The New Haven Coliseum now stands silent after its official closure more than a month ago, and those who were most intimately involved in its day-to-day operation are silent as well.
Union leaders and the Coliseum’s 46 employees are satisfied with a severance agreement reached between SMG, the Philadelphia-based company that managed the Coliseum, and the Coliseum Authority, union organizer Katharine Cristiani said. But due to a gag-order clause in the contract, employees, including SMG facility manager Lisa Audi, are prohibited from commenting on their experiences at the now-defunct sporting venue.
Forty-one part-time workers represented by Local 217, which consists of hotel and restaurant employees and bartenders, lost their jobs when the New Haven Coliseum closed. Local 217 is associated with locals 34 and 35 — Yale’s two largest unions — and represents many workers at the Omni hotel. Five administrators and maintenance workers, represented by the Union of Needletrade, Industrial and Textile Workers, also lost their jobs.
“Of course we were disappointed that the Coliseum closed,” said Cristiani, who works for Local 217 and was involved in the negotiations.
Cristiani said the workers and the Coliseum Authority began negotiations for a severance package “on very different pages.”
“We thought the Coliseum came in with a very inadequate severance package that didn’t come close to recognizing the years of service of the workers,” Cristiani said.
SMG has standard procedures for determining severance packages, said Tony Bialecki of New Haven City Hall’s Office of Economic Development.
“There was a discussion of severance pay and sort of health benefits that are sort of over and above the normal SMG policy,” he said.
Cristiani said workers were satisfied with the outcome of negotiations.
“With the help of the workers and the Coliseum Authority and the DeStefano administration, we were able to work out a very fair severance,” she said.
The severance package for Local 217 workers included a payout of their yearly vacation bonus and one-time cash payments that will vary in quantity according to number of years of service. A unique feature of the severance package is an agreement that former Coliseum workers would be offered jobs as temporary fill-ins at New Haven school cafeterias.
“It gets them sort of an in to get their foot in the door for another part time job,” Cristiani said. “They needed the extra money. [Working at the Coliseum] absolutely was a source of income for them to put food on the table.”
Bialecki said that the Coliseum, which closed for its failure to sustain itself, had a somewhat complex financial relationship with the city. SMG managed the Coliseum but was supervised by the Coliseum Authority, an entity separate from City Hall established by state statute and city ordinance to manage the Coliseum when it opened in 1971.
“It’s somewhat similar to the Parking Authority,” Bialecki said. “While they’re somewhat related to the city, they do sort of stand on their own financially, although the city originally (when the Coliseum was built) paid for the bonds that paid for the Coliseum.”