Unionized workers locked out at Toronto's St. Lawrence Centre

Management at the city-owned St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in Toronto have locked out their unionized employees.

Management at a city-owned entertainment facility in Toronto have locked out their unionized employees after months of trying to reach a new agreement.

Negotiations between the Stage Technicians Union IATSE Local 58 and management at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts broke down early Saturday morning.

The facility's board of directors is hoping to change a clause in the current contract that requires management to continue paying employees even if there is no work.

"We need to stop paying people when they're not working," said Jim Roe, the centre's general manager.

"The decision to lock out our colleagues at IATSE Local 58 is one we do not take lightly," said Roe in a statement on the centre's website. "In order to ensure the services we offer Toronto's artistic community stay accessible and affordable, and in keeping with the direction from the City of Toronto to reduce costs and expenses, we are left with no other option."

The current contract requires the centre to provide between 42 and 47 weeks of employment for union members, he said, even though the facility is only in use for about 35 weeks of the year on average.

The two sides have been negotiating since February of this year.

They will continue to negotiate during the lockout. Roe said he received an email from the union president about returning to the negotiating table.

Union officials did not immediately return calls for comment.

The labour situation is starting to negatively affect the ability of arts groups in the city to operate, said Gary Crawford, a city councillor and St. Lawrence Centre board member.

The current contract "increases the costs to such a point where a theatre that wants to use the St. Lawrence Centre can't use it," he said.

The facility does 90 per cent of its business with not-for-profit theatre companies, Roe said, and the high costs of labour are making it difficult for them.

"They're taking less money in a market where they're already struggling with ticket sales."

The facility will continue to operate as usual during the lockout, Roe said, but he declined to say how they plan to do that if the union is unable to work.