Stage union pickets Shaw Festival

Dispute centers on proposed cuts in health benefits

TORONTO -- The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees has taken strike action at Canada's prestigious Shaw Festival on Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

IATSE Local 461 set up picket lines around the live theatre company after the festival on Wednesday locked out 16 unionized facility workers as part of a labor dispute that began in August 2008.

In response, IATSE called out its remaining 150 local audience and production employees in solidarity with their locked-out colleagues.

The labor dispute centers on proposed cuts in health benefits for the 16 facilities workers.

Local 461 president Doug Ledingham in a statement said the benefit cuts and management lockout were "not only unwarranted but unjustifiable." Shaw Festival executive director Colleen Blake in her own statement said the management lockout followed failure to resolve outstanding issues at the bargaining table.

"Reluctantly, we have made this difficult decision," she said.

The Canadian classical repertory theatre company, a favorite with visiting cross-border American tourists for staging the works of British playwright George Bernard Shaw, was set to launch its 2010 season on March 27.