Playhouse Square Reaches Agreement with Union Projectionists Ahead of CIFF46

click to enlarge Playhouse Square Reaches Agreement with Union Projectionists Ahead of CIFF46
Cleveland International Film Fest 46

A resolution over staffing at the Cleveland International Film Festival was tentatively reached at a meeting Saturday morning between Playhouse Square leadership and video projectionists with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 160. North Shore AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Dan O'Malley told Scene in a weekend text message that "everyone walked away satisfied."

Though CIFF is contracting with a local company to provide digital video equipment and non-union technicians to operate it, the IATSE contract with Playhouse Square specifies that union projectionists must be hired when movies are played at its theaters. Playhouse Square CEO Gina Vernaci argued that because the Film Fest was not technically a Playhouse Square presentation—this was a third party leasing Playhouse Square's auditoriums—it represented a loophole in the contract.

But after a letter from area legislators and pressure from the North Shore AFL-CIO, who threatened to picket CIFF and call for a boycott, Vernaci agreed to meet with IATSE and find a solution.

John Galinac, Local 160's President, told Scene Saturday that the agreement would accommodate three IATSE operators for all hours of the festival through its 12-day run. They would would be on hand to rotate among the six theaters where movies will be shown and provide technical assistance as needed. 

"This doesn't modify the existing contract at all," Galinac said, "this is a special situation, because they're renting almost all digital equipment where you press a button, and a movie runs for an hour and a half. But we managed to compromise."

Galinac said that he almost felt bad for Vernaci during the meeting, but that she simply didn't have a right to decide the existing contract didn't apply to the Film Fest.

"[Former Playhouse Square Executive Director] Art Falco signed that contract," Galinac said, "and Gina's attitude is that Art's gone, so it's her call. But that's not how labor law works. When an entity signs a contract, they have to stand by it."

Galinac said he was relieved to have ironed out the dispute and was looking forward to getting something in writing, but said that in general, he wished there was more respect from executive leadership for the labor (and financial struggles) of working people, especially the unions that have historically been champions of Playhouse Square and the arts in Cleveland.

"I got nothing against these non-union technicians," Galinac said, "but we were one of the original unions out there doing everything we could to save Playhouse Square when it could've become parking lots."

Scene learned Saturday that both Mayor Justin Bibb and Sen. Sherrod Brown were advocating for negotiations behind the scenes Friday as well. Both elected leaders called Vernaci and communicated the importance of the Film Fest to Cleveland and the dignity of workers. (Galinac told Scene he thought the call from Sen. Brown may have been "the straw that broke the camel's back" in terms of motivating Vernaci to come to the table.)

Bibb is scheduled to deliver opening night remarks at CIFF March 30, but he was prepared to back out of that engagement if the dispute was not satisfactorily resolved.

City Hall sources told Scene that Bibb did not convey directly his plan to back out of his opening night remarks, hoping to pursue negotiations first. He encouraged Playhouse Square to meet with Local 160 and even offered City Hall as a venue for a meeting Tuesday. Vernaci said that she would meet with the union Saturday morning.

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