Iron Horse, stagehands in contract standoff
Members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 53 (Springfield) and 232 (Northampton Amherst) joined members of the Iron Horse Entertainment Group employees bargaining unit in a protest outside of E-S Sports in Holyoke on Wednesday. Eric Suher owns both IHEG and E-S Sports.
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This is a flyer handed out by members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 53 (Springfield) and 232 (Northampton Amherst) and members of the Iron Horse Entertainment Group employees bargaining unit during a protest outside of E-S Sports in Holyoke on Wednesday. Eric Suher owns both IHEG and E-S Sports.
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NORTHAMPTON — Freelance stagehands and the Iron Horse Entertainment Group have been locked in labor contract negotiations since the spring of 2011, a timeline that has prompted the union representing workers to file two unfair labor practice grievances with the National Labor Relations Board. As of last week, employees added daily public protests to their arsenal.
Sticking points in contract negotiations include wages, benefits and hiring practices, according to people on both sides of the table. If the sides reach agreement, this would be the first contract brokered between IHEG and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IA), which in March of last year won the right to represent IHEG stagehands.
The union represents many of the Iron Horse group’s contracted stagehands when they are employed by other venues. These freelance stagehands say they are seeking to be paid at Iron Horse gigs at close to the same pay scale they get for other area jobs.
“You get tired of getting paid less than you’re worth,” said Amber Tanudjaja, a unionized stagehand with four years’ experience working in the Valley.
Tanudjaja and other employees claim Eric Suher, owner of IHEG, which operates the Calvin Theatre, Pearl Street Nightclub and the Iron Horse Music Hall, all in Northampton, and Mountain Park Amphitheater in Holyoke, pays stagehands 40 percent less than the standard wage paid at other area venues such as the Academy of Music in Northampton, Tanglewood in Lenox, CityStage in Springfield and the Mullins Center and Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Suher, interviewed by phone Wednesday, says he pays stagehands a wage that is on par with or better than what’s paid to other people working in downtown Northampton. He said other local venues are able to pay stagehands more because they are subsidized by the state and/or donations from the public.
“The other facilities are publicly funded. No one is a private promoter like myself,” Suher said. “The reality is they’re looking for wages that wouldn’t allow us to do business.”
Paul Yager, vice president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, said Suher and his representatives have not been cooperative in the negotiations.
“It goes way beyond foot-dragging and it’s a violation of the National Labor Relations Act,” Yager said. “They’d come to the table and not be prepared to bargain. They wouldn’t have all the information that they needed and it was certainly, in our eyes, not a legitimate attempt to come and work out a substantive contract. All the contract language was supplied by us because no contract language was coming from them.”
Suher said it is the union that has been unprepared and unwilling to negotiate, not IHEG.
“They consider it me not bargaining in good faith if I don’t meet their demands. That’s hogwash,” Suher said.
Most area stagehands are employed on a freelance basis and many are represented by the stagehands union. The Iron Horse group’s contract has the potential to affect 40 to 45 local unionized workers.
Tanudjaja has participated in recent anti-IHEG protests outside Suher’s businesses, ES Sports Corp. in Holyoke and the Holyoke Country Club. Since Oct. 1, union members stationed outside the businesses have passed out fliers to raise awareness about their cause. “Things can only get better,” Tanudjaja said. “It feels good to be doing something about this.”
Suher, who would not provide specific wage information, said the union is looking for hourly pay increases of 20 percent to 30 percent for unionized stagehands working at Iron Horse group venues. Yager declined to provide wage information.
Lawyers for the Iron Horse Entertainment Group are slated to meet in Boston next week with the National Labor Relations Board to address charges of unfair labor practices. Yager said the union filed grievances with the labor board in September and December of 2011, claiming Suher and his representatives had not been prepared to negotiate and that requests for basic information were going unanswered for weeks.
Last month, the labor board denied a request from IHEG lawyers to dismiss the grievances.
It is unclear, however, if the labor board hearing will take place. On Wednesday, Suher said the issue had been resolved. Yager and the board’s secretary said the hearing was still on.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it does get settled,” Yager said, “but it’s not settled yet.”