Second City Closes For Two Weeks, Pays Night Staff For One

"While we are not required to compensate employees due to a temporary shut-down, we absolutely want to support you as best we can."

Second City Closes For Two Weeks, Pays Night Staff For One

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On Thursday the Second City announced that its Chicago theater would suspend performances for two weeks. On Friday the company informed that theater’s night staff they will only get paid for one of those weeks.

"We understand the financial burden this is placing on the night staff; and while we are not required to compensate employees due to a temporary shut-down, we absolutely want to support you as best we can," said an email from Second City's human resources department to its night staff, sent Friday afternoon. That group includes bartenders, servers, hosts, greeters, maintenance workers, and box office and kitchen personnel—a total of about 90 part-time and full-time employees, sources tell me.

"That said," the email continued, "the company will be offering you one week of paid leave, based on the average hours worked between Mon 2/24 and Sun 3/8. You will be paid at your regular hourly rate."

Sources tell me that for servers, that rate is $8/hour; for bartenders, $11/hour. Hourly pay for hosts, greeters, and box office staff starts at $13/hour, while dishwashers receive $15/hour. As of publication I have not determined the hourly rate for line cooks and food runners, although I will update this post when I do.

Second City night staffers, hoping to receive pay for the entire shutdown, were disappointed with this announcement. “I just laughed,” one staffer told me in a Twitter direct message. “It’s so on brand at this point. The bit where they say ‘while we are not required to compensate employees’ says it all. They pat themselves on the back for doing the bare minimum and expect us to be grateful.”

“Management discussions of our pay always seem conditional,” another employee agreed via Twitter message. “We’ve had several all-staff meetings recently that have opened with criticisms of the part-time staff’s sales (despite being well above average) and placing the blame of Second City’s lower profit on part-time employees, in addition to blaming it on paying employees more hourly.”

This person added that specifics of the PTO policy leave many night staffers hanging. “The week being used as a sample for work hours was during Second City’s slow season, and some people didn't have the opportunity to work at all,” they said.

Many night staff also depend on tips, which are not included in the policy. A message sent to Second City co-owner Andrew Alexander by multiple employees details the ways night staff will suffer during the closure:

"Andrew Alexander I am urging you to reconsider pay for this closure. As it stands now we are being paid for 1 week during a 2 week closure. Tipped employees will only make $8 an hour for this. We literally will not be able to feed ourselves or make rent. We can’t pay for needed medications. You will lose the majority of your staff over this. We preach tip your house and wait staff at the end of every show because we do absolutely rely on this for food, medicine and shelter. Everyone was already panicking before but now everyone is far passed that. We are outright terrified."

Sources tell me there are discussions among night staff of mass resignations or a walkout; others are petitioning management directly for more action, which may include a live-streamed fundraising event. For now it remains unclear what steps the theater and its workers will take.

“It’s because people on night staff specifically are advocating and putting pressure on the top we were even able to convince Second City to try and figure out other ways to help us in the first place,” a third staffer told me in a text message. “So thank you Second City Night Staff. Always the hardest working people in the room.”

Night staffers have set up a GoFundMe, where it appears Alexander donated $5,000 earlier today. I have reached out to the theater for comment and will update this post if it responds.

Update, 3/15/20:

Second City HR announced in an email Sunday night that the theater’s night staff will receive paid time off through Monday, March 30th. The announcement followed an order by Illinois governor JP Pritzker shutting down bars and restaurants across the state. It also included an adjustment of the terms used to calculate employees’ hourly pay during the shutdown. The full email is below:

Hello Everyone-

I wanted to provide another update as the governor has shut down all dine-in service for bars and restaurants starting Mon March 16 through Mon March 30.

As we were hopeful to re-open on Fri March 27, given this information, we unfortunately will need to hold on giving a definitive date. Knowing this is another weekend worth of missed hours worked, the company will be extending your hourly pay through Mon March 30. Also, given the feedback we heard on the seasonality factors that may have decreased the numbers the past two weeks, we are instead applying numbers over 4 weeks.

A revised schedule is below:

*Fri March 20: hours worked Mon March 9 - Thurs March 12

*Fri March 27 and Fri April 3: average hours worked between Mon Feb 10 - Sun March 8

We thank you for your feedback, patience and support. We are taking all things into consideration as we continue to navigate during this unprecedented time.

Please know that you have the option to apply for unemployment benefits as well. The state recently adopted emergency rules to try to make the unemployment insurance system as responsive to the current situation as possible. More details can be found using the link below:

More information will be provided as soon as it becomes available.

Please continue to send questions and feedback. And please stay healthy.

Are you a comedy worker affected by a workplace shutdown? Email or DM me if you want to talk.

Header image by Jeffrey Zeldman.