Less than three weeks later, an organizer of the boycott lost her job at Gateway City Arts as a consequence, and the petition has been amended to a call for a change in IHEG’s treatment of “entertainment workers, artists, and audiences.”
Cait Simpson, a co-founder and co-director of the non-profit Dwellings, a local collective working to create safe performance spaces, started the petition in an attempt to make touring musicians aware of a pattern of alleged labor law violations brought forward publicly by former IHEG employees, including alleged instances of wage theft reported earlier this year by New England Public Radio.
The petition appeared on the website Change.org, posted by Dwellings, and has gained more than half its goal of 500 signatures as of Tuesday, Sept. 10.
IHEG venues “are integral parts of Northampton history and the petition is more meant to call for some kind of response … All these articles come out and nothing changes. What we are doing is meant to support the work that so many activists and entertainment workers and musicians have already done,” Simpson said in a recent interview.
Losing her job as a marketing director at Gateway City Arts came as a shock, Simpson said.
“They showed me a print out of the petition — which wasn’t a secret, it was public knowledge — and they told me I was being fired,” Simpson said. “In no way did it mention GCA.”
Lori Divine, a co-director for Gateway City Arts, confirmed that Simpson had her job terminated due to the petition.
“We felt that it was a major conflict of interest,” Divine said, because of Simpson’s role as a marketing director. “We felt like we were put in a position where we had no choice.”
Simpson said that due to her role as marketing director, she was told that it would seem as if she were encouraging people to boycott IHEG venues and go to Gateway City Arts instead.
“It’s important to distinguish that Dwellings is completely separate from GCA as is my career as a musician,” Simpson said. “Those are separate jobs that I hold.”
The experience caused Simpson and Dwellings co-director Mara Penatzer to re-evaluate their strategy in calling for more just labor practices from IHEG.
“We needed to take a step back and consider more,” Penatzer said. “We are actively talking about how to effectively raise awareness about [IHEG’s] reputation and engage the community in a way that pushes them to be better.”
She went on, “We would be upset if we were booked at a venue and somebody knew that they had a really bad reputation for how they treat entertainment workers and they didn’t tell us.”
In June, Attorney General Maura Healey’s office said that it would be looking into allegations of wage theft made by former employees of IHEG — which is comprised of Iron Horse Music Hall, the Calvin Theater, Pearl Street Nightclub, and the Basement in Northampton and Mountain Park in Holyoke — in response to claims of wage theft and intimidation by former workers reported by New England Public Radio.
Eric Suher, owner of IHEG, did not return multiple requests for comment.
A spokeswoman for the AG’s office said eight complaints alleging wage theft against IHEG were lodged and the AG has been in touch with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center regarding the complaints. Additionally, Healey’s office issued private right of action letters for each complaint against IHEG, which will allow workers to take their employer to court over their complaints, according to deputy press secretary Margaret Quackenbush.
The Dwellings petition also cites charges of unfair labor practices brought on twice by unionized IHEG stage employees in 2011 and 2012 with the National Labor Relations Board, which were resolved through an informal settlement; a 2016 Advocate article detailing a metal-indie show at Pearl Street Nightclub where temperatures reached about 110 degrees, which led show-goers to lodge formal complaints against the Northampton Health Department; a call for a boycott of IHEG venues in 2017 by singer Vanessa Carlton after a dismal experience performing at Iron Horse where she said it was “freezing on stage.”
Luis Fieldman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.