Hotel strikes threaten weekend at Toronto fest

24-hour work stoppages planned for Saturday, Sunday

TORONTO – Rolling hotel strikes on the first weekend of the Toronto International Film Festival now threaten to sideswipe the public launch of Bell Lightbox on Sunday afternoon.

Christal Cruz-Haicken, a spokesman for United Here Local 75, whose striking workers held a one-day strike Friday at the swish Royal York Hotel, said 24-hour work stoppages were next planned for Saturday at the Holiday Inn on Bloor Street, and Sunday at the Hyatt Regency, the festival's host hotel on King Street.

The Sunday strike, complete with pickets, banging drums and chanting by unionized workers, will take place just as TIFF holds a street party one block over to launch Bell Lightbox, it's new year-round home.

Celso Thompson, a spokesman for the Hyatt Regency, said the hotel had not received official notification of a 24-hour strike on Sunday.

The Hyatt Regence already faced a one-day work stoppage by its unionized workers last week.

TIFF officials pledged Friday to go ahead with their public launch of Bell Lightbox on Sunday, despite threatened disruption by nearby striking hotel workers.

"Our block party is moving ahead as planned. We are thrilled to be opening TIFF Bell Lightbox on Sunday to film lovers from here in Toronto and around the world," festival spokeswoman Jennifer Bell said in a statement.
 
She added the festival continued to monitor the rolling labor action, and was in regular contact with the Hyatt Regency management.
 
"We do not believe these labour actions will have any impact on the festival or the opening of TIFF Bell Lightbox," Bell insisted.

Cruz-Haicken, who previously has urged minimal disruption to the Toronto festival as her rank and file looks for leverage at the bargaining table, said the Hyatt Regency chain had forced the stepped up action on Sunday.

"The company and its management has forced us to take this action... so that management will pay attention to us," she said.

Besides a ribbon-cutting on Sunday for Bell Lightbox, festival organizers plan a free block party from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., to include concert performances, free food and a movie star look-alike contest.

The Unite Here union is also lining up film industry support for its rolling strikes during TIFF to secure a new deal for Toronto hotel workers.

Martin Sheen, in Toronto to premiere his latest film, "The Way," on Friday at the Winter Garden Theatre, came out of the Royal York Hotel, where he's staying, to offer support to striking workers.

"It's cold in there, and it's warmer out here," Sheen, a member of the Screen Actors Guild and a long-time social activist, told cheering picketers.

Sheen, who is staying in the hotel with son Emilio Estevez, said they're ready to leave the Royal York Hotel if asked to by the union.

The veteran actor stopped short of naming fellow Hollywood actors staying at the Royal York Hotel, but added: "There's enough to make a difference."

Jorge Junior, a striking Royal York Hotel worker on the picket line insisted he saw Mike Myers emerging from the hotel Friday morning, but that sighting went unconfirmed.

Overall, Friday's one-day strike at the Royal York meant severe disruption for a host of industry players, from actors to film buyers and sellers and publicists.

Picketing workers handed out leaflets to hotel guests with the headline: "Dear Film Festival Visitors: Welcome to Toronto!"

The document insisted the unionized workers were proud of Toronto and of TIFF, but felt over-worked, under-staffed and without a new collective agreement, and so compelled to hold rolling one-day stoppages.

At the same time, the Unite Here members insisted they will not ask hotel guests, including TIFF attendeeds, to check out of their hotels.

On Friday, picketing workers marched at three main entrances to the upmarket Royal York Hotel, banging plastic drums, cheering and proudly holding up placards autographed by Sheen and son Estevez.

The Royal York hotel put on extra security at the main entrances, and inside the hotel to maintain calm for guests.

The hotel also put on complimentary tea and coffee, even as a Starbucks coffee station in the hotel lobby remained unmanned, which forced hotel guests to leave the premises for a strong cuppa.

TIFF industry delegates staying at the Holiday Inn on Bloor Street are next in the firing line of striking hotel workers, having received notice on Friday from hotel management that labor disruption is a possibility.

Borys Kit contributed to this report from Toronto.
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