Members of the stagehands union, embroiled in an 11-year legal battle with the performing arts venue, had held many protests there before, but this time they hoped to catch the attention of a performer they thought would be a slam-dunk ally for their cause: liberal-leaning comedian and political commentator Bill Maher, scheduled to perform Saturday night.
Union officials this month had said they hoped Maher would follow the footsteps of local politicians and others who canceled appearances at the Kravis because they refused to cross picket lines.
In the end, however, Maher went the way of legendary singer and actre4ss Shirley MacLaine, who performed at the Kravis in March -- though she later reportedly expressed regret at having crossed the line.
One protester held a sign Saturday saying Maher had "marred" his reputation by continuing with his show, but most others said they had no problem with him performing.
"This was never about Bill Maher ---- at least it wasn't about trying to get him to cancel his performance," former union President Terry McKenzie said. "We just wanted him to know what the situation was, and the situation speaks for itself."
The dispute began in 2000 after the workers say Kravis leaders unlawfully forced them out. Union members won what they thought would be a decisive victory in 2008 when an appellate court ruled Kravis officials had engaged in unfair labor practices.
But more than two years later, contract negotiations have broken down. Union workers have accused Kravis of trying to get out of paying nearly $3.6 million in court-ordered back pay and continuing the same unfair practices that put them out of work years ago.
Those who had hoped Maher would join them in the fight by canceling his performance said they were encouraged when the end of the protest brought news that Maher was willing to listen.
State Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, who joined the picketers with Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, had been trying to contact Maher for weeks before the performance. Pafford said he met briefly with someone from Maher's staff just before the comedian was set to go onstage, and the representative told him Maher possibly would mention something about the conflict during the show. He also said Maher was willing to meet with a couple of union representatives after the show.
"To go through this for years without a resolution has got to be difficult," Pafford said.
"I think that if they're able to meet with him, it'll be a good thing for them."