Village of Harrison workers are fighting for scheduling that ‘allows for work life balance.’ CUPE Local 458 vice president Darlene Worthylake said the the workers will stop picketing areas that impact the festival if the Village agrees to meet them at the bargaining table in the next few days. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)

‘The rest of the festival is a big question mark’

Labour dispute hits Harrison Festival of the Arts

This article has been updated, since the original version said the Harrison Festival of the Arts performance was moved to St. Alice Hall, when it was in fact moved to the Harrison Lake Hotel.

The labour dispute between Harrison employees and the Village is creating issues for the yearly Harrison Festival of the Arts thanks to picket lines set up outside the Harrison Memorial Hall during nightly performances.

The festival society tried to move Monday night’s performer Shane Koyczan to the St. Alice Hall after the CUPE 458 union members set up a perimeter around the original venue. But when the hall couldn’t be used, the performance had to be moved again to the Harrison Lake Hotel.

Harrison Festival Society executive director Andy Hillhouse said Koyczan, a union supporter, didn’t want to cross the picket line, and it’s likely that other performers will feel the same way.

“The rest of the festival is a big question mark,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that we might not have a venue.”

Although an entirely separate entity from the Village of Harrison, the festival is bound by provincial and federal grant funding, so the festival society can’t take any sides in the dispute, said Hillhouse.

“As an organization, all we’re trying to do is put on the festival.”

The Memorial Hall picket lines started the same day Village workers began their strike, following months of negotiations that ultimately failed to resolve disagreements on scheduling and hours.

READ: Deadlocked: Village of Harrison workers strike after negotiations fail

CUPE 458 vice president Darlene Worthylake said workers are simply picketing municipal facilities, and will stop picketing areas that impact the festival once they are at the bargaining table with the Village.

“Wherever our workers work – the beach washrooms, maintaining parks, looking after the Memorial Hall – then that is one of our picket locations,” Worthylake said. “The workers do care about the festival. They care about the community. They do. It bothers them…that the community is upset with them. But they don’t have a pay cheque right now… and have been trying to get a contract since last October.

We are making a commitment that if we get back to the table right now–today, tonight or tomorrow morning – we’ll remove the picket lines from the areas that impact the festival only.”

Worthylake said the workers plan to have picket lines at the Memorial Hall again Tuesday night and Wednesday – the festival’s popular ‘Children’s Day’ that has performances scheduled in the Memorial Hall from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

Hillhouse said he believed the workers and the festival society had worked out an agreement that the festival would not be impacted by the strike, but Monday night’s picket line has proved that won’t be the case.

“We did talk to the director and we listened to his concerns,” said Worthylake. “He told us that the artists are part of unions as well and they would have a problem crossing the picket line….but we didn’t make any promises with regards to the shows or anything like that.”

The Harrison Festival of the Arts is celebrating its 40th year in the Village with a theme of ‘Generations.’ The festival runs from July 7-15, with free performances on the beach on weekends, and ticketed evening shows scheduled for the Memorial Hall during the week.

Stay tuned for updates on this story.

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