Audiences in Texas Told About Failure to Pay Musicians in NYC

Volume CI, No. 12December, 2001

Dance Theatre of Harlem presented its two-week season at City Center in early October, under the terms of a new agreement with Local 802. But management failed to pay the 60-member orchestra for their second week of performances – and at press time the musicians still had not received payment, despite the union’s energetic efforts. Dance Theatre owes more than $80,000 in wages, and benefit payments bring the total due to over $100,000.

In an effort to get management to do the right thing, Local 802 has filed a grievance, reported the non-payment to the U.S. Department of Labor and, with the help of AFM local unions in Houston and San Antonio, has brought the issue to Texas audiences.

Members of locals 65-699 and 23 turned out in solidarity with New York musicians to circulate a leaflet titled “Harlem Blues.” It explains: “The Dance Theatre of Harlem is performing today, but there’s a dirty little secret they don’t want you to know. In New York, the company uses live musicians, but management has not paid them since Oct. 7. The company didn’t explain to the musicians why they weren’t getting paid, and management hasn’t returned calls to the musicians or their union.” The leaflet urges audiences to call management at (212) 690-2800, and tell them to pay their musicians.

Unless the employer does the right thing by musicians and pays them in full, 802 plans to leaflet and stage a rally outside Dance Theatre of Harlem’s next scheduled performances – at the Kennedy Center in Washington, Dec. 11-16.

Assistant Director David Lennon, who supervises the Concert Department, told Allegro the union had been deluged with calls from musicians who hadn’t been paid, and hadn’t been able to get their calls returned by management. The union’s calls went unanswered, too – until members of Houston Local 65-699 leafleted performances at Jones Hall the weekend of Oct. 26-28. Local President Bob McGrew, a member of the AFM International Executive Board, agreed to the solidarity action and asked 65-699 Vice-President Lovey Smith to organize it.

On Monday morning, after the leafleting, 802 received voice-mail messages from management indicating that they hoped to be able to pay musicians later in the week. “But checks were never sent out, and on Nov. 3 we had a very good showing of members of the San Antonio Symphony to leaflet Dance Theatre’s performance at the Lila Cockrell Theatre,” Lennon said. He noted that Ray Hair, president of Dallas Local 72-147, helped 802 get in touch with officers of the two Texas locals at very short notice toorganize leafleting of DTH’s performances in the state.

Lennon pointed out that Local 802 had bargained in good faith and made every effort to achieve an agreement during often contentious negotiations. The contract that was eventually reached (see November Allegro) raised wages and benefits to 802 Freelance Ballet/Opera Scale, but it was not the multi-year agreement the union had hoped to achieve. “Our disagreements over the term of the agreement brought us to a potential impasse the night before the first service, but in a show of good faith the union allowed the season to go forward and agreed to a short-term agreement.”

Lennon noted that Dance Theatre of Harlem has been doing the right thing in New York City, by continuing to use live music for its productions, but unfortunately is using recorded music in other venues. “Management’s failure to pay musicians for half of their 2001 season is reprehensible,” Lennon said. “If they continue to act in this manner, we will use every avenue open to us to get them to treat their employees properly.”