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Riviera Theatre Stagehands Say They Were Fired For Voting To Unionize

By  Mina Bloom and Josh McGhee | October 22, 2015 8:18am | Updated on October 22, 2015 4:48pm

 Jerry Mickelson, the owner of Jam Productions, said,
Jerry Mickelson, the owner of Jam Productions, said, "There are two sides to every story."
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

UPTOWN — JAM Productions owner Jerry Mickelson fired 30 stagehands at The Riviera Theatre for attempting to unionize, according to a flier being distributed by former employees and the union trying to organize the workers.

A flier posted by Chris Phipps on Facebook Sunday, which has been shared nearly 500 times, details the stagehands' account of the conflict and urges patrons to boycott JAM productions venues to show support for the staff.

"When JAM Productions owner Jerry Mickelson heard his stagehands wanted an election so they could vote on whether to be represented by Stagehands Local 2, he fired each and every one of us at the Riviera," the flier alleged.

"It's not his choice—it's ours! You have a choice, too — don't patronize the Riviera, Vic or Park West until JAM hires us back," the flier read.

Phipps couldn't be reached for comment, but the Theatrical Stage Employees Union Local 2 issued a release Thursday saying it was still seeking to hold a union election for the stagehands and saying it had filed an unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board "over the retaliatory discharge of the entire Riviera crew."

The release said stagehands began organizing efforts in July to hold an election, facilitated by the NLRB, to decide whether to join the union.

"But JAM caught wind of the organizing activity and, just as Local Two was about to file its petition, illegally fired the entire stage crew at the Riviera, totaling over 30 employees," the statement said. "Some of these stagehands had worked for JAM for decades and thought of JAM as family."

The union also said that the stagehands were told to clear out their tools and equipment and the locks were changed.

The firings happened during a "profanity-laced tirade" by Mickelson earlier this month, the statement said. Among those let go was "legendary Stage Production Manager Jolly Roger," the union said.

The flier that was being distributed by former staff of JAM Productions.

When reached via email, Mickelson said he had only one comment about the situation: "There are two sides to every story."

According to a member of the Riviera's bar staff, who declined to give his name since he was still employed by the company, there weren't any shows at the venue at 4746 N. Racine Ave. for roughly three months.

Employees were told it was "too hot to have shows" during those months, the worker said, but that didn't sit right with some workers when they showed up for work last Thursday.

"They started having shows and the whole staff is different," he said.

While he admitted stagehands and bar staff only see glimpses of each other during performances, word spread quickly of the attempted unionization and the alleged firings that followed.

"I had spoke[n] to them here and there. There was a lot of rumblings of them wanting to unionize because they weren't getting fair wages," he said.

He's had similar concerns about fair wages, which were reinforced when another member of the bar staff sent an email to other employees about Chicago's minimum wage increase, which has been effective since July 1.

According to the minimum wage ordinance, which was passed in December, tipped employees must receive $5.45 an hour and non-tipped employees receive $10 an hour. Employers can pay adults 50 cents less during their first 90 days of employment.

The anonymous employee who spoke with DNAinfo said he's worked at the venue for about a year and is still receiving $4.95 an hour. He added that on some nights, he doesn't make many tips at all because of shows that serve an "all ages" crowd.

Scabby, a large inflatable rat that unions have used during protests of businesses, made an appearance at the venue last Thursday. The rat held a sign reading, "I was knifed by a 'Jerry Mickelson' slacker for being a union backer."

"Thursday the union people showed up with the rat. Jerry was at that show and that was the first time I've seen him here in over a year," the employee said.

Scabby the rat made an appearance at the Riviera Theatre Thursday night, an employee said. [imgur/Stephie34]

JAM Productions is a 40-year-old concert and special events promotion producer located in Chicago. It is "the largest independent producer of live entertainment in the United States," according to its website.

The Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine Ave., was built as a movie theater in 1917 by George and C.W. Rapp of Rapp & Rapp, but was transformed into a private nightclub in 1986. The concert and special events venue has hosted "many of the world’s greatest performers and entertainers," according to its website. JAM Productions also operates The Vic and Park West theatres.

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