I write these words with a heavy heart, but also with gratitude for the many musicians who have reached out to me over the past few weeks. On Jan. 12, my wife of 27 years, Yukiko, died after a long and arduous battle with cancer. Thank you to everyone for your support. We are collecting donations in Yukiko’s memory to the Local 802 Emergency Relief Fund at www.local802erf.org.
As I was dealing with this personal situation, I was well aware that the trustees of the AFM pension fund (of which I am one) distributed a letter that may have taken many of you by surprise. The situation in a nutshell is that there is more money being paid out of the pension fund than is coming in, which is causing a shortfall. In our letter to you, we called this “the most difficult problem we have ever faced.” The letter can be read at the pension fund’s web site at www.afm-epf.org along with answers to a whole host of questions, including the following:
- How did the plan get where it is today?
- My 401(k) plan is doing well. Why isn’t the pension plan?
- What are the trustees doing to get the best investment returns?
- Are we getting good advice on our investment funds?
In this issue, you can read a serious letter by Local 802 member Armen Donelian, challenging us to be vigilant about the pension fund. As a trustee of the pension fund, I wrote a reply to Armen, which you can see on the same page.
I want to be very clear to fellow members. I take my role as a trustee extremely seriously. I know that all of us are counting on the fund to help us with our retirement. This is not an abstract situation for me. I’ve played union gigs my entire life and have built up money into the same pension fund. It’s my pension too and I am well aware that this is real money we’re talking about.
Please remember, one reason for the shortfall is that the pension fund is constantly paying benefits to fellow musicians, the way it should and the way it was designed to do. This is how the pension fund is different from a 401(k) that is owned by a single individual. The question that many members are asking is: can our investments keep up with our expenses?
To address any and all concerns, we are devoting the next Local 802 membership meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 5 p.m. to this critical subject and have invited the co-chairs of the board of trustees and other fund professionals to join us. Please come with your questions. The meeting is here at Local 802.
Although the situation with our pension fund is one thing, I’m pleased to give you some positive news about health care for musicians. Starting in March, our in-network health provider will change from MagnaCare to Aetna. We believe that the transition to Aetna will save you money while ensuring a comprehensive plan of benefits and an increased level of customer care. In an insurance world where health care is costing the individual so much more each year and where the future of health care coverage is a huge question mark, the trustees of the health fund believe the change is very good news. Information was mailed to each participant at the end of December. Copies of these and other documents can be found at www.local802afm.org/health-benefits. If you have questions, please call the Local 802 health fund office at (212) 245-4802 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, see our story here.
The other piece of good news is the opening of the brand-new Samuel J. Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts in March. The new health center, which is designed for the performing arts and entertainment community, was created by the Actors Fund in partnership with Mount Sinai. It will offer primary and specialty care with extended hours that are sensitive to entertainment industry work schedules. Click here for more information.
Many of you marched with Local 802 on Jan. 21 in the Women’s March on NYC. Perhaps everyone had different reasons for marching, but there was a sense of common unity that brought us all together. It was the sense that our freedom, our rights, our values and our dignity are all worth marching for and fighting for. It brought out the best in all of us., and I was glad the Local 802 had such a strong contingent. The union movement taught us long ago that the people united can never be defeated, and we can apply that lesson now when our country needs us the most. You can see some photos of the march in this issue’s Music & Politics column.
REMEMBERING HENRY FONER
A longtime friend of music and labor has passed. Henry Foner died on Jan. 11 at the age of 97. Henry was president of the Fur, Leather and Machine Workers Union for 27 years. He served as president of the Paul Robeson Foundation, on the editorial board of Jewish Currents magazine and on the board of the New York Labor History Association. Early in his life, Henry played saxophone in a dance band with his brothers in the Catskills and was also a songwriter and composer; a selection of his music is at www.laborarts.org/fonerbook. He used to love visiting the Local 802 building because he said hearing the live music made him happy. He also loved reading Allegro.
Three years ago, Local 802 member Jon Taylor wrote a tribute to Henry Foner in these pages that I’d like to quote here. Jon remembers that Henry played a crucial part in events that were important in the history of the Brooklyn Philharmonic and indirectly in the history of freelance orchestras in New York.
Jon writes: “In the years before the Members Party replaced the old guard who had been running Local 802, freelance orchestra musicians here had no job security and no standing to negotiate contracts. Scales, working conditions and benefits were decided in private meetings between union officials and management.
“In the early 1980s, when the Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate a tenure agreement, Local 802 leadership offered no support in the negotiation process and refused to allow me as orchestra committee chairman to meet with union attorneys. After the Members Party, led by John Glasel and John Palanchian, took over the leadership of Local 802 in 1983, they brought in new legal representation, who assisted us in our negotiations. Liza Hirsch DuBrul, one of the local’s new attorneys, astutely made the connection with Henry Foner, a Brooklyn Philharmonic board member, a past president of the furriers’ union, and a member of an illustrious family of scholars and labor movement leaders. She arranged for me to meet Henry at an Abraham Lincoln Brigade dinner at which he was the keynote speaker. With Henry’s assistance, negotiations resumed, culminating in a tenure agreement, the first in the local for an orchestra of its type. The agreement never would have been reached without Henry’s intercession with the orchestra management.
“That first CBA was an enormous accomplishment which helped establish a pattern for many orchestras that subsequently negotiated their own tenure agreements. Although very few Local 802 musicians have heard of Henry Foner, we all owe him our gratitude for his efforts on our behalf.”
A memorial for Henry Foner is planned in the spring. Send an e-mail to email@example.com for more information.
The photos of Glen Daum & Roger Rhodes and the 48th Street Big Band in the January 2017 issue of Allegro contained an incorrect caption. The correct musicians in the photos were as follows. Alto saxes: Steve Kenyon and Evan Schwam. Tenor saxes: Norbert Stachel and Jeremy Powell. Bari sax: Carl Maraghi. Trumpets: Bob Millikan, Mike Ponella, Bud Burridge, John Bailey and Chris Rogers. Trombones: Keith O’Quinn, Mark Patterson, Mark Miller, Nick Grinder and James Borowski. Piano: Tomoko Ohno. Guitar: Jay Berliner. Bass: John Beal. Drums: Ronnie Zito. The correction has already been made online.