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Arts and Culture

A stagehand union will picket in Portland over a labor dispute with the city

IATSE Strike
Chris Pizzello
An International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) office building is pictured, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021, in Burbank, Calif. The IATSE overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike for the first time in its 128-year history.

A Maine stage labor union is planning to picket in front of Portland's Merrill Auditorium Thursday evening over what it says are anti-union actions from the city.

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 114 had previously been the exclusive provider of stage labor for shows at Merrill under a signed agreement. But that agreement expired last year.

Douglas Born, the union's business agent, said that Local 114 had recently reached out to the city multiple times to renew the contract but had yet to reach a new agreement. Then last week, the union learned that a concert promoter planned to use a different labor provider for Thursday night's performance from comedian Chelsea Handler, Born said.

City spokesperson Jessica Grondin said that the concert's presenter, Live Nation, and not the city, is responsible for hiring and paying stage labor for the show.

Grondin said that after some questions about Local 114 being unable to provide enough stagehands for a recent production of "Rent," former City Manager Jon Jennings began to explore using a request for proposals process to hire stage labor.

"IATSE would certainly be eligible to submit a proposal during that RFP process. The RFP process hasn't begun yet, but we do expect to have that ready in the new year," Grondin said.

Born acknowledged that the union was shorthanded and unable to find enough staff for the performance of "Rent," but pushed back on the reasoning and blamed the situation on the nationwide labor shortage. Born said the union is hoping to continue to work with city staff and council members to reverse the decision and sign a new contract with exclusivity.

"In the immediate term, give us a memorandum of understanding. And in the long-term, come back to the table and give us that contract with exclusivity again," Born said.

The union met with city staff on Thursday to discuss the concerns. Grondin said that that IATSE has already been hired as the labor provider for several upcoming shows at Merrill, and the city has discussed a memorandum of understanding with the union.