** UPDATED WITH THE PRESS RELEASE AT BOTTOM ISSUED THURSDAY MORNING BY STAGEHANDS LOCAL 2.
Local concert promoters Jam Productions, one of the few remaining major independent music bookers in the U.S., are in the midst of what’s shaping up to be a nasty fight with stagehands who are seeking to unionize.
A photo of a flier outlining the stagehands’ gripes has gone viral on the local music scene via social media. “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,” it reads. “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!”
Though Jam has increasingly been squeezed out of major arenas and stadiums in this market by its arch rivals and giant international competitors Live Nation/Ticketmaster and C3 Presents, it continues to dominate theater shows in Chicago. The company, which is co-owned by Arny Granat, owns the three music venues mentioned in the flier, as well as regularly booking the Aragon Ballroom. It also is seeking to redevelop the Uptown Theater.
“There are two sides to every story,” Mickelson said when reached for comment on Wednesday afternoon. “That’s all I can say at this time.”
The spokesman for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 2 of Chicago was not available for comment, according to his office, and Chris Phipps, the stagehand whose post has gone viral, could not be reached. The union filed a petition that would trigger a union election on Sept. 17 and charged Jam with Unfair Labor Practices on Sept. 20, but the documents only are available through the lengthy process of filing a Freedom of Information Act request, according to the National Labor Relations Board.
Both sides are weighing in on the stagehands’ treatment in a busy Reddit thread, and there’s talk of picketing Jam shows and bringing out the giant inflatable rat. Jam presents Timeflies at the Riv on Friday and the Wonder Years at that venue on Saturday as well as Adam Carolla at the Vic on Saturday and Al DiMeola at Park West on Tuesday.
“Note that it’s not a black and white issue,” said one concert-industry insider, speaking on background and unaffiliated with either side in the fight. “Union stagehands at the [Jam venues] would negatively impact Jam’s ability to offer shows at those venues as labor costs would maybe triple. These are the same guys who charge $50 to plug in an extension cord at McCormick Place.”