Trade Show Carpenters Union

Trade Show Carpenters

Our members are the backbone of our organization and the reason why we exist. We work hard every day to build, maintain and improve our communities. We support each other and stand up
for our rights and interests.

We walk the walk when it comes to diversity and inclusion, while others merely talk the talk. We also care about our members — the whole person, not just the person doing the work. We are proud of the work we do, the expertise our team brings to every job and the understanding of all things Local 491 can be to its members.

Member spotlight

Sheila Jenkins

A smile. Positive energy. A good word to say about everyone. The human Energizer Bunny.

If you’ve had the pleasure of working with, or even just spending time with Sheila Jenkins, you know she is one of the great people in this world. She is someone to admire but also someone to learn from as a mentor and life coach.

Jenkins is a member of Trade Show Carpenters Local 491 of the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council and, in fact, will celebrate her 10th anniversary on Jan. 1, 2024. It’s her third career, following 20 years in the U.S. Army and 30 years as a nurse.

She became a trade show carpenter in 2014 after retiring from nursing because, she said, she had a passion for working with her hands. She wanted to experience the joy of building, following in the footsteps of her uncle who was a long-time builder in the Washington, D.C., area.

“I love the creativity I’m a part of at Local 491,” said Jenkins. “I love the building, the final result, the rush of putting up a show during

the five-day inbound, being proud of putting it all together and then taking it all down during the two-day outbound, and getting ready for the next show.”

Her peers recognize Jenkins as a terrific teammate, someone who brings a smile to work each day without fail. She sets high standards for doing a job properly and safely, while at the same time offering her less-experienced colleagues a sounding board, providing both technical advice and emotional support.

“Sheila is exemplary. She’s a hard worker, bubbly, always has a smile,” said Juaquin Duff, who serves as council representative business agent for the EAS Regional Council of Carpenters and works closely with Jenkins. “She embodies the type of member who wants people to succeed and do great work in a safe environment. She’s a bundle of positive energy.”

Jenkins’ leadership skills were evident early; she was promoted to a team lead as an apprentice, after being a member of Local 491 for just 18 months. The promotion was particularly notable because the apprenticeship program generally lasts three years before a member becomes a certified journeyperson carpenter, and Jenkins still had plenty to learn on the technical side of carpentry.

Jenkins said she believes her military background and her attention to doing things right help her stand out. She teaches her fellow carpenters to imagine each show as theirs and to treat it as their own property.

Being a woman in a predominantly male trade has never been an issue for Jenkins, she said, and she is proud that Local 491 is a place where everyone – male, female, young, old, any level of education – can succeed.

When she’s not working as a trade show carpenter, Jenkins enjoys spending time with her three children, four grandchildren and her extended family. She loves camping, hiking/backpacking and riding bikes – both pedal bikes and motorcycles.

One beloved tradition is her family’s “fall festival,” an annual camping trip every Thanksgiving weekend. Everyone pitches tents on the water and enjoys the outdoors. Her mother still attends, as do her eight siblings, along with cousins and grandchildren. It’s a massive outdoor party.

Jenkins said she has no plans to retire and enjoys the flexibility being a trade show carpenter gives her.

“I have to think young. If I think old, I feel old, and I can’t have that,” she said. “I love what I do, so it’s not a job. That’s what I believe. Coming to work is like exercise for me – I get paid to exercise.”

Good luck trying to keep up.

Juaquin Duff

Being a member of Trade Show Carpenters Local 491 of the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council is about being part of a team that emphasizes camaraderie and a positive culture that often feels like a family.

For Juaquin Duff, however, it actually is family. He is a second-generation member of Local 491, though he said he never expected to follow in the footsteps of his father, John, who spent 16 years with the union as a shop steward and rigger before retiring in 2017.

“Honestly I didn’t see it. I saw it as an opportunity to sustain myself while I got my own business off the ground,” said Duff, who will celebrate 20 years with Local 491 in April 2024. “It’s been a cool ride. It’s about passion coupled with my work ethic. The start-to-finish results of what we do is fulfilling. It feels like you accomplished something. It’s tangible.”

He describes being in the union as belonging to a larger work family, one that has provided a stable income, opportunities to grow and new challenges on a daily basis. Many members of Local 491 are second-generation carpenters, according to Duff.

“My father believed in doing what was right for his brothers and sisters,” said Duff. “He wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion and be a disruptor, in a good way, to negotiate for fair contracts.”

Duff serves as a council representative for the EAS Regional Council of Carpenters and business agent for Local 491. It’s one of many positions he’s held while learning the trade. He’s also taken on new responsibilities and earned several promotions during his two decades with the union.

Duff began his career working for several different contractors before settling at union contractor The Freeman Co. under Mike Jones, the current president of the Trade Show Contractors Association, for almost nine years. Duff worked trade shows to start, then became a warehouse supervisor before moving into business development.

Jones, the senior director of operations at Freeman, and Duff continue to work closely as the union has been stepping up recruiting efforts to help contractors deal with an influx of post-COVID work. Demand is up significantly for trade show carpenters in response to an increase in conventions, conferences and other in-person events. The Washington Convention Center, as one example, is essentially sold out for the next three years.

“Juaquin does an excellent job of recognizing the needs,” said Jones. “Everyone is looking for more help. We need more labor.”

At the same time, mentoring is a passion for Duff, so he jumped at the opportunity to become an instructor at the union’s training school. That opportunity came from Mike Hubbard, whom Duff calls a mentor. Hubbard, now retired, had served as a union officer and on the executive board during his tenure as well as being an instructor, and saw Duff as an excellent teacher and mentor in his own right.

For several years, Duff would spend four months a year as a training school instructor for apprentices and eight months working trade shows, a mix of responsibilities he embraced. He continues to teach journeypersons looking to upgrade their skills, while also being the liaison between the union and contractors, including Freeman, who employ union members.

In September 2021 Duff became business agent for Local 491, his current role.

Duff said he looks forward to growing union membership and continuing to teach.

“I’m passionate about the opportunity Local 491 provides,” he said. “It’s a good niche for people to build a great career, and not enough people know about it. We’ll always need talented carpenters. This isn’t a job where technology can replace the people.”

You look like a trade show carpenter.

The 7 best things about being a Trade Show Carpenter

Our members start the first day of their apprenticeship making a wage and benefits package that far exceeds what you’ll find in the gig economy or as a service worker.

In addition to great pay, healthcare benefits, an annuity and a pension, our members enjoy incredible flexibility and have access to unlimited free training for life, programs that lead to certifications and new skills — all of which can increase pay across your career.

The benefits

  • Earn while you learn
  • Excellent pay
  • Generous benefits
  • Flexible schedules
  • Unlimited training, opportunities
  • Inclusive, diverse team
  • Security

1-on-1 with our Senior Director of Operations

Mike Jones, The Freeman Co.

Mike Jones, senior director of operations at union contractor The Freeman Co., has been in the trade show business for more than three decades. Today, he said, there is more opportunity than ever for growth.

“The future looks great,” Jones said. “The East Coast is attractive as a convention base because of the high population concentration, and the Washington, D.C., area is perfect for internationals as well. Business is booming.”

The Washington Convention Center, Jones noted, is essentially sold out for the next three years. This kind of growth is not limited to the district and Baltimore corridor either.

According to IBISWorld data, the trade show industry grew by 24.7% in 2022, part of an accelerated rebound and increased demand for in-person events in the post-COVID economy. And market size for the trade show and conference planning industry is expected to increase for the next five years as well, according to IBISWorld.


Trade Show Carpenters Local 491 of the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council is a local union comprised of skilled professionals who build a variety of events and convention shows across the Baltimore-Washington region.

Our carpenters are specialists trained to build and install interior venues from the ground up, usually in a matter of days. Local 491 also builds opportunities and memories for our partners and those attending our world-class exhibits, displays and stages.

Some of those prestigious events include:

Start your journey today

Apply now to change your life

Join Local 491.

Entry-level Application Form
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Trade show carpenters need basic math skills. We’ll set up an in-person testing day for you. View our Sample Math Test so you will know what to expect.

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