CNE picket lines

Picket lines surround the CNE on opening day

The 140th Canadian National Exhibition is now officially open to the public — but a labour dispute may leave you making a choice on whether to cross the picket line.

More than 400 technical workers remain locked out of Toronto's Exhibition Place as of Friday morning at 10 a.m., when this year's CNE officially kicked off, and they're not letting people pass quietly through the Princes' Gates.

Picket lines are in place, as promised, and protesters won't be moving aside until an ongoing labour dispute between Exhibition Place and its unionized stagehands is resolved.

Members of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 58, which represents workers with technical and staging expertise at Exhibition Place, were locked out by the venue's board of governors on July 20 after what both sides say was a month-long collective bargaining process.

Locked out workers vowed at the time that they would form picket lines at the entrance to this year's exhibition, and warned that the safety of guests could be jeopardized without their expertise.

Things got even more intense after The Ex brought in workers from Quebec to fill their roles.

Public support for the union remains high, but many vendors and guests are nonetheless crossing picket lines today — in some cases, just to do their jobs.

Protests are making it hard for cars to get into The Ex, costing vendors time and money as they wait in gridlock traffic.

"There's a demonstration at the south end of the [29 Dufferin] route which along with CNE traffic is causing some congestion headaches," wrote the TTC's customer service account on Twitter in response to someone complaining about transit delays. "I'm sorry about that."

A giant rat that demonstrators are calling "Scabby" has become a mascot, of sorts, for the picketers.

The blow-up animal even made a rather comical appearance during this morning's opening ceremony outside the CNE by popping up behind such dignitaries as Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Premier Doug Ford on stage.

"Management is demanding that Local 58 surrender its longstanding jurisdiction at Exhibition Place so that 'replacement' workers can take Toronto jobs and leave town when they are done," reads a letter of explanation on IATSE's website.

"Local 58 says it would be impossible to negotiate away its members’ jobs. We have been willing, however, to bargain in good faith around other contractual issues, such as compensation and work rules."

"Management has refused to talk about these matters until the union abandons its members and devastates their families," the letter continues.

And so, a legal picket line has been set up around the entrances to Toronto's Exhibition Place, where they will remain throughout the two-and-a-half-week-long marquee event.

"We'd rather be negotiating, as we have for more than 60 years," says the union. "But Mayor John Tory's hand-picked Board has said no. We ask for understanding and support from our fellow Torontonians."

The CNE runs until September 3. Here are the things that you can eat, if you choose to cross the picket line.

Lead photo by

Emily Hwang

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