Union in MetroCentre? Walsh in trouble?

Union in MetroCentre? Walsh in trouble?

By Frank Schier

By Frank Schier

Editor & Publisher

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local #2, of Rockford, has had enough MetroCentre part-time stage hands sign election cards to have a vote on union representation.

Reportedly, some MetroCentre board members are unhappy at the possible higher costs that could come from such a vote and the spill-over possibility of full-time workers unionizing as well.

IATSE Local #2 Director of Organizing Dale Posey said that MetroCentre employees would vote between 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the lobby of the MetroCentre.

The eligible voters consist of 131 individuals approved by the National Labor Relations Board. Posey said the eligible voters were determined at a meeting of the Labor Relations Board in Chicago last month. The MetroCentre provided the master list, and both sides challenged or added names. To organize, the union had to have at least 30 percent of the part-time stage employees to call a vote. The majority of eligible voters must vote for the union.

Posey said the issues focused around “representing the employees. Brad [Walsh, MetroCentre general manager] usually gets around $50,000 bonuses every year, and we’re just trying to bring some of that back to the workers. They’ve got some of the homeless guys and others who are less fortunate, and they target those guys and pay them $6 to $7 an hour.”

Union wage is $12 to $13 an hour.

Walsh said, “It’s the position of management and the majority of the board that the MetroCentre does not need, or do they feel they would benefit from the election of a collective bargaining agent representing part-time stage workers.”

As to his bonus, Walsh said his average bonus over the last three years was $32,700. The highest bonus in that period was $36,600 in fiscal year 1999. The lowest bonus in that period was $11,700 in fiscal year 2001.

Walsh said the annual taxpayer subsidy for the MetroCentre is $912,000, and property taxes are paid to refund the taxpayer at approximately half that amount. The net subsidy is approximately $38,000 a month.

Posey added, “I’m just trying to bring some professionalism back to the community. We have a lot more shows coming to town than we used to with the Coronado being open, and we’re just trying to make it better.

“A lot of the guys down there are good guys, and they don’t make enough money to have a good life. Some live in a homeless shelter and can’t survive on what they’re making.

“It’s been going on for years, and we just had a big change in our union, getting rid of some bad guys. We had a couple members who screwed things up. Everything is positive now,” said Posey. “The National Labor Board still has some of that under investigation.” Posey said he could not remember the names of the individuals involved.

Allegedly, there were financial problems and required reports to the national union that were not made. The members or officers who were replaced in a recent election were Laura Riley and Todd Mosley. They and the new union president, Chuck Whitmore, could not be reached for comment.

Posey continued, “We‘re going to work on benefits and working conditions. With the Coronado reopening, the stage hands union used to run the Coronado with Kerasotes, the MetroCentre took over management after renovations, and a lot of guys there realized that there’s a big difference between running an arena and a theater.

“A lot of the employees aren’t trained and don’t get trained to properly work in the facility. Were going to try to run training programs on lighting, carpentry, sound, and fly-rail systems,” Posey said.

Walsh said, “Depending on the level of previous experience they had, or the level for which they are hired, training is provided. Training is primarily geared toward safety.”

Posey said of the union election, “I think we have a pretty positive chance.”

As to Brad Walsh’s role in the union vote, Posey said, “This is the least of his troubles, this vote. He’s in trouble with the MetroCentre board. Everybody’s heard stories, bad management.”

As to rumors that the new president of the MetroCentre board, Gary Marzorati, was unhappy with him and wanted to replace him, Walsh said, “That’s news to me.”

Marzorati was unavailable for comment. As to rumors of mayoral discontent, Walsh added, “At my meeting with the mayor, I was not made aware of any discontent on his part.”

Responding to a call from The Rock River Times, Mayor Scott declined comment on MetroCentre personnel issues.

Walsh began his career as box office manager at the MetroCentre six months before it opened. He was promoted to assistant general manager in 1983 and became acting general manager in 1986, when Doug Logan left. Walsh has been general manager since 1987.

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