A union that represents locked out stagehand workers at Exhibition Place is raising concerns about the use of out-of province replacement workers to help set up for the annual Canadian National Exhibition.

Nearly 400 members belonging to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 58 have been locked out since July 20.

The workers are responsible for construction, lighting, sound, special effects and rigging at Exhibition Place venues, which would ordinarily include some of the set up for the annual CNE.

The union, however, says that it has learned that “replacement workers” from Quebec and elsewhere are being brought in to do that work ahead of the opening of the CNE on Friday.

They say that “few, if any” of the replacements have ever worked at Exhibition Place, posing significant safety risks.

“The likelihood of misjudgment and mistakes are high, especially from a hastily assembled group just brought in and who are racing around the clock to meet very tight deadlines,” the union said in a press release issued Monday.

According to the union, negotiations on a new contract had been ongoing for months when workers were locked out on July 20 following a decision by the Exhibition Place board of governors.

The union says that the main issue of contention is management’s request that it be allowed to hire non-unionized members for some jobs.

“They want us to agree to just disappear and abandon our members' jobs," IATSE Local 58 President Justin Antheunis said in the press release. “Talented, dedicated people from Toronto who have invested their lives in the entertainment and events industry would just be tossed out the back door. Consumers would not benefit, ticket prices would not go down but corporate profits would go up. It's as simple as that but it's not going to happen. We have always been willing to negotiate a full range of contract issues but we're not going to agree to career suicide.”

Collective bargaining with IATSE Local 58 is the responsibility of the Exhibition Place board, which is made up of five cut councillors and four members appointed from the public.

A statement regarding the matter from the CNE association said the current labour dispute is “disappointing.”

“As tenants of Exhibition Place, the CNE has no formal role in the labour dispute, or on the decision to lock out workers,” the statement said. “In fact, we have actively and repeatedly encouraged both sides to return to the bargaining table.”

“Despite this ongoing dispute, preparations are well underway for the 2018 CNE.”

The association said it is working to ensure all workers are “well qualified and trained to meet the requirements of the employment standards act.”

In a statement provided to CP24, Mayor John Tory’s office called the dispute “unfortunate” but blamed Local 58 for refusing to negotiate.

“We understand that Exhibition Place remains willing to return to the table, whenever IATSE Local 58 is ready to provide a meaningful response to the proposals which are necessary to move Exhibition Place forward within a very competitive marketplace,” the statement reads. “We also understand that Exhibition Place offered to avoid a lockout or strike during the CNE and that the union rejected any such proposal.”

Members of IATSE Local 58 are planning to hold a rally at city hall at 11:30 a.m. today.