Local Labor Org Could Picket CIFF, Call for Boycott if Dispute With Union Projectionists Not Resolved

click to enlarge Local Labor Org Could Picket CIFF, Call for Boycott if Dispute With Union Projectionists Not Resolved
Cleveland International Film Fest 46
The North Shore AFL-CIO and its allies are prepared to picket the Cleveland International Film Festival and may call on community organizations to back out of film sponsorships if a dispute with union projectionists is not resolved before opening night.

Dan O'Malley, the North Shore AFL-CIO's Executive Secretary, told Scene Friday that a recent conversation with Playhouse Square CEO Gina Vernaci "went nowhere" and that the theater district has been unwilling to negotiate. 

O'Malley penned a letter earlier this week in which he came to the defense of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 160, whose projectionists operate the film and digital video equipment at Playhouse Square. The projectionists were informed that their services would not be required for CIFF46, which runs from March 30 through April 9, and that CIFF would instead be using non-union projectionists.

Playhouse Square leadership has contended that the collective bargaining agreement with Local 160 does not apply to events in which Playhouse Square rents out its facilities to third parties. This is a "loophole" in the contract, according to Playhouse Square.

But other Playhouse Square employees, including box office workers, concession workers, ushers and union stagehands will be working the Film Fest. And Local 160's president, John Galinac, told Scene that his projectionists have staffed outside events for the duration of their contract, including opening night screenings for CIFF in previous years. 

"Our five year contract expires June 30," he told Scene, "which means we've been working there for four years, nine months. And we've never had this loophole issue before."

Galinac said that CIFF will feature movies playing across six screens and that in virtually all cases, it will be digital video, not 35mm film, that will be projected. CIFF will, in that case, be renting digital video equipment from a local company, and Galinac suspected that that company would provide technicians of its own. In the past, he said, even when Playhouse Square rented digital equipment, a Local 160 operator worked alongside these technicians.

"We've been running movies there since those buildings opened," he said. "And it's not like we ever know if a movie is being presented by Huntington Bank or whoever. All I know is the equipment is under our jurisdiction. We install it. We maintain it. We operate it. And we remove it. And that's what we've been doing." 

O'Malley said that Local 160 reached out to the AFL-CIO and that he made attempts to contact both Playhouse Square and CIFF on their behalf. O'Malley said that when he spoke with Vernaci, she stood fast to her position that the union contract was not applicable. She also advised O'Malley that she would instruct CIFF not to speak to him or Local 160. 

"It's the most demented Abbott and Costello routine I've ever seen," O'Malley said. "I don't understand how they can have it both ways. On one hand, Playhouse Square is saying it's not their event. On the other hand, they're saying don't contact CIFF, because the dispute is between 160 and Playhouse Square."

O'Malley said that in his letter he was very careful not to call for a boycott, but that Playhouse Square's unwillingness to negotiate has been "infuriating." 

"We weren't asking for a lot," he said. "We just wanted a conversation so that we could get this resolved to the satisfaction of all involved. But it's hard to do that when one side won't even look in your direction."

O'Malley said that the AFL-CIO had received unsolicited emails from individuals and organizations who had either asked for refunds from the Film Fest or were seeking advice on whether or not to pull their sponsorships.

"Our position has been, 'stay tuned,'" O'Malley said. "But as we get closer to the film fest, one day after another with no contact or progress, it's not hard to imagine we're going to get to that point. If this doesn't get resolved, we'll be picketing out front opening night and on every night."

When reached by Scene, CIFF had no comment on the ongoing dispute and directed all inquiries to Playhouse Square. The spokeswoman to whom we were directed has not yet responded to our voicemail or email. 

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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