OLD TOWN — A year after stagehands were fired, allegedly for attempting to unionize, the union they've since joined announced it will file unfair labor practice charges against Jam Productions.
Thursday morning, union and clergy members dressed in Halloween costumes picketed outside the Jam Productions office, 207 W. Goethe St., shouting "We're stagehands, we don't step back. What do we need? A union contract."
Instead of negotiating, "the company has heaped upon workers insult after insult and violation after violation," said Rev. C.J. Hawkings, Executive Director of Arise Chicago, which fights for workers' rights in the Chicago area.
Prior to the protest, clergy members with Arise attempted to give Jam Productions owner Jerry Mickelson a letter asking him to negotiate a contract with union members, but they only made it to the top of the stairs of his office building before a door was slammed in their face and police were called, the members said.
The refusal from the company to negotiate with the stagehands, many longtime employees, "in good faith" forced the union to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging unfair labor practices, said Craig Carlson, business manager for the union.
While Jam Productions "refused to come to the table," Live Nation, which "enjoys a long and very strong relationship" with the union, has volunteered to recognize the union at the Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence Ave., Carlson said.
The charge alleges that the production company "failed to bargain," said David Huffman-Gottschling, an attorney for the union. "They have an obligation to bargain with the union and they didn't."
If the National Labor Relations Board finds merit in the allegations, it will file a complaint, which would force a hearing in front of an administrative law judge, Huffman-Gottschling said.
According to the labor board's website, a charge initiates an investigation by regional field examiners and attorneys. More than half of all charges are withdrawn or dismissed, but in cases where "probable merit" is found, "the majority settle by agreements between the parties."
If no settlement is reached, the Regional Director issues a complaint detailing the allegations, the website said.
Last October, 30 stagehands working at the Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine Ave., were fired after holding an election to vote if they should be represented by Theatrical Stage Employees Union Local 2. The stagehands were told to clear out their tools and equipment and the locks were changed, according to the union.
Following the firings, union representatives, former Gov. Pat Quinn and about 40 stagehands including legendary stage manager Jolly Roger held a similar protest outside Jam Productions to bring awareness of the "retaliatory discharge of the entire Riviera crew."
The stagehands had not received raises in seven years, were asked to perform unsafe work and were not allowed to negotiate for health insurance, Rogers alleged at that protest, adding that even though he had worked for the company since 1978 he hadn't received a raise in 15 years.
"Everybody I work with pays me 35 bucks an hour, you pay me $26," Roger said he told Mickelson. "He didn't want to catch up with the other people at that point."
About 100 people depended on the Riviera job for a portion of their income, and about 40 depended on the job as a large portion of their income, he said.
"Some of these guys are still making $14 an hour. These guys are unloading huge trucks and doing all kinds of stuff. People have to survive," Rogers said.
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