FROM STAGE TO BARGAINING TABLE: Local 802 and AGMA work together for their members

Guest commentary

Volume 119, No. 11December, 2019

Len Egert

AGMA members supported the Chicago Symphony Orchestra member’s strike earlier this year.

Greetings members of Local 802! I am so pleased to share with you my perspective on the exciting intersection of music, entertainment and labor. First, the fun stuff. As national executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, I have had the great fortune to have visited multiple opera, dance, symphony and choral companies throughout the United States. After completing negotiations or membership meetings, I sometimes have the opportunity to attend a performance. Although the performances vary in size and scope, there is one constant – the overwhelming sense of audience excitement before, during and after performances. Members of the orchestra, along with AGMA members both on and offstage, are the artists who create this electricity. Collectively, you are the ones that the audience comes to hear and to see and to delight in. You are the ones who create and give this joy each and every performance.

There is perhaps no other union with whom AGMA so closely shares an affinity of interests than the American Federation of Musicians. Our members often perform under the same baton. We join our voices with the sounds of your instruments. Whether it’s the opera, ballet or symphony, we perform in unison. Last summer, during Metropolitan Opera negotiations, we expanded our collaboration from stage to bargaining table. It was my great pleasure to join the forces of the AGMA Met negotiating committee with the Met Orchestra Committee in presenting proposals to management and ultimately reaching an agreement. I believe that this unified approach strengthened our mutual positions with management. Today at the Met, our unions continue to work together as members of the Artistic Advisory Committee, a new provision in our respective CBAs that allow our members to have a voice in the artistic direction of the Met.

Each time I board a flight to visit an AGMA signatory company, I am reminded that if the flight gets rough, I should put on my own oxygen mask first so that I am in a position to help others. I can say same for you. You need to be able to earn fair wages for your work, enjoy safe conditions and freedom from harassment, make sure that you have sufficient breaks, and ensure that you have adequate health coverage and retirement benefits so that you can continue to impart joy and excitement to audiences, performance after performance. That is why our predecessors formed both of our great unions. That is why our officers and leaders continuously strive to improve our unions. That is why our negotiating committee members advocate for improvements in our contracts. That is why our delegates diligently enforce the contracts we negotiate. That is why our hard-working committees seek to improve our services and operations. That is why young artists continue to organize and to join our unions. I look forward to continuing our work together and to future collaborations, both on and off the stage.

Len Egert is the national executive director of AGMA