Current, former IHEG employees pursue labor investigation

  • The Iron Horse in Northampton is one of several music venues owned by Eric Suher’s Iron Horse Entertainment Group. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Iron Horse Entertainment Group owner, Eric Suher.

Staff Writer
Published: 4/30/2020 12:15:14 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Wage theft, late paychecks and problems with sick time. 

Those are some of the allegations that current and former Iron Horse Entertainment Group employees have leveled against the venue and its owner, Eric Suher. A story by New England Public Radio first detailed the alleged labor law violations last summer. 

Now, a group of current and former employees are working with the state attorney general’s office to look into allegations against IHEG, according to two former employees involved in the investigation and Rose Bookbinder, co-director of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, a group that is helping to organize the workers. 

IHEG includes Northampton venues Iron Horse Music Hall, the Calvin Theatre, Pearl Street Nightclub and The Basement, and Mountain Park in Holyoke.

About 10 people — both current and former employees — are part of the investigation, according to Bookbinder. 

A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said the agency is looking into the allegations but did not say whether there is a formal investigation.

Seven complaints, mostly about the nonpayment of wages, have been made against Iron Horse Entertainment Group since mid-June, according to data kept by the Fair Labor Division of the attorney general office. Specifically, complaints alleged problems with earned sick leave, vacation pay, meal periods, overtime and retaliation. 

Suher did not return multiple requests for comment. 

Lindsey Musielak worked in the IHEG box office. Among other issues, she said that lunch breaks she didn’t take were deducted from her paychecks, a problem that the NEPR investigation detailed. 

“There would just be 30 minutes deducted,” she told the Gazette this winter, “without any discussion.”

By state law, workers are entitled to a 30-minute unpaid lunch break for every shift longer than six hours. If they work through the break, they must be paid for that time. In a document Musielak provided to the Gazette, a May 2017 pay stub and timecard showed a discrepancy between the hours she worked and was paid for.

“When I first started noticing it,” Musielak said, “I didn’t say anything because I was afraid of losing my job. I didn’t even tell my coworkers until some time had passed.”

Mod Behrens worked at IHEG in various positions, including as a barback. When barbacking, he made $5.25 an hour, but often tips were low, and he ended up making less than minimum wage. 

“I was working a lot of slow nights,” he said. “That was never made up.”

According to state law, “If the combined wages and actual tips do not at least equal the regular minimum wage, the employer must pay the employee the difference,” reads a summary of state minimum wage law on Mass.gov. “The law requires employers to calculate the difference between the service rate and earned tips at the end of every shift worked by the employee.”

IHEG didn’t make up the pay difference to ensure Behrens made minimum wage until he contacted Suher explaining he was owed several hundred dollars in back wages, Behrens alleged. Emails provided by Behrens between him and Suher confirm his account. 

“I was making sub-minimum wage for months and months and months,” he said.

Sick time was also an issue for Behrens, he told the Gazette.

Texts between Behrens and the person he said was his manager show that the manager initially told Behrens the business was too small to offer paid sick time.

Employers with 11 or more employees must provide earned paid sick time, according to the AG’s office. For every 30 hours worked, employees earn one hour of sick time.

In July, Bookbinder told the Gazette that a group of about a dozen current and former employees were exploring possible legal action, including a class-action lawsuit, but the group has since opted to work with the AG’s office rather than a private attorney, she said. 

If current and former IHEG employees pursued individual claims through an attorney, “it might have been more of a quiet thing,” Bookbinder said. “For them, it’s not really about their own individual claims as it is about the systemic issue.” The group hopes to create a larger change in the workplace, Bookbinder said. 

Behrens felt that working with the AG’s office, rather than going with a private attorney, “can offer legitimate consequences that can benefit every worker and not just a few of us.”

“I think the bottom line,” Musielak said, “is just that we are in motion with the AG’s office and that we are taking steps. We’re doing this, we’re really doing this.” She added, “It does take a long time — we know it takes a long time … We’re in it for the long haul. We want people to know it’s going on.”

Bookbinder encouraged other current or former IHEG employees to reach out if they have had issues. “(If) there are workers, current or recently within the last three years, who want to be a part of a case and want to share their stories, they should reach out to the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, and we can help them, support them in this process.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.


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