802 Collected Almost $1 Million for Recording Musicians in 2001

Volume CII, No. 3March, 2002

Local 802 recording musicians received close to one million dollars in grievance collections and late payment penalties in 2001, thanks to the union’s intervention. Of that amount, $908,096 was for wages and benefits, and $78,104 was for late payments.

Some $313,000, or about 35 percent, of wages and benefits collected were for violations of the AFM’s phono agreements. The next largest category involved grievances under the television videotape agreement, which accounted for $215,958, or almost 24 percent of the total. Violations of the basic cable agreement produced $130,376 (14.4 percent of the total); followed by $89,907 (10 percent) under the public television agreement, $83,446 (9.2 percent) under AFM film agreements, and $68,906 (8 percent) under the jingle agreement.

In most cases, the proportion of total grievance collections attributable to each area of the business is very close to the prior year’s figure. But there is one important difference: the total dollars collected were down sharply from one year earlier.

One reason, of course, is that collections in 2000 broke every previous record. The union secured wages and benefits totaling $1,469,823 and late payment penalties of $185,042, for a total of $1,654,865.

But the 2001 collections were also considerably lower than the average of $1,346,353 that Local 802 collected in the five years from 1995 through 1999 (including $1,196,707 in wages and benefits and $128,409 in late payments). These lower collections mirror an overall decline in recording work that poses a huge challenge for the union and for recording musicians.

“In 2001, for the first time in the last eight years, record sales were lower than in the previous year,” said Jay Schaffner, Assistant Supervisor of the Recording Department. “The economy was already in a slump before Sept. 11, and of course that had a huge impact. The bottom line is that fewer recording dates are taking place in the phono field.

“The advertising industry, which historically has provided half of the scale wages for New York recording musicians, is in a nosedive as well.” Shaffner speculated that, during the nine-month SAG/AFTRA strike in 2000, the work may have left New York or the United States. Many advertisers did dark work in the recording centers, including New York – practices that continued after the strike was settled. “And now, with the economy slumping, advertisers are looking at holding the line.”

He points out that the brightest spot, in recent months, has been television. “There have been more large specials, and new shows that utilize music – such as NBC’s After Hours with Carson Daly, which uses live musicians – are being done,” Schaffner told Allegro. “Other programs, like the NBC Today Show, CBS This Morning, Live With Regis and Kelly and Good Morning America, have a flow of live musicians. But that doesn’t provide ongoing employment for consistent numbers of people; this is one-shot employment for guest bands.”


Recording work has been on the decline for several years, predating the downturn in the economy, because of the expansion of nonunion work and dark dates. In 2000, for example, four of the top ten records sold were on the non-signatory Jive label. Local 802 launched a campaign to end dark dates in an effort to reverse that trend (see November 2000 Allegro). The union commissioned a major survey of developments in the recording field, to provide a basis for developing more effective strategies to combat the erosion of union work; extensive excerpts from that report appeared in the October 2000 Allegro. And the Trial Board held a hearing involving a dark date for Jive Records performed by the members of the Hampton String Quartet; all four members were found in violation of the bylaws.

“With a decline in work, employers and producers feel that they have an advantage,” Schaffner said. “They think that musicians will be willing to take whatever work they can get and nobody’s going to say anything about doing extra time, extra product, giving more additional unpaid doubles, unpaid overtime, or missed breaks. But once employers start doing business based on contract violations, they’ll expect to continue down that road – even after the economy improves.

“I don’t think musicians can afford to say, ‘Work is down; we can’t complain.’ Work may be down, and certainly we want work to increase – but whatever work does take place, there is still a collective bargaining agreement in place. And if we allow that to be eroded, it will have an impact on all of our other work. Some of the same contractors who do jingles and phonograph dates also do club dates and Broadway. If they can get away with murder in one field, they will carry it into other fields as well. Gains in one field set a pattern for other fields – and so do losses.”

802 will have a better sense of what is happening in the industry once total earnings in the recording field in 2001 are available. They had not yet been fully compiled as this issue went to press, early in February.