The Shaw Festival locked out members of IA Local 461 Facilities Department at 5 p.m. yesterday as the result of a labour dispute that has remained unresolved since August, 2008. At the same time Local 461 members in the Production and Audience Services Departments went on strike in solidarity with and support of their locked out colleagues.
With all but one of the contract issues having been agreed to, the Festival had been put on notice that a lockout of the Facilities members would trigger a strike by other departments of the Local.
The remaining issue is the Festival’s desire to have the ability to replace, in whole or in part, union employees with others who would work under a contract service. With all other issues having been settled, the lockout left members of Local 461 frustrated with the intransigence of Festival management. The lockout, which was announced at a 4 p.m. company meeting yesterday, just an hour prior to the action, follows repeated attempts on the part of Local 461 to gain their first contract with the Festival for the 16 members of the Facilities Department, which includes housekeeping, grounds crew, and maintenance staff at the Festival’s three venues.
The Festival has characterized its position as having “committed that there would be no contracting out of any work during the life of the collective agreement.” According to Local 461 President Doug Ledingham, “This is misleading. The actual offer was to suspend any contracting out until after Dec. 31, 2011, after which they would again have the ability to replace these employees at any point.”
The Festival has complained that any labour action would jeopardize the entire season, possibly resulting in its cancellation. Ironically, it is the Festival which has triggered the labour action. The Shaw Festival is the second largest repertory theatre company in North America, with an operating budget of over $20 million, and the disagreement is over the job security of 16 housekeeping and maintenance jobs; most of which have existed for the entire life of the Festival.
The Festival has also indicated that the union’s position is an absolute ban on contracting out. Ledingham says, “This is categorically untrue. The union’s negotiators have offered up language which would allow for contracting out on a temporary basis for reasons of expertise or temporary need. The Local will not, however, accept a contract which allows for the permanent displacement of members by a contracting service.”
In the 25-year association of Local 461 with the Shaw Festival, this is the first time that there has been a strike or lockout between the two. Local 461 is committed to standing behind all of its members. Added Ledingham, “Local 461 will not be bullied into accepting a contract which allows the jobs of its members to be auctioned off.”