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Portland Trail Blazers

NBA's Trail Blazers Caught Red Handed

Team used pandemic to replace union workforce with non-union

Brian Young's picture
Jan 27, 2021

For decades, IATSE Local 28 members have worked at Portland Trail Blazer home games. When the pandemic hit in March and the NBA season was put on pause, all the workers at the arena were laid off.

While they struggled to make it through the summer with almost no live events going on, there was hope at the end of the tunnel as the NBA restarted in December in-home arenas instead of a bubble in Orlando. However, Local 28 members' hopes were dashed when they weren’t called back by the Trailblazers or Rip City Management, the company that manages the arena. Instead, the workers were replaced with cheaper non-union employees, or their work was done by other non-union employees previously employed by the team.

Even though there aren’t fans in the arena, the IATSE members are still needed since they run sound and lighting equipment. In some ways they are even more important as fans can only watch teams on TV and the arenas want to make the game look as good as possible and sound realistic.

“It’s a blatant slap in the face,” said Dalroy Connell, a stagehand at the arena. “They’re using positions in the house, people who already work there to do things we normally do.”

In response, IATSE Local 28 has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board and has been holding protests outside of Trailblazer home games.

“Here we are wasting a ton of money on legal fees just to give a few guys some work. It’s a five-hour job. It’s so easy to work this out,” Connell added.

The Trail Blazers aren’t the only company using the pandemic to break a union or to stop an organizing drive. This includes Augie’s Coffee Shop in California who shutdown five locations and fired 54 workers just a week after the workers announced they were organizing. In New Jersey, Teamsters Local 814 filed unfair labor practice charges against Cort Furniture, a Berkshire-Hathaway subsidiary, after 19 workers were fired for speaking out about poor COVID safety practices. These workers had recently signed union cards to join the Teamsters.

IATSE has been one of the unions that were hardest hit by the pandemic. Live events are still not happening in most of the country and large amounts of their members are still unemployed 10 months later. With so many members unemployed, the union has pushed the Biden administration to make live event venues COVID vaccination sites so that their members will have some work in retrofit the venues and hopefully speeding up the process of getting back to a world where fans can attend live sporting events or concerts.

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