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Hundreds cross picket lines to attend CNE, while others boycott in solidarity


TORONTO — While hundreds of people have crossed picket lines to attend the first two days of the Canadian National Exhibition on Toronto's waterfront, others boycotted the event amid labour disputes.

The CNE, an annual fair that runs for over two weeks, draws crowds to Exhibition Place, just west of the downtown core.

This year’s colourful festival is taking place as some 400 stagehands and technical employees remain embroiled in a dispute with Exhibition Place’s board of governors that saw the workers locked out on July 20.

Workers represented by Local 58 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees protested the opening of the event on Friday, and were picketing again on Saturday in front of the Princes' Gates.

The union representing the workers said they have been without a contract since December 2017, and will be holding pickets throughout the duration of the CNE.

"I love my job and I really wish I was in there working right now," said Josh McGill, a member of IATSE, as he looked at the gates where attendees lined up on Saturday afternoon.

"We are not blaming anyone for going in. We understand that it is an annual family outing for a lot of people," he said.

On Saturday, one of those people was Jenny Zhao, who attended the CNE for her first time with two of her friends.

"I heard about the lockout in newspapers, but I haven't really thought about it much," said Zhao.

"It didn't particularly impact my decision to come here today," she added, saying she was excited to be there for her first time.

While many people crossed the picket lines, others decided to boycott the fair.

Lisa Humber, an artist and stage manager who is currently working for the show Come From Away, said that although she usually attends the CNE, she won't be there this year.

"I am proud to be a full-time art worker and want to ensure that we are protected from exploitation. And with that in mind, I am standing in solidarity with the members of IATSE Local 58," Humber said in an email exchange.

"Standing together is the only way that we can ensure that changes happen in an industry that is often overlooked and taken for granted."

Other people took to social media to express their reasons for skipping the fair.

"I love the CNE, but I will NOT be attending this year. I encourage others to do the same. This is not how you treat workers," Felicia Samuel, executive officer of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto, said on Twitter.

The Exhibition Place board of governors has said the locked-out employees were offered multiple opportunities to work during the CNE, but turned them all down.

The board said it wants to update the workers' contract to reflect what it called the "highly competitive" marketplace.

Founded in 1879, the Canadian National Exhibition is one of the largest fairs in North America and will run until Sept. 3.

Gabriele Roy, The Canadian Press

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