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Actors' unions support workers in Rocky Mountaineer dispute

ACTRA, the union that represents 22,000 English-language performers who work in Canadian TV, film, radio and digital media, has called on Oscar celebrities to tear up gift tickets for trips on the Vancouver-based Rocky Mountaineer luxury rail service. The free tickets, good for a four-day, three-night luxury Classic First Passage travel package through the Rockies from Vancouver to Banff, were reportedly included in "loot bags" to be given to celebrity Oscar participants.

On Sunday night the US-based Screen Actors Guild also called on its members to boycott the trains until its labour dispute is settled, according to the B.C. Federation of Labour.

Nancy Dery, communications manager for Rocky Mountaineer, told the AOL Travel website last week that:

"It's always been part of our marketing strategy to go after the celebrity market. We approached the organizers because the Academy Awards is a great fit for us. We see this as an amazing opportunity to highlight not only our exceptional experience on board the train but to also showcase Western Canada's stunning scenery -- the very best in the world."

Rocky Mountaineer did not respond to a Tyee request for comment on this story.

The Rocky Mountaineer is currently mired down in a dispute that has seen over a hundred Teamster employees who normally serve the line's passengers as onboard attendants locked out since last June, with their jobs being done by scabs (also known as "replacement workers") hired through Craigslist.

In a press conference held at a Teamster picket line on Sunday, February 26, Alvin Sanders, local ACTRA president, called on "…all Oscar nominees to tear up the Rocky Mountaineer certificate in support of workers' rights.

"We want all nominees to know that using this so-called-gift card would mean crossing a picket line. Good actors don't ride scab railways," Sanders said.

Speaking at the Sunday rally, B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair said that the publicity stunt has failed because actors won't come. But he added that thousands of other passengers will choose to ride the train and the company will not tell them the train is run by scabs and they have to cross a picket line to get on it.

"It would be deceitful and dishonest not to tell the actors they would be crossing picket lines to use the gift, just like it is deceitful and dishonest not to tell all the customers who are buying tickets," said Sinclair.

Tina Richardson, one of the locked-out onboard attendants and the single mother of three children, including one diagnosed with leukemia during the lockout, told The Tyee that she was shocked by the company’s "audacity" in arranging the Oscar gift connection.

"They overlooked that most performers and other workers in film are union members. It shows such disrespect for Rocky Mountaineer to suggest that Oscar celebrities cross our picket line and be served by scabs,” she said on February 27.

A support rally for locked-out Teamsters at the Rocky Mountaineer will be held at 3:30 p.m. on March 5th at 1755 Cottrell.

Tom Sandborn covers labour and health policy beats for the Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at tos@infinet.net

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