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West Palm Beach labor dispute becomes election issue

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

An ongoing dispute between West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center for the Performing Arts and trade unions became an election issue this fall, forcing candidates to cancel political events they had scheduled there rather than cross picket lines.

Amid charges of unfair labor practices, the Kravis Center and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Technicians and Allied Craft have been deadlocked on contract negotiations for more than 10 years. The union’s members provide part-time technical and stagehand services at the center.

In October, eventual governor’s race winner Rick Scott and his opponent, Florida CFO Alex Sink, moved campaign events to the Palm Beach Convention Center to avoid picketers. A month earlier, unsuccessful Senate candidates Kendrick Meek and Gov. Charlie Crist pulled out of events that had been previously scheduled at the center.

The picket lines in front of the Kravis Center are just the most visible artifact of a decade-long labor dispute. In 2000, the center cut off contract negotiations and fired six full-time unionized employees. That was an unfair labor practice, according to a 2002 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that alleged the center was trying to break the union as a collective-bargaining representative. An appeals court later upheld the NLRB ruling.

Kravis representatives say they’re willing to make a contract offer to the union, but union officials say they are skeptical after a decade of acrimonious negotiations.

Maybe they’ll have it sorted out by 2012.

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