Talks break off between Exhibition Place, locked out stagehands

The union representing workers locked out of Toronto's Exhibition Place said the city walked away from the bargaining table on Friday.

Talks scheduled for Sunday now in 'serious jeopardy,' president of IATSE Local 58 says

Picketing workers from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) walk the picket line in front of the Canadian National Exhibition. (Cole Burston/Canadian Press)

The union that represents stagehands locked out of Exhibition Place says talks with the venue's board of governors have broken off.

Justin Antheunis, the president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 58, said the city walked away from the bargaining table on Friday after 12 hours of talks with city lawyers and labour relations personnel.

Antheunis said that talks scheduled for Sunday are now in "serious jeopardy."

The union says its main issue is the board wanting to be able to contract out IATSE work at Exhibition Place. In a statement Saturday morning, the union said the city walked away from the table stating they had a clear mandate not to consider concessions on contracting out IATSE jobs.

"I'm disappointed," said Antheunis. He said he believes the Exhibition Place board is not interested in reaching a deal. 

"I expected more from the city, after they had a special council meeting and they debated behind closed doors for over three hours as to where to go forward with this. Obviously, the board of governors doesn't feel they need to follow the lead of the mayor."

The chair of the Exhibition Place board of governors, Coun. Mark Grimes, said he was disappointed they could not achieve a resolution on Friday. He said that any deal must ensure the venue stays competitive and the board will not accept a deal that isn't in the best interest of Exhibition Place.

"We wanted nothing more than to resolve this matter," said Grimes in an emailed statement. "However, we have been consistent through this process that any deal must ensure the competitiveness of Exhibition Place in what is a highly competitive ‎market."

Justin Antheunis is the president of the IATSE Local 58 union.

Grimes said the board has advised the union, through the mediator, that it will continue trying to find a solution to the dispute.  

"We have invited the union to provide a fulsome response to the comprehensive set of proposals tabled by the board yesterday," he said.

Mayor says he wants to see parties back at the table

The Exhibition Place board reports to Toronto city council, and is made up of a designate for the mayor, four
council members and four public appointees, according to its website.

On Saturday, Mayor John Tory said he wants to see the parties trying to reach an agreement that's fair for both the workers and Exhibition Place.

Tory said he understands Exhibition Place invited the union back to the bargaining table on Sunday, and he hopes both sides resume talks.

At the special meeting about the negotiations on Tuesday, city council passed a motion confirming confidential instructions sent to city staff. After Tuesday's meeting, Tory said the instructions were "meant to move us in the direction I think we should all be moving, which is to get people back at the negotiating table...and to also use the means that are described in the instructions to staff as an opportunity to bring the lockout to an end."

Antheunis said the Exhibition Place board is "paying lip service to city council". He said it was clear the city does not want to budge from its position.

"The city was not willing to move on any of their contracting-out language and, in fact, doubled down on some of them even harder," he said. 

 A city staff person is expected to contact Antheunis on Saturday if the board decides it is willing to change its position.

Mayor John Tory spoke to reporters about the lockout Saturday at Tamil Fest. (CBC)

"We told them that they need to be able to move on that contracting-out language tomorrow," Antheunis said.

When asked about contracting out on Saturday, Mayor Tory said it's not up to him to suggest a solution.

No talks were scheduled for Saturday because the mediator was not available.

Picketing continues at CNE

Grimes said the union is having a "emotional response."

"What we have heard from the union, today, is an emotional response to a lack of a resolution of this matter. That's understandable," Grimes said in his statement. "However, we aren't going to allow emotion to cloud our judgement and accept a deal that is not in the best interest of Exhibition Place."

Picketing outside the annual Canadian National Exhibition resumed on Saturday morning.

About 400 stagehands and technical workers employed by Exhibition Place — where the CNE is a tenant — have been locked out since July 20. The workers have been without a contract since December.

The negotiations had resumed just days after the head of the CNE sent a letter to Toronto's mayor and city councillors saying the labour dispute could cost the annual fair more than $1.5 million.