Nearly 400 locked out stage stagehands and technical workers at Exhibition Place have set up a picket line outside the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair amid a protracted work stoppage that is now in its fourth month.

Members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 58 have been locked out since July 20 and have not engaged in any substantive discussions with management since negotiations broke down on Sept. 4.

The workers are responsible for construction, lighting, sound, special effects and rigging at Exhibition Place venues. Ordinarily that would include some of the set up for the Royal Winter air but this year’s event will instead go ahead with the workers on the pickets lines.

“We had a negotiation session scheduled for last week before the Royal Winter Fair opened. We wanted to make sure that the Royal would go off without a hitch and that we would be back working before the fair started but the city postponed that meeting,” IATSE Local 58 President Justin Antheunis told CP24 on Friday afternoon. “They said they had to go over their offer and that is really the only reason they gave.”

IATSE Local 58 has previously said that the main issue of contention in the labour dispute is management’s request that it be allowed to hire non-unionized members for some jobs, something that the union has called a non-starter.

The management of Exhibition Place, meanwhile, has contended that changes are needed to the collective agreement to reflect the shift in business at the sprawling facility, which includes BMO Field, Enercare Centre and several other venues.

In August, the chair of the Exhibition Place told CP24 that the union came into effect when there was grandstand on the property and concerts were the main source of business.

He said that Exhibition Place’s business has changed and is now more geared to fairs, meetings and other events.

Antheunis, however, told CP24 that the lockout is really the product of an ideological battle.

“This isn’t about making it better; this is actually about weakening workers rights and that is really what it is. Exhibition grounds could work with the union to try to find ways to better service all of those tenants on the ground but instead of wanting to work with us they want to get rid of us.”

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair gets underway today and runs until Nov. 11.

Antheunis said that while he is hopeful that negotiations between his union and Exhibition Place will resume shortly, he said it won’t be until the fair is over.