Projectionists call for mediator in Chi lockout

A federal mediator has been called in by Chi Local 110 of the Motion Picture Projectionists & Video Technicians Union as a Cineplex Odeon Corp. lockout of projectionists at its 200 screens in the metro area entered its second week and the two sides still appeared far from agreement. A date for the first meeting with the mediator was expected to be set today.

“They (Cineplex Odeon) want to get rid of the union,” says Local 110 secretary/treasurer Al Brenkus. Cineplex Odeon exec VP Howard Lichtman denied any attempts at union-busting. “We don’t want to do any such thing, but we do want to pay a certain amount of money per theater, with one man per theater, like we do in the rest of the country,” says Lichtman.

Local 110 members were angered by the surprise lockout after agreeing on Nov. 6 to a meeting last Thursday to continue discussing a new three-year contract. The previous five-year contract that Cineplex Odeon had signed off on expired Sept. 1.

Cineplex Odeon theater managers are running its Chi-area projection booths. For the past two months the Toronto-based movie theater chain had been quietly training managers to operate projectors, part of a nationwide push to familiarize management with equipment and prepare them to handle emergencies, per Lichtman.

At Thursday’s scheduled meeting with union reps, Cineplex Odeon exex spelled out details of a severance package it intended to offer to some Local 110 members. In its contract offer, Cineplex Odeon is seeking to gain control of projection booth staffing, which had previously been determined by the union.

Brenkus says approximately 165 out of a total 400 Local 110 members currently work in Cineplex Odeon theaters. Brenkus estimates that Cineplex Odeon would like to trim about 100 projectionists from that 165-person total. Lichtman admits Cineplex Odeon wants to reduce staffing, but could not supply specifics.

Local 110 has put up picket lines in front of most Cineplex Odeon complexes around the city, but theaters have reported few major problems. In a letter to moviegoers printed above screening schedules in last Friday’s Chi dailies, Cineplex Odeon president and CEO Allen Karp assured movie patrons that “our movie theaters are operating smoothly as we try to reach a fair contract with the projectionists’ union.”

One time-consuming snafu did occur at a preview screening last Wednesday of “Dracula,” which was interrupted and delayed about 45 minutes after it was discovered one reel of the pic was upside down and backward. Approximately 30 of 700 audience members walked out, said a source present at the event. “Normally a projectionist would have checked the film before it was screened,” said a source.

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