Former employees for local concert powerhouse Jam Productions are asking for their jobs back.
As WBEZ’s Jim DeRogatis reported, in mid-September Jam president Jerry Mickelson called legendary stage manager Jolly Roger to inform him that he and around 40 other stagehands who worked at the Riviera Theatre were fired.
The employees say the firings directly followed Jam management hearing they were organizing to join a local union.
Jam did not respond to calls for comment.
Standing Wednesday outside of Jam’s offices in Old Town, workers chanted and held signs reading “Respect our right to organize!” and “Illegal retaliation - that’s not my jam.”
“People need protection,” said Roger, who has worked for Jam since 1978. Roger claims he hasn’t received a wage increase in 15 years.
Brent Benson, another former Riviera stagehand, added: “Gas goes up, food goes up, cost of living goes up, but our wages don’t go up? And no benefits? It’s totally unfair and that’s all there is to it.”
Jam Productions is known for being one of the largest independent live entertainment promoters in the country. It competes with global juggernauts Live Nation and AEG Live for business in Chicago.
According to Pollstar’s mid-2015 rankings of the Top 100 concert promoters, Jam Productions ranks 11th in the United States and 23rd in the world in terms of tickets sales.
Former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn showed up to support the stagehands, urging Mickelson to come to his senses.
“The right to organize is fundamental to our American democracy,” Quinn said before shouting, “Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and organize!” to rapturous applause.
The union, IATSE Local 2, has filed a petition of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board.
A few employees said they were asked to stage a concert even after they were fired. But when they went to pick up their checks, they weren’t allowed in the building.
Jerry Fritz was one of those workers. Fritz showed up at the rally with a IATSE Local 2 button, along with his son Zachary, who also works as a stagehand.
Fritz says even though he was fired, he’d go back to work for Jam because he loves the concerts.
Jolly Roger shares Fritz's love of the work.
“I’m upset that we’ve been stabbed in the back” said Roger. “We don’t want to be out here in the street. We want to be unloading trucks, setting up lights, setting up sound, and watching the kid in the 4th row who is spending his parent’s hard-earned money have a good time.”
Ryan Katz works in the WBEZ newsroom. Follow him @ryangordonkatz.