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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Chase

Letter: Standing in Support of Shea's Employees

Tomorrow's Buffalo News (Sept. 9, 2022) features a letter to the editor signed by a dozen former employees of Shea's under the title, "Standing in Support of Shea's Employees." Already available online, the letter reads, in part: "As former Shea’s employees who left while Michael Murphy was in charge, we stand behind the current staff of Shea’s Performing Arts Center and back up their allegations. We hope the board will do what’s right and make a decision that’s in the best interest of Shea’s and not themselves."

In recent weeks, controversy has erupted over staff complaints of what Mark Sommer of the Buffalo News has characterized as "a 'toxic' work environment that included the harsh denigration of employees and fits of angry outbursts" by Murphy. 25 of Shea's 34 staff members signed an August 12th letter expressing dismay over Murphy's continued leadership at Shea's.

The situation reached the press when the Shea's board of trustees determined that they would keep Murphy, in an altered role, after reviewing two reports from reviews of his leadership. These reviews were arranged and paid for by the board itself.

Some current staff members have indicated, privately, that they fear for their jobs, should they complain too pointedly. This fear was reinforced last week when Shea's general manager, Bill Patti was fired in the wake of his efforts to assert the staff's conviction that Murphy should be removed from his position. Shea's has no human resources department, and in the absence of such an office, as general manager, Patti would have been responsible to hear and address staff grievances.

In a maneuver that seems disingenuous and which contradicts best practices of human resource management, the board has stated its unwillingness to seriously consider anonymous grievances. It is generally understood that in the power dynamics of the workplace, concerns about retaliation can be quite legitimate, as Patti's dismissal might suggest in this case.

The response of Shea's board to anonymous complaints by employees fearful of retaliation has lacked empathy, and has seemed notably tone-deaf. This was exacerbated when Best characterized Murphy as the victim and the employees as the problem in an interview with Mark Sommer in the Buffalo News.

"We'd like to believe that people will understand that Michael is excellent at what he does," Best told Sommer, "and that he has a good reputation that, frankly, I have got to believe has been unfairly tarnished, if we believe the consultants." Best then added, "What we find is a few bad apples sully the reputation of Shea's."

Is it any wonder that employees, fearful of retaliation, don't trust this board of trustees?

Five of fifteen Shea's trustees have resigned since this situation blew up. Eleven employees have resigned.


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