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CIFF46: IRTF's Full Statement On The Labor Dispute between IATSE and Playhouse Square, Cleveland

This is IRTF’s full statement, pulled together from sources: North Shore AFO-CIO Federation of Labor (March 16 2022), Cleveland Jobs with Justice (March 17 2022), Cleveland Scene (March 18 2022).

Just two weeks before the launch of the Cleveland International Film Festival (March 30-April 9), IRTF (a member of Cleveland Jobs with Justice) was informed of a labor dispute involving the film projectionists union IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) Local 160,  Playhouse Square, and the Cleveland Film Society, which organizes the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF46).

According to their union contract, Playhouse Square typically employs IATSE projectionists for special events. However, Playhouse Square informed IATSE Local 160 that it would be hiring non-union projectionists for CIFF46. Labor rights advocates—namely North Shore AFL-CIO and Cleveland Jobs with Justice—reached out to both Playhouse Square and the Cleveland Film Society to resolve this dispute. It is of great concern that the Playhouse Square theatre district, which receives taxpayer support through local, state, and federal dollars, would lock out union employees.

A  legally-binding collective bargaining agreement (CBA) has been in place between IATSE Local 160 and PlayhouseSquare to guarantee that union workers will perform the projection work at the theaters. Playhouse Square, however, looked for a loophole in the contract, contending that the film festival is not an official Playhouse Square presentation and could therefore hire non-union film projectionists for CIFF46. It is unclear why projectionists were singled out. Other Playhouse Square employees, including box office workers, concession workers, ushers and union stagehands, have been scheduled to work CIFF46.

During the second week of March, the North Shore Federation of Labor AFL-CIO made earnest attempts to contact leadership at both Playhouse Square and the Cleveland Film Society in hopes of reaching a mutual understanding and an agreeable resolution. Playhouse Square CEO Gina Vernaci responded that she was totally unwilling to negotiate on this issue and that she was admonishing the Cleveland Film Society to not engage with either IATSE Local 160 or the North Shore Federation. 

On March 16 and 17, the North Shore Federation of Labor and Cleveland Jobs with Justice went public with this information. The workers demanded that their contract with Playhouse Square be upheld; they demanded to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. As northeast Ohio emerges from an unprecedented public health and economic crisis, the union workers have been eager to return to work, provide for their families, and play their part in this great showcase of filmmaking and of our region as a whole. The notion that they would be forced to vacate their own workspace and cede their craft to non-union workers goes against the bedrock principles of the labor movement that has played in instrumental role in building Cleveland.

Without responses from Playhouse Square or the Cleveland Film Society, Cleveland Jobs with Justice (JWJ) launched a public pressure campaign. JWJ urged local organizations to pull their community partnership sponsorships of films. Furthermore, JWJ urged individual film goers to not purchase tickets for CIFF46 and for CIFF members to cancel their memberships. Most importantly, JWJ urged supporters of workers’ rights to let CIFF46 know why they would be withdrawing support for this year’s film festival. Cleveland Scene newspaper reported on March 18 that North Shore AFL-CIO and its allies were prepared to picket the Cleveland International Film Festival if a dispute with union projectionists was not resolved before opening night.

The threat of picketing and a boycott got results. On March 22, North Shore AFL-CIO and Cleveland Jobs with Justice announced that a final agreement had been reached between the film projectionist union IATSE Local 160 and Playhouse Square. IRTF, a solidarity organization committed to labor justice and a regular community partner for the Cleveland International Film Festival, thanks everyone who stood up in support of the union projectionists. There is strength in solidarity!