Kravis Center owes stagehands union at least $2.6 million, National Labor Relations Board says

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A dollar figure has finally been put on the long-running dispute between the Kravis Center and the local stagehands union: $2.6 million.

That is how much the National Labor Relations Board this week said the performing arts hall owes hundreds of stagehands for illegally denying them employment.

An attorney who represents local members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Technicians predicted that $2.6 million is just the beginning. The Kravis Center would also be charged interest dating back to September 2000 when the NLRB and several federal judges agreed Kravis officials illegally broke off contract talks and stopped using union workers, said attorney Matthew Mierzwa.

Further, he said, the $2.6 million only covers the amount the Kravis owes through 2009. The NLRB this week also filed another complaint against the center, claiming in the fall of 2010 it again didn't bargain in good faith, illegally ended contract negotiations and unlawfully refused to hire stagehands through the union hiring hall.

An administration judge in October is to decide whether to force the center to pay stagehands millions in back wages and whether it violated labor laws again in 2010.

Kansas City attorney Robert Janowitz, who represents the Kravis Center, couldn't be reached for comment late Tuesday. He and Kravis Center officials have consistently denied wrongdoing.

The center has repeatedly been found in violation of national labor laws. Over the years, an administrative law judge, the NLRB and an appeals court has ruled that the theater engaged in unfair labor practices. In 2008, a federal judge in Washington ordered the board to bargain in good faith. The Kravis is one of the few major performing arts halls in the state that doesn't use union stagehands.

"They're getting away with murder here," Mierzwa said. If the center continues the legal fight, it could drag on for another five or 10 years, he said.

While disputed by Kravis officials, Mierzwa said the battle has cost the center millions in legal fees. "I'm dumbfound," Mierzwa said. "This is a non-profit organization. They're using tax-exempt money to violate federal labor laws."

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