In New Haven, College Street Music Hall stagehands picket for contract

In New Haven, College Street Music Hall stagehands picket for contract

Twenty-one College Street stage hands voted unanimously a year ago to join a union, Local 74 of IATSE, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts. But one largely-unpaid pandemic year later, with one of the 21 bargaining unit members now having passed away, they have yet to successfully negotiate a contact with College Street’s owners, they said.

For workers, “it’s been five years without a union,” said Local 74 President Gardner Friscia, who was standing outside the College Street Music Hall, previously the Palace Theater, Monday afternoon holding a sign that read, “No health care, no retirement, no future.”

On Monday, the workers hit the street — and said they will continue to go out and do an informational picket of the closed theater from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day through Friday.

About 10 stagehands held their own signs a few feet away from Friscia at one point Monday. Friscia was joined by Local 74 Business Agent Jim Shea.

“We have hope” that negotiators will be able to reach an equitable agreement, said Shea. “We expect a fair contract. We expect that they’ll respect that this is what we’re here for.”

The workers may do their work backstage, away from the public, but “behind-the-scene people cannot be forgotten about or overlooked,” he said.

The next negotiation session with Keith Mahler, president and CEO of Waterbury-based Premier Concerts, the largest independent concert producer in Connecticut, and Premier Facilities, which manages the College Street Music Hall, is scheduled for Wednesday, according to the union.

Neither Mahler nor his attorney, Mary Jane Ryan of Summa & Ryan, could be reached for comment Monday.

Both he and Shea said that they want the public to know the union does not have contract yet.

College Street Music Hall stage hands make different amounts depending on the job they do, ranging from $75 per shift to $350 per day, according to the union.

Because the hours can vary, “you never know exactly how much you’re making an hour,” Shea said.

Workers at the Shubert, in contrast, have had representation, from the same union — and benefits — for many, many years, said Friscia.

“The Shubert has been here for us the entire time, and they’ll always be here,” said Shea, referring to the union.

At this moment, however, workers at both venues are all pretty much in the same boat.

“Nobody’s been paid for the last year, other than unemployment,” said Friscia.

IATSE Local 74 represents stage hands in the southern half of the state, including at the two New Haven theaters, the Toyota Oakdale Theatre, the Palace Theater in Waterbury, the Stamford Center for the Arts and the Westport Country Playhouse, among others.