President’s Report

A Wonderful Musician…and a Good Union Member, Too

Volume CIX, No. 3March, 2009

Mary Landolfi

He is a prince among men, a gentle and kind soul. I won’t identify him now, but he is the kind of player that has name recognition outside our membership. In other words, he has “star power.” He’s a little older now, and he’s enjoying a pretty good pension. 

He could afford to take it easy and rest on his laurels, but he chooses not to do that.

He also could bask in the glory that all his success has afforded him and assume that it only came as a result of his own hard work and talent.

There is plenty of talent, of course, and a lot of hard work, I am sure, but he would be quick to say that he’s gotten a few good breaks, too.

His success makes it obvious that when he is hired, it’s because the employer wants an artist and consummate professional. But you would never hear him say, “When I’m called for a job, they are hiring the greatest in the world,” or “When they hire me, it’s a ‘quality’ thing.” He’s not one to build himself up by tearing others down. 

He also demonstrates that same generosity of spirit in his attitude toward his union.

A few years ago, he had reason to rely on our health benefits fund. Soon after, he started to collect his pension. Not having checked his pension carefully over the years, he was surprised how much it turned out to be every month. As a result, he resolved to be an ambassador on behalf of the AFM. 

Since then he has made himself available to talk with younger musicians and educate them on the importance of getting as much work as possible under union contract.

He regularly lobbies on behalf of our legislative initiatives, knowing that we can use his star power to get more people to listen to our viewpoint.

He is a person who Local 802 can rely upon in almost any circumstance. This is always appreciated, but why is it particularly important now? 

We are at a crossroads in the history of our union.

Local 802, like many craft unions, has a history of operating through the “service model” of unionism. Members agree to pay dues and to never cross a picket line; staff take care of day-to-day operations and are expected to work efficiently on behalf of the membership. A small group of activists determine what the demands should be in a given situation. That model has served us well for many years.

Unfortunately, the potential for success of the service model is eroded when a given union no longer controls the entire marketplace (because it no longer controls the means of training or the gateway to employment) or the skills of workers it represents begin to be displaced by technology.

We now find ourselves in that unhappy position.

Conservatories continue to graduate a surplus of trained musicians each year. The public taste for our skills is continually undermined by popular culture. And we know all too well the effect of the march of technology.

Once a union loses absolute control over production, it must adapt its method of operating or suffer a long, slow erosion of bargaining power.

Although it is tempting to respond with rigidity and to continue using the tactics of a more comfortable past, we must make changes if we are to succeed.

Change is inevitable, but it does not mean that we cannot fight if we are willing to fight creatively.

We must bargain smarter — relying not on idealized wish lists, but on attainable goals developed by examining all relevant risks and possibilities.

We must reach out to increase the number of our allies so that we have more clout when we are threatened.

Finally, we must become more educated so that we recognize hidden threats and unexpected opportunities and can accurately analyze our situation. 

None of this can be done, of course, without greater numbers of involved members, which brings us back to the opening of this article. 

Bob Cranshaw is indeed a prince among men.

It would be easy for him to remain on the sidelines and not get involved.

With his talent and experience, he probably would have prospered without the union, but instead he chooses to give back and to try to renew the promise of the union for a new generation of musicians.

I don’t thank him and others like him often enough, but this is intended to be a public expression of thanks.

I hope you will also thank him when you see him, and pass his good deeds forward by participating to make your union stronger.