Lockout hurting ticket sales at CNE, says CEO

The CEO of the Canadian National Exhibition says the ongoing lockout is significantly impacting attendance and revenues this year.

$1.5M in projected losses as picketing continues, Virginia Ludy says

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

The CEO of the Canadian National Exhibition says the ongoing lockout is having a "significant negative impact" on attendance and revenue, with $1.5 million in projected losses so far.

"It's evident that the pickets at the gates are having an effect," said CEO Virginia Ludy. She sent a letter to the mayor and city councillors on Tuesday expressing her growing concerns about the lockout and its impact on the CNE.

"I think that there are some folks in the community who just don't feel comfortable crossing a picket line."

In her letter, Ludy urged the city and the Exhibition Place board of governors to re-engage with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 58, and for the union to end its picketing and resolve the dispute as quickly as possible.

"This stalemate cannot continue," wrote Ludy. "The CNE has only 14 days, including today, to try to recoup our early losses, reverse the negative messages regarding the picketing and put the focus back on the terrific programming on display at this year's CNE."

The letter came the same day as city council held a special meeting on the labour dispute, which took place behind closed doors.

Members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 58 have been locked out since July 20, and are picketing on the Exhibition Grounds. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Stagehands and technical employees of IATSE Local 58 have been locked out of the Exhibition grounds since July 20, amid contract negotiations. The union handles technical work for live entertainment on the grounds, including stage-building, sound, lighting, video and special effects.

Members have been picketing on the grounds and outside city hall, demanding the Exhibition Place board of governors come back to the bargaining table.

City council holds closed-door meeting

The Exhibition Place board reports directly to the Toronto city council, which passed a motion confirming confidential instructions to staff during Tuesday's meeting.

Mayor John 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."

Tory said that ultimately it has to be the Exhibition Place board of governors that determines what happens. He said a request has been made, concurred by the board chair, to consider some steps toward discussing outstanding issues with a view to ending the lockout.

Dispute over contracting work

Justin Antheunis, president of Local 58, said he's saddened to see the CNE caught in the middle of this labour dispute. He said this shows that the city "doesn't seem to really care" how the dispute is affecting the CNE, and says he's disappointed that Tuesday's meeting took place out of public view.

Antheuni, said the labour dispute is primarily over the board wanting to contract out work done on the Ex grounds, instead of using IATSE union workers. 

The Exhibition Place board, chaired by Coun. Mark Grimes, has said the next collective agreement needs to ensure that venues at the downtown site — including BMO Field, Queen Elizabeth Theatre and the Enercare Centre — remain competitive.

The union's agreement expired at the end of 2017.

The CNE was not consulted prior to the lockout, said CEO Virginia Ludy, who urges all parties to get back to the negotiating table. (Canadian National Exhibition)

Ludy says the picketing, the union's "negative" social media activities and media coverage, have discouraged ticket sales for the annual Toronto fair.

There was also initially some confusion, she said, with some people thinking it was the CNE that locked people out. In fact, the CNE has no part in the dispute or negotiations, Ludy said, and had not been consulted before the lockout.

"These are not our workers," said Ludy. "Our landlord has made the decision to lock their workers out.

CNE made offers to union

The CNE made offers to the union, Ludy said, including offering them space inside the fair grounds to "peacefully interact" and provide information to guests, instead of picketing.

They also offered the union members the opportunity to work at the CNE through a third party; and more recently to work through a direct contract with the CNE. The union declined that offer, saying it would cause divides between members. The CNE is just one tenant on the Ex grounds, Antheunis said, so there would still be other union workers picketing. 

Mayor John Tory said the instructions to city staff are meant to move things in the direction of ending the labour dispute. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

In her letter, Ludy said the CNE contributes about 20 per cent of the projected 2018 revenues at Exhibition Place and has prepaid $3.7 million to Exhibition Place for this summer's fair.

Ludy says that while they're hoping to make up some of the lost revenue in the coming days, $1.5 million "is a big number to be chasing." She said they could potentially see further losses if picketing continues.

Ludy said the lockout has also led to increased expenses. The CNE has hired temporary workers to fill in, as well as reassigning some other workers' duties.IATSE is a highly-skilled union, she said, and the temporary workers are not as familiar with the site and just not as efficient.The dispute also means additional security, housing, food and legal fees, she said.