Workers claim comedy fest blacklisted them for complaint
February 28, 2002
A group of Carbondale workers claims that the hiring practices of the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival are no laughing matter.
The eight men and women filed a complaint Monday with the National Labor Relations Board against the comedy festival and organizer Moffit-Lee Productions for alleged unfair hiring practices, a board spokesman confirmed.
The workers allege in their complaint – formally known as a charge against employer – that they were blacklisted by the festival management this year.
The move was retribution against the group for complaining about working conditions last year, according to group spokesman Mike Chamness.
“It’s ironic given their theme this year is freedom of speech,” said Chamness. “I guess it doesn’t apply to festival employees.”
The comedy fest will feature a roundtable discussion about freedom of speech issues as well as a tribute to comedians such as George Carlin, who have pushed the envelope on free speech.
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Jeff Thorson, coordinating producer of the comedy fest, declined to comment on the complaint. He said commenting would be inappropriate since there is an apparent legal issue.
@ATD Sub heds:Group revolted
@ATD body copy: Chamness said he and seven other workers revolted last year while performing “grunt work” at the festival because of the treatment from a labor-crew supervisor.
All eight workers are from the Carbondale area. They were hired for temporary jobs that included loading and unloading stage props during the festival and moving equipment from one venue to another.
Chamness said the job paid $15 an hour for six to seven days of work. They were also given limited access to some events.
The group complained about allegedly hostile treatment from supervisor Dan Stevenson. He is a large, intimidating man who yelled a lot and regularly unleashed “profanity-laden tirades,” said Chamness. “I guess the simple way to say it is he swore a lot.”
The eight employees detailed their complaints in a letter to Thorson. All eight signed the letter.
“Due to inaction on the part of event management to adequately address issues outlined in the complaint, the eight employees walked off the job site,” the complaint with the National Labor Relations Board said.
“Approximately two hours later, festival directors Pat Tourk-Lee and John Moffit called the eight individuals to the stage of the Wheeler Opera House, a festival venue, and offered to agree to all terms of the complaint and hired all eight employees back for the remainder of the event,” the complaint continued.
The demands included having Stevenson offer a “sincere apology” and removing him from direct contact with the event labor crew.
@ATD Sub heds:No longer needed
@ATD body copy: Chamness said he and one other member of last year’s group reapplied with a local representative of comedy fest earlier this month to work this year’s event. Chamness said he had worked the festival for four years and anticipated getting re-hired.
However, the local representative told him on Feb. 13 that neither he nor the seven other people who signed the letter last year would be allowed to work for the festival again.
Another member of the group, Steve Horn, said he was also turned away for employment.
“A consistent pattern of conduct by the festival to exclude these past employees from seeking re-employment for signing a past complaint is a violation of their right to ‘protected concerted activity’ under the National Labor Act,” their complaint said.
The act is designed to let employees air grievances without fear of retribution – thus it is protected, concerted activity. The comedy fest’s unwillingness to re-hire them was illegal, Chamness said.
“We’re being denied the ability to work because we complained,” he said. “We didn’t think it was that outrageous.”
Not only did the festival directors accommodate them last year, they didn’t bring Stevenson back this year, Chamness claimed. He believes that shows they had legitimate complaints.
It couldn’t be confirmed whether or not Stevenson was back with the festival.
@ATD Sub heds:Investigation starts
@ATD body copy: Wayne Benson, assistant to the regional director of the Denver region of the NLRB, said the case has been assigned to an investigator. That person is just starting to look at the charges, he said.
Chamness will be contacted, and the labor-relations board will determine if there was a potential violation that needs further study. If so, it will interview the employer.
Results of the investigation will be taken to the regional director for a decision on whether a violation occurred and what penalties should be assessed.
The investigation could take months to complete, Benson said.
Horn, one of the group that has dubbed itself the “Downvalley Eight,” said he wants to make sure the comedy-festival management understands that what they did is illegal. He doesn’t want the other people to suffer the same consequences.