The historic National Guard Armory in downtown Minneapolis, built in 1935, will be re-opening soon as an entertainment venue — just in time to host major events during Super Bowl week.
But, unlike the city’s other major entertainment venues — where union stagehands erect the sets, rig the lighting, and operate sound and video — developer Ned Abdul of Swervo Development is attempting to launch the Armory as a non-union facility.
Abdul is even bragging that he can offer lower labor costs, reported Matt Rice, business manager of Local 13 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
“They had a hard-hat opening a few months ago and they advertised it as a non-union venue,” Rice reported. “We’re asking him to pay employees a decent wage and negotiate with the union.”
“This is a major venue in the Twin Cities and we should be recognized,” Rice maintained.
Rice reported that several vendors who work with Local 13 expressed concerns that “somebody else would bid with non-union wages.”
“If he’s just trying to market a building to have the cheapest labor rates, everybody should be concerned,” Rice said.
Not just wages — but also safety — were concerns expressed by IATSE Local 13 members walking an informational picket line at the Armory December 15.
“We need fair wages; the work we do is not easy,” said Cassandra Schuster, St. Paul, a three-year member of Local 13. “Sometimes we put our lives at risk. Sometimes we put our bodies at risk.”
“They’re trying to outsource to companies that don’t offer the safety precautions that we offer here at the union,” she said.
“We’re the best in the business,” said Wayne Kinsey, Minneapolis, a 17-year member of Local 13. “They’re going to be using labor with no skills… When you’re rigging those heavy lights when a big performance comes through, if something dropped, it would be a travesty.”
Schuster and Kinsey were among some two dozen members of IATSE Local 13 walking the picket line.
The picketers also included Joseph Solinsky, Plymouth, who is new on the IATSE Local 13 call list and eager for a first assignment. “What stands out for me is safety,” he said. “I took a class from the union. I’ve watched people walking in the stage door [at the Armory]. I know I wouldn’t’ be safe if I started working here, without the union, the training and the mentorship.”
“I’m here to educate people about the importance to have skilled labor for the task at hand,” said Tonka Crow, St. Paul, a four-year member of Local 13.
IATSE Local 13 members handed out a small flyer to the public. It read, in part, “Ned [Abdul] is advertising that he has the lowest labor rates in town… STOP selling your venue off the backs of working families.”
The flyer urged e-mails to Ned Abdul at firstname.lastname@example.org with the message “to be fair to working people.”
A passerby who talked with some of the IATSE Local 13 picketers summed up the situation: “I’m glad they’re finally doing something with this facility — but do it right.”