On Thursday night outside of Merrill Auditorium, audience members lining up for Chelsea Handler’s show were met with picketers spanning the street. Instead of being in the auditorium preparing for the show, the unionized stagehands were locked outside as the City of Portland hired non-union stage labor for the first time in decades. This calculated move follows the city ignoring the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 114’s requests to renegotiate their contract after it expired last year. This disregard for labor mobilized hundreds of supporters to stand with the workers of their community. Ethan Stirmling, former mayor of Portland, Maine, was among them, “I’m very disappointed that the City of Portland has turned its back on labor. It’s happened in the past, but we’ve been able to fight it. We’ve been able to make sure that union workers who are the best trained, keep everybody the safest, and paid the best wages are on the job. Clearly the City of Portland at this point doesn’t recognize that. Hopefully this rally tonight, with this remarkable turnout, will help the city see the light.”
IATSE Local 114 has been working at Merrill Auditorium since it opened in 1997, and at the old City Hall Auditorium for decades before that, adding up to 100 plus years serving the city of Portland. The workers were shocked to find out a show was taking place and the city had snubbed them. Union workers from all industries and chapters came out to stand in solidarity. “Because workers have been fighting to have dignity in the workplace for the last two years and Doug Bourne and IATSE have shown up for us, and we want to show up for them,” supporter Aaron Berger told Pine and Roses. Leo Hilton, a fellow union worker said, “I’m here because union members stand up for each other. We know that we have a whole lot more to lose if we don’t have each other’s backs. Because the employers will always back each other, and without a tight bond between people in different industries, we won’t be able to win the world that we’re fighting for.”
Supporters included members of the Teamsters union, the Democratic Socialists of America, and State Rep. Grayson Lookner (ME-37). The picket was informational, the IATSE Local 114 passed out handbills to spread the word to patrons: “We want them to know that we are here and we are pissed.” The flyer encouraged folks to contact Portland City Manager Danielle West at 207-874-8689 (dwest@portland) and ask her to return to the city bargaining table with IATSE.
Jo Ophardt is from Phoenix, Arizona, currently residing in Portland, Maine, and is minoring in creative writing.