A Gig at Joe’s Pub Goes Union

Organizing Matters

Volume CV, No. 5May, 2005

Lynne Bond

It takes small steps, but each organizing victory is one more way musicians build up their collective strength. This month’s organizing column deals with a new kind of space: a spin-off of an Off Broadway venue.

One phone call from a musician is all it takes to get the organizing ball rolling. One phone call in late January from a Local 802 member began us on the path to the first ever contract for a show at Joe’s Pub, the commercial cabaret space of the Public Theatre. Although the Public’s nonprofit stages are covered by an agreement with Local 802, Joe’s Pub is not included. Why not? The Public Theatre doesn’t produce theatrical productions there. Until now.

In late January, a musician notified the theatre department that he was playing for a one-man musical at Joe’s Pub called “Ghetto Superstar.” Although this musician wanted the work, he was concerned about the lack of a union contract and specifically the lack of benefits. Upon further investigation, it became evident that this production at Joe’s Pub was more than a mere cabaret act. In fact, the Public itself was billing it as “the first ever main-stage production in Joe’s Pub.” (When the Public Theatre nonprofit agreement was first negotiated, the employer firmly insisted that Joe’s Pub would not be covered by the contract.)

The musicians had been presented with employment contracts for their signature. On their own, the musicians themselves were able to negotiate a higher performance rate than what had initially been offered to them, but in our early conversations with them, they all expressed a desire for health and pension benefits. With rehearsals beginning, we contacted the Public Theatre to set up a negotiation, but after almost two weeks there was still no response. And performances would be starting soon.

After a couple of weeks of juggling, we were able to sit down with the four musicians for an on-site meeting immediately following a rehearsal. All the members agreed they wanted the union’s help in achieving a contract that included health benefits and pension contributions as well as identity with the product. With the musicians’ full support, Local 802 was finally able to work out the following terms, in addition to the already established wages, with the Public Theatre.

Musicians won health contributions in the amount of $58 per musician per week and identity with the product for recording and other productions within Local 802’s jurisdiction. The contract also includes our very important ban on the use of any virtual orchestra machine. The musicians agreed to these terms and the contract has been signed and ratified.

One of the band members was able to qualify for the health plan for the first time under this contract. And the contract helped the other band members stay on the plan. That’s something to keep in mind the next time you wonder if you should make that phone call to get your show under union contract!

The musicians themselves expressed their desire to make this contract “a first” at Joe’s Pub. While it took almost six weeks for us and the musicians to achieve this small contract, the doors it may open are worth the time it took.

The next time you’re hired to play music behind any kind of theatrical show, no matter where it is, call the Theatre Department. We can help you achieve the pay and benefits you and your colleagues deserve! Call (212) 245-4802 and ask for Mary Donovan (ext. 156).

Do you have a general question about turning your nonunion gig into a union gig with benefits? Call the Organizing Department at (212) 245-4802, ext. 191 or ext. 186.