As locked-out workers demonstrate outside of the Canadian National Exhibition grounds in Toronto, “woke” Uber rival Lyft is shuttling customers to the event for free in a move that a union leader says is facilitating picket-line crossing.
The CNE, now in its 139th year, is an annual summer event in Toronto that boasts fairground rides and ridiculous food such as a $100 gold-covered burger. Stagehands and technical workers of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 58 have been picketing outside the CNE grounds for nearly two weeks—giant inflatable rat and all—after they were locked out by Exhibition Place, where CNE is a tenant.
The workers have been locked out since July 20 after talks broke down around the issue of contracting out IATSE work and the two sides failed to arrive at a new collective agreement. Out-of-province workers were brought in to set up the event, and the CNE’s organizers said last week that the event is set to lose $1.5 million in revenue this year due to the ongoing labour dispute.
In a surprise move this week, the CNE announced that admission will be free before 1 PM on Tuesday and Wednesday. Ride-sharing company Lyft will also shuttle people to the event for free between 10 AM and 1 PM. Justin Antheunis, president of IATSE Local 58, says that this amounts to Lyft facilitating breaking the picket line, adding that he doesn’t blame the CNE for trying to boost attendance while stuck in the middle of the dispute between workers and Exhibition Place.
“Lyft is not directly crossing the picket line, but by partnering with the CNE they are making it easier for those who will,” Antheunis wrote me in an email. “We would still like for people in Toronto to find other uses of their entertainment dollar in the city and avoid events at Exhibition Place until IATSE Local 58 members are back at work.”
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Lyft has recently pitched itself as a more ethical alternative to rival Uber, which was accused of interfering in a labour dispute last year as it continued to service JFK airport during a taxi strike. Lyft co-founder John Zimmer seized on this and other bad press for Uber and described his ride-sharing company as being “woke.”
“Lyft, by partnering with the CNE, cannot say they take the moral high ground over Uber when they are helping facilitate people crossing a picket line, and making it financially easier to do so,” Antheunis told me.
Lyft spokesperson Campbell Matthews, reached over email, did not respond to IATSE 58’s concerns and instead focused on how Lyft’s partnership keeps drunk drivers off the roads and helps people avoid parking.
“Lyft is proud to partner with many different events and organizations across the Greater Toronto Area to provide affordable and reliable transportation options,” Campbell wrote. “We know many people attending these events don’t want to deal with the hassles of parking, and we want to help ensure anyone drinking at CNE and other festivals also has a reliable ride home or to their next destination.”
The picket line outside the CNE continues, and workers will show up until IATSE Local 58 members are back to work at Exhibition Place—which hosts numerous events throughout the year—even if it’s long after the CNE closes on September 7, Antheunis said.
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