Out-of-province workers crossing picket line to set up CNE, locked-out union says

Out-of-province replacement workers are setting up the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto as Exhibition Place continues to lock out unionized stagehands, says the union representing workers on the picket line.

IATSE Local 58 says Exhibition Place has brought in workers from Quebec

'It's disappointing and maddening to us that they are bringing in people from out of province to do this work when there is a completely competent workforce that they have locked out,' says Justin Antheunis, president of IATSE Local 58.

Out-of-province replacement workers are setting up the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto as Exhibition Place continues to lock out unionized stagehands, says the union representing skilled labourers on the picket line.

Exhibition Place has also rejected a proposal for binding arbitration from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 58, offered last week through a provincially appointed mediator. The union provides technical and staging expertise for venues at Exhibition Place, an entertainment and convention site. 

Justin Antheunis, president of IATSE Local 58, says the situation is frustrating because the Exhibition Place board of governors is taking work away from unionized Toronto workers at the same the time it is refusing to negotiate. 

"It's disappointing and maddening to us that they are bringing in people from out of province to do this work when there is a completely competent workforce that they have locked out, at a time when they are really talking about creating more jobs for Toronto workers," Antheunis told CBC Toronto on Sunday.

Antheunis said locked-out union members have witnessed workers arriving in vehicles with Quebec licence plates at the Exhibition Place grounds and crossing the picket line. 

The union estimates about two dozen workers from Quebec are setting up stages for the CNE Bandshell Concerts, the hall used by the SuperDogs and an area needed by the Aerial Acrobatics and Ice Skating Show. The workers are performing likely hundreds of hours of work, he added.

CNE to open most likely behind picket line

All of this means that the CNE, slated to open on Friday, is most likely going to be behind a picket line. 

"They are not trying to get a deal before the CNE opens. They are trying to break us down and to divide the unionized workforce in the city," Antheunis said. 

"Our members want to work. Our members pride themselves on the work that they do at the CNE every year and they are being denied this over an idea of helping out big business."

Antheunis said Exhibition Place is not raising budgetary concerns about wages but is instead trying to break the union.

"The whole point of this lockout is to loosen the ability of unionized workers to work on the grounds of Exhibition Place." 

Exhibition Place's negotiating team, led by a city labour relations official, rejected binding arbitration on Saturday. No explanation was given.

At issue in the labour dispute are outside contracts. The union is upset with the Exhibition Place board of governors' plan to bring in its own workers to set up and supervise events while they still don't have have a contract. Workers haven't had a contract since December of 2017.

IATSE Local 58 stages a rally at Toronto city hall. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Mayor says he doesn't want to talk about it

Mayor John Tory declined to comment on the labour dispute on Sunday, but did not deny that replacement workers from Quebec are doing work that could be done by skilled labourers based out of Toronto.

"In this case, Exhibition Place, where the CNE is held, has its own board of directors. It has its own negotiating committee. And so, they're the ones who have to comment on this. I will only say that we hope the CNE this year, as always, is a big success," he said.

"There was a proposal, I understand, put forward by Exhibition Place to have these labour matters dealt with after the CNE and that was expressly rejected by the union. And that's all I know."

When pressed on the issue of out-of-province labour, Tory said he wouldn't comment on it because that would mean inserting himself into the negotiations between the union and board of governors. 

Mayor John Tory did not deny on Sunday that replacement workers from Quebec are doing work that could be done by skilled labourers based out of Toronto. (John Rieti/CBC)

"That's never the way to get things done in the public interest, no matter who is perceived to be at fault or no matter whose responsibility it is," he said. 

Union says Tory not showing 'true leadership'

Antheunis said Tory is not showing "true leadership" by declining to comment.

The union, which represents about 450 employees in Toronto, has been blocked from working at Exhibition Place since July 20. Venues affected by the lockout include BMO Field, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Coca Cola Coliseum and the Enercare Centre.

On Sunday, the union picketed an area of the Exhibition Grounds to provide lockout information to people attending the Toronto FC match at BMO Field.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. is bringing in its own Toronto workers to staff sporting events, according to IATSE.

Board member defends out-of-province workers

Meanwhile, Coun. Justin Di Ciano, vice-chair of the Exhibition Place board of governors, defended the use of out-of-province replacement workers on Sunday.

"I would say to all voters in the city that we are looking at making Exhibition grounds more sustainable," he told CBC Toronto.

"I'm looking to establish what's in the best interest of one of Canada's most premier events centres, which is in the city of Toronto, and that's Exhibition grounds."

Di Ciano said the issue is larger than one sector of the labour force, adding that the bottom line is about driving revenue.

"You can't tell me that more investments in the city are going to harm anybody. It's going to benefit everybody and that's what we want to do."

Di Ciano added that both parties should come back to the bargaining table and negotiate an agreement that will allow Exhibition Place to be more competitive.

"We really want IATSE to come back to the table in good faith. They said they are going to be there in good faith. We haven't seen good faith. We want them to understand, from our perspective, the challenges we have," he said.

"We need the revenue. We're a self-governed organization in a sense that it's the money we produce that goes back into the grounds to make it a better events centre. So, we really need them to understand, from our perspective, the perils of where we are in terms of how we operate and we hope that they see that."

With files from Greg Ross