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Union Locals Challenge Production’s Use of Non-Union Work Force

Tuesday July 27, 2004

Although sure to entertain, Berkeley’s upcoming Cavalia multimedia horse show has some union members pointing to the drudgery behind the dazzle. 

With their first show on Aug. 5 quickly approaching, the Canadian-based company woke up to a picket line this weekend as workers came out to protest the company’s decision not to use local union labor, as is the custom in the Bay Area when productions come to town. 

And in the meantime workers from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Motion Picture Operators of North America and Canada, Local 107, who are walking the picket, have been keeping a close eye on the company, spotting what they said are violations of the city of Berkeley’s requirements needed to secure a use permit. They also called a representative from the local board of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to investigate what they called important safety violations. 

Cavalia did not hire local union stage hands for their show, as they did during their last Bay Area performance in San Francisco, where they hired 50 union stage hands from San Francisco Local 16. Instead, this year they’ve opted to bring in their own non-union technical workers from Canada, and fill the rest of the jobs with workers from non-union temporary agencies. 

Union representatives, while not disputing the legal right of the company to chose its own employees, said they are upset by Cavalia’s switch in policy. Instead of using local, qualified union labor, union representatives said, the company shipped in “gypsy” or traveling stage hands who, though paid decent wages, take jobs from local union members. 

They said they are also concerned about the company’s use of laborers from temp agencies, who they claim are paid dismal wages.  

“We’ve been in existence for over 100 years, we’re professional, this is what we do for a living,” said Charma Ferreira, the business representative for Local 107. “And they’re bringing out of state people to do local work.” 

According to Ferreira, Local 107 workers are consistently used for almost all the major performances in the East Bay, from the UC Greek Theater and Zellerbach to the Coliseum. 

Martin Roy, the publicist for Cavalia, defends the company’s decision, saying it was a way to make their production “self sufficient.” He said it was also a matter of money-- they couldn’t afford to hire union labor for all the jobs. 

“There is absolutely no legal reason and it would be very expensive,” said Roy. As it is the company is only one year old and still not turning a profit. 

But for the union, money is not an excuse. They point to ticket prices, which according to Roy range between $40 and $150. Even if the company refuses to pay for technicians, who make between $20-$30, the union contends that it should pay a living wage to the temp workers, who according to the union make somewhere between $7 and $8.  

“It’s not just about unions, it’s about workers’ rights,” said Ferreira. “These kids need to make a living and they need to make a decent living. Everyone on the worksite deserves a reasonable wage.”  

Both sides have complained about the other’s actions on or near the picket. According to the union, company workers from Canada (where Cavalia is based) drove out and roughed up a woman picketer by grabbing her sign and shouting, “Fuck America, we’re taking all the money back to Canada.” 

Cavalia called the Berkeley police Monday evening, claiming the picketers were harassing the workers as they left, spitting at cars and making workers uncomfortable. 

Meanwhile, workers who have read the conditions in the notice of decision for the temporary use permit that the city of Berkeley granted to the company have called Cavalia out for several violations of the permit. They said that they saw workers going into the tent past the 8 p.m. stop time for construction activity. Since they saw more workers going in and out, union officials said, they ended up spending the entire night until 6 a.m. walking the picket as lights moved inside the tent. 

When asked about the permit, Roy from Cavalia said the company is questioning the terminology used in the conditions. 

“What is the definition of construction? That’s not what we’re doing in the evening or night, we’re setting up,” said Roy. 

Union picketers said they also saw the company violate the use permit by not hosing the active construction sites down twice a day to prevent dust. 

According to the permit, “All active construction area shall be watered at least twice daily, and all pieces of debris, soil, sand and other loose materials shall be watered or covered.” 

Roy disputed the claim, saying the company is following the use permit requirements. 

When she was alerted on Monday, Lisa Caronna, the deputy city manager and currently the acting city manager, said someone from the city would be sent down to investigate. When the issue was originally raised by the union, Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington requested that a city official visit the site immediately. 

If the company is found in violation of the conditions on the use permit the city has the authority to terminate it, which would stop the production, even though the site is located on East Bay Regional Park District land and Cavalia is paying the district $10,000 for its use.  

According to Assistant City Attorney Zach Cowan, the park district as a regional public agency is subject to city law. If the land were a state park, the city would have no jurisdiction. 

Caronna did question the 8 p.m. stopping time, saying that the rule is usually included to insure that work in residential areas cuts off at a reasonable time so as not to bother neighbors. Where Cavalia is currently located, down at the end of Gilman Street, that might not be an issue, she said. When questioned about whether there are labor concerns in that rule, she said she would have to investigate. 

Concerning the OSHA violations, union picketers said they were worried that Cavalia workers were not wearing hard hats, not using safety devices when working up on the tent and were misusing forklifts and other heavy equipment. 

After the complaint was called into the Cal-OSHA board in Oakland, an OSHA representative did visit the site but would not talk to the press. But according to a Cal-OSHA spokesperson, an investigation has been opened.