remained flat, each of our SOS exhibit and event display house members realized, and agreed, that vital to their individual customer relationships was to ‘become better stewards of their customers’ budgets’ through providing quality workers at an hourly rate appropriate to these non-tradeshow projects and venues,” commented Vavpotic.

SOS has a more than 460-strong non-union labor force on its payroll. Additionally, the company reimburses its workforce for travel expenses soon after the project is complete, according to Vavpotic.

“We’re lean, utilize technology and respond quickly with both estimates [and] quick turn-around projects. Quite often SOS is contacted to provide a team of specialized workers with one-day notice,” he said.

Because of the specialized work required, SOS laborers must have a skillset as wide-ranging as the projects they undertake. In some instances, these laborers may be more skilled than tradeshow laborers, said Vavpotic. He explained that tradeshow laborers have a difficult time adapting to non-tradeshow related tasks because they’re not accustomed to it.

“We are the silent workers who support our members. Our members direct how and when we are used. There have been occasions where SOS has reached out to a member in a certain city or area to provide SOS with sub-contracted quality workers for another member,” he said.

Non-union workers help SOS members and their customers save up to 39 percent per hour in the company’s direct cities, according to Vavpotic.

“With a union, the billable hours range from $85 to $150 an hour,” he added.

The company’s busiest destinations are LA; San Francisco; Dallas; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Orlando; Austin; Miami; and New York. In other cities, SOS has partnered with affiliates.

“Savings through negotiations with our affiliate worker providers can range from 10 to 39 percent,” he said.

No matter where SOS workers operate, Vavpotic assured that their qualifications are vetted by him and his staff.

“SOS also has begun to provide workers to right-to-work tradeshow venues and venues where non-union workers are allowed to supplement union labor after certain union quotas are met,” remarked Vavpotic. “Denver is a good example. An exhibit and display house member is able to lower I&D costs by hiring experienced SOS workers to supplement their usual union labor calls.”

Whether it’s inside or outside the tradeshow industry, the need for non-union labor will continue to exist. Companies like SOS are making it easier than ever to find qualified, trustworthy workers who can help ensure a project’s success.

To learn more about Specialized Onsite Services, visit http://www.sosworkforce.com/.

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