Union workers to picket at Cher concert tonight

EVERETT – Several dozen union workers will picket the Cher concert at the Everett Events Center tonight because the arena uses nonunion stagehands.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 15 is not asking patrons to boycott the arena, said William Wickline, business representative for the union. But it may do so in the future, he said.

Wickline accused the Everett Public Facilities District of union busting for not signing on to a national contract the PFD’s management company, Philadelphia-based Global Spectrum, has with the union. Global Spectrum runs more than 40 facilities nationwide.

Nonunion workers who set up shows at the events center earn lower wages and no benefits, Wickline said.

Promoters hire stagehands, not the events center. They want the flexibility to hire who they want, said Fred Safstrom, PFD executive director. Some promoters that book acts at the events center use union labor and others do not, he said.

“We have not felt it’s our place to mandate that,” Safstrom said. “We don’t think that’s in the best interest of the building. We think competition is good.”

Global Spectrum’s general manager in Everett, Kim Bedier, said the national Global Spectrum contract clearly states that owners of venues, such as the PFD, have the right to hire nonunion stagehands.

KeyArena in Seattle has used union stagehands exclusively for at least 20 years and is happy with their work, Seattle Center spokesman Perry Cooper said.

But the events center, which opened in October 2003, has to give promoters a reason to bring their acts to Everett rather than to KeyArena, Safstrom said. “And cost is a significant factor,” he said.

The Tacoma Dome also allows promoters to choose between union and nonunion stagehands. That gives it a competitive advantage, said Jody Hodgson, assistant director of the Tacoma Dome.

Wickline said that’s another way of saying that the Tacoma Dome and the events center exploit workers.

“What that means is, ‘We’re going to get lower-priced labor to make the most profit,’” he said. “That statement is anti-union. They don’t want good-paying union jobs with benefits.”

The Everett PFD is not anti-union, Safstrom said. The arena’s concession workers are union members and the events center was built by union workers, he said.

Safstrom said the events center hasn’t seen a difference in the quality of work between nonunion and union stagehands.

The events center has sold nearly all the 8,000-plus tickets for tonight’s Cher concert, which also features The Village People, Bedier said. About 80 stagehands from Event Resource Management Inc. of Mercer Island will work the show.

The company’s general manager and vice president, John Morrison, acknowledged that his company pays lower wages than union members earn. But he said the pay, which ranges from $10.50 to $28 an hour, is fair. The company doesn’t offer health benefits, he said.

The lower wages and lack of benefits make his company better able to compete for contracts with promoters, he said. And higher wages for workers eventually get passed down to the consumer in higher ticket prices, he added.

Wickline said his union’s workers average about $22.50 an hour, with full health and pension benefits.

Reporter David Olson: 425-339-3452 or dolson@heraldnet.com.

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