Local Union Pickets Extreme Sports Event
By Andy Wright
When the SUV began nosing its way through the picket crowd, IATSE Local 16 -- the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees -- responded with shouts, and one man slapped the vehicle's hood with his picket sign. It was at this time that a police officer pulled up and began assessing the situation. Eventually, the car was allowed to pass.
Union picketers started gathering outside the Icer Air event setting up in McCovery Cove near AT&T Park today at 8 a.m. Icer Air, which (full disclosure coming your way!) put on a performance at last night's SF Weekly Music Awards and of which the Weekly is a sponsor, puts on an event showcasing skiers, snowboarders, skateboarders, motocross and BMX bike performances annually. The union says they’ve been employed by the event for the past three years, but this year Icer Air hired non-union workers.
G. Anthony Phillips, the day's picket captain and an executive board member of the union, claims that this puts workers and participants in jeopardy as non-union workers don’t have the kinds of skills and protection that the union workers do. He also speculated that they would not be paid as much as union workers and that the Icer Air organizers had plenty of time to talk to the union, but had been ignoring their attempts to open up dialogue.
Icer Air creator Glen Griffin contested those claims, and said that 10 union workers had already been hired to help with sound, electricity and tents.
"I hired as many union [members] as I could," he said, "They didn’t think it was enough."
Griffin says Icer Air was unable to hire union to build other parts of the event, like a special ski ramp from Holland that was being assembled by workers from that country. One of these workers, Michiele DeRuiter, who called himself “The Snowman," expressed surprise at the protest and somewhat confused by the union's position. Being both succinct and somewhat cryptic he added, “In Europe, when we work – we work.”
Inside the compound, work was going on as usual. When approached for comment, a group of burly workers on the stage were told by a tattooed, muscular man in sunglasses, “No one says anything.”
Those helping to build the ramps were more forthcoming. And they said the same thing that the union did: they were more qualified to work on the premises due to safety concerns. Many of them also said they were volunteers.
Nathan Kemp, who was overseeing those who helped to construct the ramps, told the Weekly that “Most of the ramps we have here were already prefabricated by a Northern California skate park called Ramp Rats. The union labor aren’t experienced ramp builders. You’ve got guys who are going ten, fifteen feet in the air, they’re risking their lives and their lives depend on these ramps. You get somebody who doesn’t know how to build a ramp like that, you’re jeopardizing the riders safety.” He also said he sympathized with the union, but felt they were putting a community event in jeopardy.
Chad Bautista, a volunteer ramp builder who will also be competing in the Amateur BMX Contest, echoed Kemp's sentiments, saying he had taken time off from work to help with the building. Kemp had taken two days off and said he was spending $600 out of pocket.
When asked to comment on the number of volunteers who help out with the Icer Air event, Griffin said there weren’t any.
“As far as I know, we’ve had volunteer staff in the past. We do not have volunteers [now]. There must be some kind of misunderstanding.”
Phillips rejects the claims that union labor is not the safest route.
"What happens if someone gets injured and they’re a volunteer? They don’t have the coverage. That’s part of our issue. We have a prevailing wage to protect those and to make sure that people are covered properly. That is our biggest concern. Plus, they’re charging admission. If it was a volunteer organization, a not for-profit organization, and they weren’t charging, we wouldn’t be here.”
Last we heard, Griffin said he had agreed to let go of eight workers and hire eight more union workers in their stead. Picketers should be packing up their signs and heading home, he added.