Former stagehands at the Riviera Theatre in Chicago who were allegedly fired by JAM Productions for union activity want their jobs reinstated, back pay and a fair unionization process.
The fired stagehands rallied Wednesday morning with their allies, including former Democratic Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, outside JAM Productions' offices at 207 W. Goethe St.
About 40 stagehands at the Riviera were fired by the company in September after they signed authorization cards for a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) union election.
"A lot of guys signed cards in August or July and early September, before the date we were fired," said former JAM Productions stagehand Justin Huffman, 40. "I think it's pretty clear that it was a reaction."
David Huffman-Gottschling, an attorney assisting the fired stagehands, said the terminations were illegal.
JAM Productions "decided to fire the entire crew just when it learned that they intended to petition the NLRB to hold an election so that they could choose whether or not they wanted representation," he said. "That act was discriminatory and is prohibited by law."
JAM Productions is a concert and special events producer. It operates the Riviera as well as the Park West and Vic Theatre music venues in Chicago. A representative from the company could not immediately be reached for comment.
Jolly Roger, 67, was also fired by JAM Productions in September, after working for the company since the late 1970's.
"I'm upset that we've been just stabbed in the back," he said.
"We don't want to be out here in the street," Roger added. "We want to be unloading trucks, setting up lights, setting up sound, and watching the kid in the fourth row, who's spending his parents' hard-earned money, have a good time."
Quinn called on JAM Productions and its owner Jerry Mickelson to "come to their senses."
"Hardworking people deserve an opportunity to organize," he said. "The right to organize is fundamental in our American democracy."
At the protest, Quinn took a veiled shot a Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who defeated him in the November 2014 election, for pushing proposals to weaken unions in the state.
"In the past year we've seen, unfortunately, in our country, and even in our state, there are those who want to attack the right to organize, the right to collectively bargain," Quinn said. "We've got to fight back with all of our fiber of every part of our being to make sure that everyday people who work hard, who live from paycheck to paycheck, who are raising children, who have great talent and are contributing their talent to all of us, they get a chance to organize and get a decent wage, and a middle-class standard of living."
Here's more from Quinn, plus comments from Huffman and scenes from the protest:
Huffman, who was a JAM Productions stagehand for about 15 years, said he and other workers wanted to unionize in an effort to improve their wages and benefits. The stagehands did not have health benefits and it had been years since they received a pay raise, Huffman said.
"We want to be represented by [Stagehands] Local 2 to protect our jobs, to provide health insurance for our families and save money for our retirement," he added.
Religious leaders along with those from the Chicago Federation of Labor and Arise Chicago also stood in solidarity with the fired workers.
"It is an immoral act that the company has done," said the Rev. Larry Dowling, pastor of St. Agatha Parish in Chicago's North Lawndale community and Arise Chicago's board president.
About 50 local religious leaders, including Dowling, signed onto a letter urging JAM Productions to reinstate the workers.
"We want them to step up and do the right thing for these employees and for their families, and for the community," Dowling said.
Unfair labor charges over the firings have been filed with the NLRB, which could issue a decision in the coming weeks, Huffman-Gottschling said.
"We fully hope and anticipate that (the NLRB) will issue a complaint and work to get all these guys back to work with full back pay and to proceed to a fair election without any further interference from JAM," he said.