Written by Joe Toback, edited by David Goldstein, revised by L. Michael Pointer

The Union Hiring Hall is based on a telephone dispatch system. In order to be eligible to use our Hiring Hall both Members- A List Installers, and Applicants - B & C List Installers, must remain in good standing with the Union. Any member or applicant who is in good standing will be dispatched according to the Unionís Hiring Hall procedures. For Aís good standing means dues must be paid up to date. All Aís are dispatched by seniority. For Bís and Cís good standing means that a B or C List Installer must register each year and pay the annual registration fee. Bís are dispatched in alphabetical order; Cís are dispatched by an assigned number.

The first rule to remember about our procedures: with the sole exception of A list installers who are called by name, no installer may take a job without a dispatch from the Union. This prohibition includes Aís who are asked to work for a company but are not on the call by name and it includes Bís and Cís who may have agreed to work for company. No B or C lister may take a job directly from a company; anyone on the jobsite without a dispatch from the Union is in violation of our Hiring Hall procedures and can be subject to penalties including removal from the Union.

Our telephone dispatch system was designed to make getting a job as fair and simple as possible. On most days we dispatch beginning at 3:00 p.m. for work the next day. Typically the Aís are dispatched from 3:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. or whenever all the Aís are dispatched. The B dispatch begins at 4:00 p.m. or after all the Aís are dispatched, and the Cís are dispatched after all the Bís have an opportunity to get work for the next day. Because the Bís are waiting for all the Aís to be dispatched and the Cís are waiting for the Bís, their dispatches cannot be set for a time certain. Patience will sometimes be required, as we may not get to the Bís until 4:30 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. and sometimes the C dispatch does not begin until 5:30 p.m. or 6:00 p.m. When there are delays we try to update the B tape at 4:00 p.m. to give a sense of where we are and we try to update the C tape at 4:30 p.m.

Issues of dispatch controversy have rumbled through the installer group since the beginning of time as we know it. There have been questions about dispatch since there has been a dispatch and that will almost certainly be a perpetual condition. Since the dispatch procedures are part of our collective bargaining agreement, they can only be changed when the contract is renegotiated.

This guide is an attempt to clarify the workings of Local 510ís dispatch system.

Take a large group of people and throw them in a pot where the need for workers varies without warning, where every job is different, where nothing is predictable Ė add to this mixture the uncertainty of personality: ďI canít work Tuesday and Thursday, only Wednesday, I wonít work for companies A or B, only for company C, Iíll go to work if I feel O.K. tomorrow, I forgot to call the tape, I wonít work outside of San Francisco, I donít want to work unless I can get two full daysĒ. These sentiments are expressed to the dispatcher each and every day.

At the same time throw into the pot outside pressures, e.g. challenges to jurisdiction from exhibitors, exhibit managers, non-union contractors, and other unions Ė add to that the interests of the business community and the city politicians. On top of all those factors, consider issues of company favoritism, discrimination, ďcronyismĒ. The end result is a complicated soup affecting our dispatch system.

With all of these factors thrown together itís no wonder that the installers as a group tend to often misunderstand the functions of the dispatch system.

Tip #1: Phone the dispatch line often (but not too often)

The dispatch lines are updated in the morning when needed, at 3:00 p.m. daily for the Aís and 4:00 p.m. for the Bís. When we have work, ďemergencyĒ dispatches tend to occur from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. when they do happen, and on busy days we update all day long.

Tip #2: Donít always believe the dispatch line as gospel truth

The dispatch line is only a guideline to information and is based on input from our employers. Therefore, what is true in the morning may not be true in the afternoon. Thus, ďDoesnít look promising for dispatchĒ or ďLooks like the bulk of the calls will be for TuesdayĒ can drastically change at a momentís notice. Donít give up checking the dispatch line at 3:00 p.m. even if things are slow. You might miss out.

Tip #3: Use the phone effectively

You need to have a telephone in order to be contacted. Itís amazing how many installers do not have current phone numbers on file with the Union. All installers should have an answering machine. If youíre an active person and not often at home, a pager or cell phone will help you get work. You canít get a message if there is no person or machine to answer the phone. If work schedules change and the employer or the Union make a reasonable effort to contact you, you will not be paid for showing up at the wrong place or the wrong time. You must use the message system in order to find out about the availability of work. When you use cell phones or pay phones to dial our toll-free number, you double the phone fees. You pay and the Union pays for the call.

Using the phone effectively means not blocking up phone lines unnecessarily. Anyone obsessively checking the phone lines every thirty seconds with an auto dialer can slow down the dispatch process. Displaying anxiety to work in this fashion will not get you more work, it will only block up our channels of communication.

Similarly, itís a bad practice to give out the A line number to friends who are Bís and Cís. By listening to the A line they will slow down the flow of information. The information relevant to them will be on their own lines. Also there is the additional cost.

More than half of the membership lives out of area code 415. You will not get a priority in getting through if you are calling long distance, because all phone calls are taken in the order that they are received. Dispatch by telephone is a convenience not offered by too many other Unions. Think about all the time youíd waste if you had to sit around a hiring hall waiting to see about the possibility of work. Check with your phone company regarding discounts for long distance rates.

Please donít phone in with questions and problems at or around 3:00 p.m. The dispatcher is usually busy with dispatch in the afternoon. When phoning in for dispatch please keep questions to a minimum. The lines are usually filled with people waiting their turn for dispatch.

Please do not call out-of-turn. This also slows down the procedure. Calling in directly to get information that is available on the tape takes up too much of the dispatcherís time. When you do call directly for dispatch, call 468-7283. This allows our other phone lines to remain free for Union Business.

Finally, listen to the entire message on the tape you are calling (A, B or C) before phoning the dispatcher. The dispatcher does not repeat the information on the tape and will hang up the phone if you are unprepared on where you want to work and the time to report.

Monthly Schedule

The monthly schedule is based on information that comes in from many sources. It is ready by the second Wednesday of each month. The schedule serves as a guideline to the possibility of work. The schedule is quite often inaccurate due to last minute changes in show dates and times. The available time between shows is an important indicator as to whether or not you may or may not get out to work. Crew size usually increases when set-up time decreases.

Booth size is another indicator of crew size. Generally speaking, a show of 1000 booths or more can involve a substantial part of the A list or the whole list. However, experience will teach you the exceptions (e.g., the Auto Show where there may be as few as 50 booths). Itís important to recognize the ďtableĒ shows which are not labor intensive but show a high number of booths (e.g., Travel, Gift, Craft and School Administration Shows).

Shows that overlap also produce more likely days to work (e.g., two shows that open or close on the same day). Anytime there is an overlap between a large Santa Clara or San Jose show and one at Moscone, there is a possibility the A, B and possibly C lists could be working.

Tip #4: Do not rely on the monthly schedule or the tape messages as the unchangeable truth.

The facts are constantly changing. Experience has taught the dispatcher that there is a less than 50% accuracy rate on predicting how far a dispatch will go on any given day. Similarly, the forepersons have stated the same odds. This means that those people controlling the workflow can only guess as to how many people will be working on a given day. The odds of predicting a dispatch are about the same as predicting the weather.

Getting the most work possible

Tip #5: The golden rule of getting the most work possible: Anyone who is available for any work at any time on any day at any place will get the most work possible.

If the dispatcher and the forepersons canít do it, neither can you. Donít ask the dispatcher to try to predict the future for you.

The dispatch generally occurs from three to five p.m. on any given day. Dispatches are announced by seniority number for the Aís, alphabetically for the Bís and by assigned numbers for the Cís. The dispatch information is changed regularly during dispatch to allow people in each number range to call in.

Dispatch while on the clock

If you are on a job and want to know about work coming up, go to your job steward who is the official Union liaison on the job. Please donít harangue or harass the steward. Ask the steward if there is any information on the next dayís dispatch. Under our Agreement, the steward may assist the business representative of the Union in a subsequent dispatch.

If the employer that you are currently working for plans to keep you on the job, you cannot elect to jump onto a new dispatch. You already have a job and cannot take another dispatch until that job is completed.


There are many ways in which installers impose their own limits about how much work they will receive. The most common ones which limit work possibilities by twenty to thirty percent are:

1. The refusal to work anywhere outside of San Francisco. In the last few years a huge chunk of work has developed in Santa Clara, San Jose and Monterey. If you wonít travel for the work, you wonít get as much of it. Good public transportation is available to all Peninsula and East Bay worksites.

2. Refusal to work for anyone but the main contractors. Since the opening of Moscone Center, ďset-upĒ companies have increased in number and amount of work and have become a fact of life in the trade show industry. These companies have established regular crews who work only for one company.

Those who hold out for working only for the general contractors may find themselves missing many opportunities for work.

3. The Guessing Game. Some people regard the dispatch as a constant gamble. ďIf I canít get two full days of work, itís not worth my timeĒ. Again, each dispatch holds a 50/50 chance of going more than four hours. A job that looks small can get bigger at a momentís notice.

4. Outside pressures and priorities. Itís extremely difficult to maintain your family and social life during a busy installer work season. Itís impossible to plan an after-work schedule and deal with random overtime at the same time. If you do not identify your priorities you may find yourself up against a wall of frustration. Going to night school or your class reunion may be more important to you than work. If thatís the case, notify your foreperson well in advance that you wonít be able to work past 5 p.m. on a given day. Attempting to leave all options open until the last minute will usually lead to trouble.

5. Personality Conflicts. Throw a couple of hundred people into a big room together and someone will end up rubbing someone else the wrong way. If the antagonism happens to be between a worker and his/her foreperson, the result may be a loss in work. This leads to the broader issue of:

6. Attitude. One day I was standing at the sign-in desk talking to the foreperson. At 8:10 a.m. a worker rushed up to the desk and stated, ďI know Iím late. I donít want any lectures. Iím a grown man. Just sign me in or send me home.Ē There was a hostile tone in his voice, no apologies. The foreperson looked up. ďFine, you can go homeĒ he responded. Five seconds later the worker was asking if he could please stay. It was clear to me that the workerís attitude was directly related to how long he was going to stay on the job. As a worker you need to convey a willingness to get the job done.

Itís very easy to take decisions on callback and layoffs personally. In my experience at least 95% of those decisions are made in a fairly random manner. However, some people do get labeled as ďpoor workersĒ. A good portion of the time that label is attributed to the workerís attitude. If the foreperson believes that you are not willing to work he/she may place you in the ďundependableĒ category.

The surest way to get on the undependable list is to be consistently late or to constantly leave a job before it is finished. Anyone who shows up regularly in an impaired state is also considered undependable.

Willingness to learnis a key to improvement of job performance. Even after twenty years on the job there will always be a way to learn something new or improve your jobskills.


Ninety-nine and one half percent of all rumors heard on the show floor are untrue or greatly exaggerated!!!! When you hear that hours have been raised, dues are skyrocketing or that Union Repís salaries are equivalent to those of the CEOís for the major corporations, donít panic. Ask questions before you decide to believe a rumor, and always consider the source.

If you have a question about dispatch, please feel free to ask. Dispatch records are accessible to all members. The dispatch system belongs to the membership. It is designed to change as our needs change. Using the system correctly should help you get the most work.