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Picket spotlights dispute between stagehand union, ISU

Members, supporters of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 193 picket on College Avenue on Friday, August 18. The union that represents 100+ ISU stagehands says it staged the demostration after contract negotiations with the university did not include certain safety provistions. The university said in a statement it "categorically denies" allegations that ISU is unsafe.
Lyndsay Jones
Members and supporters of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 193 picket Friday, Aug. 18, 2023 along College Avenue in Normal.

A picket along College Avenue on Friday highlighted an ongoing dispute between Illinois State University and the union that represents stagehands and crew members who work on university productions.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 193 represents around 100 members in central Illinois, said union president Craig Chladny. Members work in various "extra help" capacities, ranging from truck unloading and lighting to sound and post-show tear down.

Chladny said negotiations that started in March between the union and ISU have not resulted in union-requested safety provisions being written into a new contract.

"We're out here today because we have a problem with ISU: That they won't put safety parts into the contract," Chladny said. "They have one safety part that contains almost nothing. We want a couple of things added that we have been doing for years that have just never been in black and white. They won't put them in black and white."

Chladny said disputes on safety provisions have included negotiations on safety practices surrounding things like rigging, where union members hanging things like lights have traditionally had two people in the air and one on the ground for safety purposes. He said negotiations for a new contract have led to questions being raised on how many people are necessary for such work.

In a statement, university officials said ISU "categorically denies the allegations that ISU is an unsafe work environment."

"The current contract states, in writing, that the university agrees to provide reasonable safeguards at all times, and we do," the statement said. "The allegations by the union and this informational picket are simply an effort by the union to force concessions that the union has otherwise been unable to obtain on its own through negotiations."

Chladny said negotations that began March 24 were "going OK in the beginning, but stalled out," adding university officials "refused to even continue the conversation."

ISU also disputed that in its statement, saying there have been no meetings since April 26 "because the union refuses to return to the bargaining table."

"The university has asked the Union to return to the table and believes time is better served meeting together at the bargaining table," the statement read.

Chladny said union members hoped Friday's picket would show "just that we're not bad people — we're just asking for stuff that makes sense."

"It was all just things that we've been doing forever that we just need to put in black and white because they were starting to question why it was done," he said. "At the end of the day, we just all want to go home."

The union's contract expired on June 30, according to ISU records.

Previous contract provisions will be extended while a new contract is negotiated.

Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.