IATSE Battles Pepsi Center

The Democratic National Convention could be coming to Denver in 2008, but the local stagehands union is threatening to boycott the DNC’s possible visit to the Pepsi Center.

James Taylor, the union leader for Local No. 7 International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, is reportedly a principled labor union leader who has been at odds with the owners of the Pepsi Center since 1999, when IATSE lost a bid to win work at the arena.

Pepsi Center owner Stan Kroenke went with a non-union company, Rhino Staging & Events Solutions. Taylor, who can list concert promoter Barry Fey as a longtime supporter, has been rankled by the decision.

"He believes he was done wrong, that he had as good a bid," Fey told the Denver Post. "He really believes he should have got it."

Fey brought Taylor’s bid to Pepsi in ’99, the paper said, and House of Blues Entertainment in Denver used IATSE during the time Fey was in charge. Barry’s son Jeffrey is a former member of IATSE, the paper said.

Now Denver’s bid for the pro-union Democrats convention is at stake, and IATSE has refused to sign a pledge to not picket or protest the event. Ironically, Taylor is a longtime Democratic campaigner and he has not commented to the local papers about the controversy.

The Pepsi Center and Rhino have agreed to let union members replace Rhino employees at the convention, the Post reported. However, if the event takes place and Rhino and IATSE work side by side, Taylor allegedly wants to allow Rhino employees the opportunity to vote on whether they want to join the stagehands.

"A lot of what is being said and printed is just not accurate. Nobody’s talked to me about this," Rhino CEO John Giek told Pollstar. "The fact of the matter is, I’m three steps removed. Pepsi Center and Kroenke are dealing with the DNC and the host committee, and we’re a service business."

Giek said he is excited about the possibility of the DNC coming to town and doesn’t want to lose the event. Also, Rhino is full-service production, not just a labor provider.

It’s not the first time his company has won out over unionized companies, he said.

Rhino operates nationwide and provides staging, lighting, sound and roof systems. It has accounts with U.S. Airways Centre in Phoenix, the Coors Amphitheatres in Denver and San Diego, the Tucson Convention Center, the Tacoma Dome and Seattle’s Qwest Events Center, among others.

"We’re not a union company. It’s not what we do. Maybe they would want to try and unionize us but it’s not on our agenda," Giek said. "Over the past 15 years we’ve been able to create a lot of full-time jobs with salaries, benefits, insurance and great training programs.

"Playing hardball on this issue will only hurt the working guys."