AG’s office to look into allegations against Iron Horse owner

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Staff Writer
Published: 6/19/2019 7:54:08 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The state attorney general’s office will look further into allegations of labor law violations leveled this week against Iron Horse Entertainment Group owner Eric Suher, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The office has not received complaints against IHEG, but workers who believe their rights have been violated should contact the office’s Fair Labor Division, said the spokeswoman, who declined to be identified.

In a report Tuesday by New England Public Radio, several former IHEG employees allege that the Northampton-based music venue company and Suher have violated several labor laws relating to working hours, paid sick leave, late paychecks, verbal abuse on the job, and other rights in the workplace.

While no official reports appear to be filed, some of the company’s former employees have contacted the Pioneer Valley Workers Center for legal help, NEPR reported.

The center’s co-director, Rose Bookbinder, told NEPR that many of the employees “initially wanted to pursue some sort of wage claim against IHEG or Eric Suher,” but did not for fear of “being blacklisted by him and all of his different venues.”

Suher could not be reached for comment by phone, email or in person at some of his business locations on Wednesday. A few current employees at IHEG locations declined to comment on the allegations.

The accusations against IHEG are “serious allegations,” said Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz on Wednesday, “and I would encourage the employees making them to go through the proper regulatory agencies to have them investigated.”

While the city of Northampton does not have the authority to investigate the allegations, it has “taken a pretty strong stand in terms of wage theft and ensuring that, in the ways that we can within our powers, employers and contractors that we do business with comply with all wage and labor laws within the state,” Narkewicz said, citing examples such as the Northampton License Commission’s Fair Wage Compliance Certificate.

Iron Horse Entertainment Group comprises five local venues: Iron Horse Music Hall, the Calvin Theatre, Pearl Street Nightclub and The Basement in Northampton, as well as Mountain Park in Holyoke.

Stevie Pipes, one of the former employees who spoke with NEPR for its story, told the Gazette on Wednesday that in the approximately four years that she worked with IHEG, most recently as a box office manager at Northampton Box Office, “paychecks being late came up constantly.”

Pipes was among nine employees who told NEPR that paychecks commonly arrived late by days or weeks. Hourly workers must be paid weekly or biweekly, according to state law.

Many of Pipes’ co-workers also did not realize that state law entitled them to a 30-minute unpaid meal break per six hours of work, she said.

But Pipes said that she was already familiar with the labor laws in question, having worked under “employers that tried to pull the same thing” in the past. She said she tried to inform her co-workers of their rights.

“I wanted to make sure that they know, I don’t care what (Suher) might have told you,” Pipes said. “Massachusetts state law says you are allowed to take a break. End of story.”

Pipes said that Suher eventually communicated to employees that they can take breaks, but allegedly said that they would still need to stay in the office and perform tasks such as answering phone calls. Under state law, workers can agree to work or stay in their workplaces during meal breaks, but they must be paid for this time.

Allegations of meal break violations did not end there. Another former employee, Lindsey Musielak, told NEPR that she would notice a half hour deducted from each day on her paycheck for meal breaks that she had not taken.

Pipes also raised her concerns regarding late paychecks with Suher, she told the Gazette, after which Pipes said the paychecks came in “a little more reliably, to a point,” although she added the issue was not completely resolved.

Another former employee, Graham Hurlburt, alleged that Suher attempted to find loopholes in labor laws through means such as having employees work over 40 hours, divided across different venues in order to avoid paying overtime. Hurlburt assumed that this was legal, but later learned this violates the law.

With the allegations against Suher now made public, Pipes said that she hopes to see labor practices reformed at IHEG venues.

“With how long things like this have been going on at IHEG, I don’t know how hopeful I am that he’ll treat people the way they deserve to be treated,” Pipes said, adding that living expenses and limited job availability have kept some from speaking out in the past.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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