Rob Susman (center, holding trombone) with members of the Symphonic Brass Alliance.
In this month’s organizing column, we hear from a member who is also an employer. It may seem strange to think about workers who are also bosses, but it’s quite common in the Local 802 community. (Bandleaders and contractors are types of this hybrid.) So, as a boss, why would you contribute union benefits to your side musicians? First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do. Secondly, you can often earn benefits yourself, either through your own corporation (if you have one) or through the new LS-1 form (see last November’s Allegro). A third reason is that pension and health contributions are often tax breaks for both you and your side musicians. Finally, you can attract and retain the best players, which lowers turnover and increases stability. In this story, we hear from a bandleader who does the right thing and signs a deal with Local 802.
As sole proprietor of Sus4Music, Inc. I have had the privilege of hiring many of New York’s best brass players for fifteen years. But recently, some of my musicians starting asking why I wasn’t filing contracts with Local 802 and paying pension and benefits.
I already knew that many of my peers miss out on the union’s health plan by a few dollars and could always use extra pension contributions. I also knew that, if I became a signatory, I could personally benefit from the additional pension contributions. To top it off, I already had a good experience working with Joe Eisman, 802’s organizing director, on an organizing committee.
Therefore, I decided to file single engagement contracts for my Sus4Music jobs.
The first step was establishing a scale for engagements that didn’t strictly fit into any existing category or scale.
Budgets are tight for live music these days, and I try to promote my 11-member Symphonic Brass Alliance ensemble as often as possible. I am creating work that might not exist for brass players. Many of the events we play for usually hire an organist instead of a group of musicians.
Most of the jobs take place in the middle of the week and don’t really qualify as club dates, so I negotiated a price that is fair to both the purchaser and the musicians. I worked with Jim Hannen, the union’s single engagement supervisor, and we came up with a rate that was reasonable in terms of payment for musicians and the health and pension funds.
There is additional paperwork involved with filing union contracts, and deductions mean slightly smaller paychecks for the musicians. (I recently found out that Local 802 will provide software for fast and easy filing of jobs.)
I do get an occasional request not to file benefits on someone’s behalf, but most of my musicians are happy to get the benefits of a union job. If we employers were allowed to pay pension and health benefits only when we felt like it, freelance musicians would suffer, employers would struggle with an unlevel playing field, and the funds would go bankrupt.
Local 802 resources are available to us all. Instead of waiting for someone else to pursue pension and benefits for your work, why not take the initiative and file contracts yourself? This may not be possible all of the time, but imagine how much money would be in our health and pension funds if we all had just a few more union jobs each year.
I rely on employers who hire me as a trombonist to do the bulk of my benefit contributions, but it is a relief knowing I have some control over how much is going into my health and pension by contributing myself when I contract through my own company.
And besides, I enjoy the good karma of knowing I am doing the right thing for musicians and our union!
If you are a bandleader and want to contribute to your side musicians’ health and pension, call the Organizing Department at (212) 245-4802, ext. 191 or 186. Or, if you are playing in a band where your bandleader doesn’t provide benefits, call us too!