Local 631 Members Take on the Big Convention and Trade Shows
Every year Las Vegas is visited by an average of nearly 5 million conventioneers as the city plays host to more than 21,000 shows. Local 631 in Las Vegas represents more than 3,000 trade show and convention workers that help to keep shows on track and on time.
With more than 2,500 Teamsters employed by over 100 signatory companies, these Vegas Teamsters are a vital part of the city’s trade show and convention industry. Their jobs consist of long hours on compressed timetables where new and unforeseen challenges can and will arrive at any moment.
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) rolls around the same time each year, bringing with it an average of 150,000 attendees eager to take in the latest offerings in the world of technology from more than 3,250 exhibitors from across the globe. It is the undisputed king of the Las Vegas convention and trade show circuit.
Sprawling across a combined 1.92 million square feet of show space at three primary facilities, the 2013 CES was larger than any of the previous shows in its 45-year history. Cutting-edge technology is displayed both indoors and outdoors in booths that run the entire gamut of size and complexity and every piece is moved, built or broken down by a Teamster.
Scheduled for the second week of January each year, initial setup for CES begins before Christmas. It’s a massive undertaking that Teamster Charlene Whitmire refers to as “organized chaos.” Whitmire is a freight foreman for GES and 16-year member of Local 631. She has worked 10 CESs, the last five overseeing the outdoor Central Plaza area at the Las Vegas Convention Center. While the show always has challenges, she looks forward to working it each year.
“Working outside has its own unique issues with the unpredictability of the weather and with so much going on everyone seems to need what they from you need right now,” Whitmire said. “But I like that the show is always different and I get to meet people from all across the world.”
Exhibitors at CES have one goal—to outdo every other exhibitor in the hall. Whether that goal is accomplished with flashy displays, loud music and dancers on multi-level platforms or by sheer size alone, it all made sense to some marketing professional thousands of miles away when he hatched the idea from his corner office. Reality, as often is the case, is a different story.
“The CES exhibitors are by far more creative than other shows’ exhibitors. This translates into more challenges for us,” said Jeremy Kitchens, an eight-year member of Local 631 working for Momentum Management. “My first show in 2004 was CES. The exhibitors come in with a basic idea, but no set plans. It really challenges you and tests how good you are under fire. I enjoy that aspect – if you don’t use your skills you lose them.”
Kitchens also discussed working with other trades on the show. With rigging and electrical demands comes the need to work hand-in-hand with members of IATSE and IBEW to create a finished product that meets the exhibitor’s expectations.
“There is so much interaction between the trades that you have to be careful not to step on each other’s toes,” Kitchens said. “For the most part, we work well together and get the job done.”
With such a massive undertaking, a successful show hinges on a cooperative environment not only between the workers on the show, but the exhibitors that come to Las Vegas to ply their wares. This is not always easy, as exhibitors try to bend the rules to get their product on the floor. Tools and ladders disappear as exhibitors try to do setup on their own, endangering themselves and everyone on the show floor.
“With a show like CES where we have wall-to-wall exhibits, negotiating the floor is a challenge,” said Michele Narloch, a 16-year member and freight foreman for GES. “For their own safety, we try and discourage exhibitors from bringing things onto the floor themselves. I know the exhibitors like coming here because the Teamsters treat them right.”
Dave Carter, a two-year member of Local 631, works installation and dismantling for Freeman. He believes that CES is the best example of the professionalism and skill of his Teamster brothers and sisters.
“We all have to work together to accomplish this big job by a specific deadline,” Carter said. “This is by far the biggest challenge of all the shows I work each year. Things aren’t always perfect but you have to work as hard and long as you can to make it show-ready.”
And, according to Local 631 Secretary-Treasurer Tommy Blitsch, no one does it better than the Las Vegas trade show and convention center members.
“I am extremely proud of our convention journeymen and apprentices,” Blitsch said. “Nobody can set up and tear out a convention show floor like our brothers and sisters of Teamsters Local 631. When these big shows come to Las Vegas our members move freight, roll carpet, set up booths and do whatever it takes to get the job done—on time, every time!”
A Good Living, A Good Life
Across town at the Sands Hotel and Casino, 18-year member Therese Mitchell crouches on the floor of an empty convention hall working on the framing of a door for a booth that will be a part of the NSSF 2013 Shot Show, a trade show for outdoor hunting and shooting companies.
The hall is a stark contrast from the mayhem at the Las Vegas Convention Center as a handful of workers start the preliminary work in the cavernous expo center for the show that will open in a week. Mitchell, a multiple interlocking system specialist that works for Freeman, has seen the industry in both its good and bad times.
“From 2008-2010, there wasn’t as much work as in previous years due to the downturn so it was tough to make a living since we weren’t working as frequently as in the past,” Mitchell said. “We are linked with the economy, so as it has improved so has our work.”
Mitchell is enjoying the busy season that runs from January-June each year and is happy to have a job that she truly looks forward to doing every day.
“The hours can be grueling in this business, but the work is truly satisfying when you see it all come together into a successful show,” Mitchell said.