Representatives of IA Local 461, expecting to complete over a year of negotiations for three contracts with the Shaw Festival Foundation were stonewalled today when Shaw management declined to appear at a scheduled conciliation hearing.
Although the IA has had a good working relationship with the Shaw Festival for over 25 years, negotiations or contracts for production, audience services and facilities have broken down on the basis of the Festival’s desire to cut health benefits for the facilities workers without any compensation.
In December 2009, the Festival filed for conciliation and threatened to lock out IA members in the Facilities bargaining unit. The production and audience services contracts expired in November, 2008, and it was decided that all three contracts would be brought to conciliation on the same date.
Today, IA representatives came to the conciliation meeting prepared to negotiate and resolve the issues. Management of the Festival chose not to attend and instead sent junior legal counsel in its place with the instruction to ask the conciliator for a no board report on all three contracts, indicating no resolution is in sight. This puts the Festival’s management in a position to legally lock out IA members approximately 14 days from the receipt of the conciliator’s report.
Doug Ledingham, president of Local 461, which is based in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, pledged support to all of the Local’s members. He said, “These facilities workers are lower-paying jobs at $11 per hour, and some have been employed by the Festival for over 20 years. We have now won the right to represent them and we will not accept any take-backs in wages and health benefits.”
The Shaw Festival has released its 2009 Annual Report, showing the Festival to be in a stronger economic position going into the 2010 season than it was in the past year, partly due to several major donations. The Festival has an economic impact estimated at $76.6 million annually, attracting an estimated 78,300 tourists throughout its season, nearly half of them from outside of Canada. The Festival has also boasted of supporting the equivalent of 1150 year-round jobs in the Niagara region, contributing $20.9 million in tax revenue at all levels of government.
President Ledingham further stated, “Given the strong financial health of the Festival, this attack on the benefits of these historically underpaid workers is not only unwarranted, but unjustifiable.”