Unions urge teachers to avoid Royal Winter Fair amid lockout

Two unions representing Ontario teachers are urging members not to take school groups to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair this year to show support for locked-out stagehands.

Not bringing school groups to annual fair would show support for locked out stagehands, union says

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation is urging its members, where possible, to avoid organizing field trips to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair because the event will be behind a picket line this year. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

At least two unions representing Ontario teachers are urging members not to take school groups to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair this year to show support for locked-out stagehands.

The fair opens on Friday at Exhibition Place in Toronto, but it will be behind a picket line staffed by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), Local 58, which has been locked out of the entertainment venue since July.

At issue in the ongoing labour dispute is the contracting out of jobs. Both sides are said to be working toward scheduling new talks. 

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF), which represents more than 60,000 education workers, say they are reminding teachers that, wherever possible, they should plan and schedule field trips to events not being held at Exhibition Place.

"We've reminded our members that the IATSE local has been locked out by an employer who doesn't seem to be engaging in what we would consider to be sincere or good faith bargaining," Harvey Bischof, president of the OSSTF, told CBC Toronto on Wednesday.

"For that reason, at the very least, we would ask them if they are attending anything that is happening on exhibition grounds as a class trip to respect picket line protocols," Bischoff said.

Giant vegetables, such as carrots, watermelons, tomatoes, and pumpkins, are always a popular feature at the fair. (Bruce Reeve/CBC News)

Picket line protocol typically means waiting at the picket line for a prescribed time, accepting information provided by picketers, then crossing the line when invited to do so, he said.

On Thursday, Sam Hammond, President of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, tweeted that his union is also urging its members not to cross the picket line.

Move shows solidarity, union says

The move is intended to show solidarity with the broader labour movement, he said.

In a message to members dated Oct. 19, the OSSTF notes that the lockout began on July 20.

"During this time, the Board of Governors of Exhibition Place has not engaged in proper bargaining with Local 58 and continues to put forward positions that are solely meant to remove jobs that the members of IATSE Local 58 have been providing for the City of Toronto for generations," the message reads.

In addition to the fair, the message urges teachers not to plan and schedule trips to such events as Toronto Marlies hockey games, performances at Medieval Times or concerts at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, all of which are held at Exhibition Place.

More than 5,000 animals are expected to be on display at the fair. (Bruce Reeve/CBC News)

The OSSTF represents public high school teachers, occasional teachers, educational assistants, continuing education teachers and instructors, early childhood educators, psychologists and support staff. Roughly 15,000 of its members are in the Greater Toronto Area.

Events 'caught in the middle' of dispute

Justin Antheunis, president of IATSE Local 58, said the show of support is "fantastic," but says he is saddened that Exhibition Place events are being affected by the ongoing labour dispute. He said the event organizers are tenants of Exhibition Place, they still have to pay rent to the city, and this dispute is not a result of their actions.

"It shows that, as a united labour front, we can take on these attacks on the working people in the city of Toronto," he said. "Again, I feel bad for all of these events that are caught in the middle of this pointless labour lockout. They aren't the ones who locked us out."

Teachers, however, have been steadfast in their support of the stagehands, he said. They understand they may need support from other unions when they negotiate contracts with the new provincial government, he said.

"With this kind of support during these difficult times for Local 58, it makes it easier to keep our heads up high. Solidarity in the labour movement is the key to the fight for workers' rights."

A sheepdog chases some sheep at the Royal. Justin Antheunis, president of IATSE Local 58, says he is saddened that the ongoing labour dispute is affecting events at Exhibition Place. (Bruce Reeve/CBC News)

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) says it wants its members to show solidarity with IATSE workers.

"Members have been encouraged to send a message of support for the IATSE workers to Toronto Mayor John Tory and be mindful that they and their students would be crossing a picket line should they choose to attend the Royal Winter Fair," ETFO said in a statement to CBC Toronto. 

Royal has drawn up contingency plans

Charlie Johnstone, CEO of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, said the organizers of the fair have drawn up contingency plans to ensure the event, which includes the horse show, goes on.

"The labour dispute at Exhibition Place is between the City of Toronto and IATSE Local 58, we, as a tenant of the Exhibition Place since 1922, respect IATSE Local 58's right to provide information to the general public outside our facilities," Johnstone said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

"The relevance of our agricultural roots and understanding how our food comes from the Farm to our Table is perhaps more important today than at any time in recent memory.  We look forward to welcoming competitors, exhibitors and guests from around the world."

Coun. Mark Grimes, re-elected to council and chair of the Exhibition Place board of governors, said the next board of governors next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 15.

The Canadian National Exhibition, held at Exhibition Place in late summer, projected that it lost at least $1.5 million this year, in part because fair-goers declined to cross the picket line to attend the event.