News

Should the Iron Horse Pony Up?

Stage employees of Iron Horse Entertainment Group press for higher wages.

Comments (16)
Thursday, November 01, 2012
Photo By Mark Roessler
A stage employee taking a stand against IHEG on Northampton's city streets.

If you’ve wandered through downtown Northampton or been to ES Sports or Holyoke Country Club lately, you’ve probably seen large signs that say Iron Horse Entertainment Group (or other Eric Suher-owned businesses) Unfair. Sitting next to the signs, you’ll find employees of IHEG who are part of IATSE (the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees).

IHEG stage employees unionized in the spring of 2011, and since then have been in contract negotiations. Michael Affitto, business representative for IATSE Local 53, says the negotiations “have been going on longer than any that we’ve been involved in, but it’s a first-time negotiation, so perhaps that’s the reason.”

IATSE Locals 53 and 232 have played hardball, bringing charges of unfair labor practices twice.

Paul Yager, business representative for Local 232, explains, “We’re approaching a year and a half that we have been attempting to negotiate. And Mr. Suher was served with his first unfair labor practice charge for failing to negotiate in the fall of ’11. We did meet briefly in December, and we met again in May. Actually, bargaining was going very well and he stepped away from the table, and a second unfair labor charge was filed and was found to have merit [by the National Labor Relations Board]. Apparently, Oct. 11 the case was settled and Mr. Suher essentially pleaded no contest to the charge of not bargaining in good faith. We currently have a meeting scheduled.”

Employees claim that Suher’s wages for stage employees are 40 percent below the wages for other area venues. Neither the employees nor Suher have shared the exact numbers involved.

Suher, in a recent interview, expressed dislike for the very public nature of the employees’ fight. “There’s a reason they’re trying to gain sympathy and they’re trying to fight a very public battle,” says Suher. “If I ever published their wages, I don’t think people would be quite so sympathetic.”

He also claims that the venues the union uses for comparison, including the Academy of Music in Northampton, Tanglewood in Lenox, CityStage in Springfield and the Mullins Center at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, are not in fact comparable.

“The truth is, there’s only so much money I can earmark for wages,” Suher says. “There are no comparable buildings. The Academy of Music is a public building—same with Symphony Hall and the Springfield Civic Center. Tanglewood is run by a foundation. It’s a very different situation.”

Yager counters, “It’s also my understanding that he pays his other employees below average scale, and it’s unfortunate that he depresses the economy in Northampton in that way.”

In Suher’s view, a relatively small number of IHEG employees are threatening that fairly small economic ecosystem. “The amount of traffic that we’re bringing into town speaks for itself. It allows many other businesses to do well,” says Suher. “The Calvin alone will have brought in 4,000 people this weekend.”

Yager says, “[Suher] is at an unfair advantage over other venues because of very low rates of pay, and obviously his employees are at a disadvantage.”

Though Yager explains that “Legally it cannot be part of [the banner] campaign,” the union’s website, ironhorseunfair.com, includes a “Do Not Patronize” page calling for a boycott of IHEG properties.

Despite that, both Suher and the unions, after expressing their views, seem careful to return to a similarly conciliatory note.

“There’s a reason why we’re standing the way we are with regard to these negotiations,” says Suher, “and that’s that these buildings need to stay open. The union—they’ve been our employees for many years and we hope to come to an agreement.”

Says Yager, “What we hope to do is to be able to work with IHEG to have everyone be successful. We fully support Eric’s efforts to have a good show, have a good product and be successful.”•

Comments (16)
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I disagree with Mr. Suher. I think people would be very smypathetic if people found out what he was paying his staff. His security staff makes state minimum wage. Not exactly a competitive rate

Posted by MarcusSTR on 10.31.12 at 12:33

It's one thing to negotiate in a hard and serious fashion, it's another thing altogether to refuse to negotiate and disobey and disrespect a law that was only designed to initiate a dialog and ensure fair and equitable pay with each side reaching agreement with the other. What possible reason could Eric Suher for taking such an Anti American stand?

At least with a conviction against him by the NLRB, there is now a public record of his devious actions.

I'd rather have no Iron Horse, than an Iron Horse who abuses it's employees like this in the court of public opinion.

Posted by tiedyeguy on 11.1.12 at 12:35

$8 is what IHEG workers are paid, and that is only if Eric decides not to throw away the napkin sign-in sheet he passes around.

Posted by truth on 11.3.12 at 10:23

It's good to see working people throw down the gauntlet. It is also good to see Union members fighting back against thoes who would have us all competeing for the lowest wage jobs.

Posted by Termack500 on 11.5.12 at 9:32

It is shameful that in our progressive community, there is a virtual monopoly on music venues. Eric Suher is the oligarch, and while he fosters a vibrant music scene; he also charges exorbitant fees on tickets. Those fees would be easier to swallow, in fact I would gratefully pay them, if I knew they contributed to his employees earning a living wage. To learn instead his workers earn just above minimum wage is dismaying. Mr. Suher has a real opportunity here: to create a better business model, where workers are paid enough to make a life in the community where they work. He is well known for his love of music, for being a self made man. May he become better known for demonstrating that sound business acumen always includes economic justice.

Posted by Mary McDermott on 11.5.12 at 18:47

Thanks for commenting, Ruth's Truth Hat, but we don't allow personal attacks on the site. Your comment was removed for this reason. Please feel free to restate your opinion as it relates to the content of the story, avoiding ad hominem.

Posted by M. Roessler on 11.6.12 at 10:52

I can't wait until the union gets its way with higher wages and IHEG goes out of business. Guess what? Maybe you shouldn't try to make a life long career of working the stage for IHEG venues? Maybe it should be a stepping stone type job out of college where you only stay a few years. If Eric wasn't paying a fair market wage, he wouldn't have anyone willing to work for him. It's fascinating this idea that everyone has a right to make the wage they feel they deserve for any job they want. No offense but if you insist that your career will be working stages in Northampton, maybe... just maybe, you're not going to make a lot of money. It's a free country people.

Posted by k on 11.13.12 at 5:07

to the last comment by k.....the issue is not whole what the wages are it is that he is not even takeing part in a fair neogating procress...he enterered into a cotracted and then failed to agree to fill in real terms...can you understand their frustatration...the union has continued to do their jobs and you are slamming them for being being greedy...please re read the article....I think it is Mr Eric Scher who is off base and needs to be taught a lesson in reasonable behavior.

Posted by doug fay on 11.15.12 at 19:47

He pays opening acts at the Iron Horse $50 - not per person, for the whole band. And that is regardless of ticket price - $25 a head? Still $50 for the opening band no matter how many people you draw. He also keeps 20% of any merchandise you sell at that $50 show. WHAT A GUY.

Posted by the man on 11.26.12 at 8:27

A stepping stone RIGHT. which means he can pay poor wages,no benifits,and treat people like dirt like he has for meny years now. If he is going to pay stagehands "stepping stone" wages then they should charge "stepping stone" prices on tickets,and beer,and the service charges. And yes maybe Pearl St is were they can cut there teeth,but when you bring in a national act with a big tour package and need to hang pa and lights that weigh?? and at Mt. Park a roof. Those collage kids are going to make the front page when something like Indiana (Sugerland) happends and people will get hurt. All the band there go out of those venues, that I have talked to, are happy to work with such a skilled crew that gets the job done.

Posted by 232 Stagehand on 12.1.12 at 8:31

In order to have world class touring acts in our community, you need to have quality, professional, well trained stage hands to perform these jobs properly. These world class performers and their production demand it in their contracts. The work is very hard and demanding and these workers should be compensated fairly just as the stage hands were paid at that performers last show in Boston, Detroit, or London..

Go ahead and post the stage hands wages but make sure the public realizes that these guys and gals are working 16 hour days, have major major responsibilites, sometimes paying for school to get that position, they also pay union dues out of pocket, and they only work when they are called so they need to stretch that money out over the non busy times which at that point equals out to normal paying wages in our area. No ones getting rich doing this kind of work.

Also most of the production managers and booking agents for these world class touring acts all know each other. They already have a red flag up for the sharks like Eric and have begun to second guess using these venues by just skipping over to another local market which means less work (non busy times)...

It's time to make good on your bad dealings Eric. You'll be a rock star for doing so..

A fine example of good music industry practice is how Bowery Presents represents it's self. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/07/arts/music/07bowe.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Posted by local on 12.1.12 at 10:28

Dearest K,

Have you ever seen a movie? Been to broadway? Attended a concert? A ballet? An opera? A dance recital? Have you ever watched a TV show, gone to a seminar for work, or listened to a radio broadcast? Have you ever read a magazine, seen a professionally-taken picture, or been to a wedding? Have you even been to a museum, seen an art show, or eaten in a restaurant with a sound system?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you have benefitted from the work of a stagehand. "Stagehands" are not just general labor that work on stage. They include Directors, cinematographer, photographers, seamstresses, audio engineers, video directors, lighting designers, pyrotechnic technicians, carpenters, robotics operators, riggers, truck drivers, production managers, supervisors, producers, and many other professions.

Some people may only work occassional jobs in theatre or production as a part time job after college, but that does not make it an unviable career. If your favorite TV show was produced, designed, written, filmed, directed, and broadcast by people using the field as a "stepping stone out of college," it wouldn't even make it to the airwaves.

The next time that you go to the movies, take 5 minutes to sit there after "The End" goes up on screen. Count how many names are listed. There might be 40 actors listed. How many names are after them? Probably around 400. Every single one of them, with the exception of maybe the caterer, is a stagehand. If you enjoy any of the things I listed in the first paragraph, you need to gain some perspective and learn that these productions don't just magically appear. There are thousands of people that dedicate their entire lives toward training, learning, and working in the "stagehand" career. How dare you sit anonymously on the internet and criticize a group of people whose work you enjoy and pay money to perpetuate. YOU are the problem, not the supposed greed of the hard-working people that serve you.

Posted by Sam S. on 12.1.12 at 17:55

It's about time someone called Eric Suher out on his abusive practices and monopoly on the venues of Northampon. All of his workers should be able to make a liveable wage and if as he states "he can only pay so much", he should consider the cost of living in or around Western Massachusetts and what skilled labor in this field pays. Eric in addition to low balling his staff also makes it impossible for them to work at other venues because every time a new place opens up he goes to the planning board and has the places shut down for code violations or improper permitting. How many times have I seen him lurking at a new not spot pretending to be checking the places out, but actually measuring the height of the bar stools to see if they would pass code, I mean really Eric come on..

Considering that he owns all 3 major music venues in town and many other properties on top of that it would appear he seems to have enough income to warrant payaing a fair wage.In the event that you're so destitute Eric and can't pay your employees a liveable wage, perhaps consider selling one of those venues so we can actually have a for profit venue, that artists and employees can be supported by, run by an entrepenuer that wants to put some of the exorbinant ticket prices back into the employees pockets.

Northampton it's time to take the monopoly metality out of our consciousness and really start looking at how our venues and the city can support artists, and working wages for skilled labor that support said artists in doing what they do.

We call ourselves the happy valley, so lets make it a vibrant, thriving local economy where everyone benefits and the backbone of our establishments are paid as such.

Posted by Zephyr Free on 12.4.12 at 6:01

wait a second....isn't this the same eric suher who was just proposing a multi-million dollar casino???? only so much money earmarked for payroll my ass....this guy is money and property hungry. he needs to invest in his workers and their work environment. IHEG venues are so gross!!!!! boycott them!

Posted by John doesnt on 1.2.13 at 23:31
Amen to all (but one) of the comments above. It's incredible to me that this person has had such a long monopoly on music in Northampton, of all places. Tales of low pay for artists and workers are legendary. There are SO many great artists who love to play Northampton - maybe this will weaken Suher's grip and encourage some other venues to open up. At least obey the law and negotiate fairly!
Posted by Rick on 1.28.13 at 11:33

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