President’s Report

Change to Organize, Organize to Change

Volume CIV, No. 9September, 2004

David Lennon


For several decades, as union membership declined as a share of the American workforce, union leaders refused to acknowledge the problem.

Union density, the percentage of the workforce that is unionized, was at its highest in the post World War II period, rising to an unprecedented level of approximately one-third of the workforce.

The reality of the labor movement today is that those numbers have drastically dropped to the percentage of organized labor hovering in the low to mid teens.

Now, from the highest levels of the AFL-CIO down, labor leaders overwhelmingly agree that rebuilding labor’s numbers will require unions to devote more resources to organizing. Indeed, the AFL-CIO has urged unions to devote upwards of a third of their resources to organizing.

While Local 802 has a proud record of organizing and indeed has the most skilled and effective department of its kind in the AFM, the numbers prove that we too have suffered labor’s downward trend.

The membership numbers we once enjoyed over 20 years ago, at roughly 17,500 in 1983, declined to 11,414 by January 1993. In the ensuing decade, the drop in 802’s membership was not quite as severe. Still, we lost over 2,000 members by December 2003.

If we are to even begin to realistically attempt to reverse that course, we must be willing to take a long, hard look at what needs to be done in order to turn this ship around.

If we are to build real strength in the workplace, to regain and, yes, even surpass, the union’s power of old, we must be willing to make the changes necessary to meet the challenges of a dramatically changed industry.


It is reasonable to say that there is 100 percent union density in the Broadway field. Every Broadway show is covered by the master contract with the League.

However, producers’ ongoing attempts to reduce the sizes of Broadway orchestras not only threaten a cherished art form, but also represent a real and calculated attack on the union.

While we do not yet have an Off Broadway master agreement, our Theatre Department has an excellent track record in making sure that musicians who perform in these productions and venues receive the union wages and benefits that they deserve. Our organizing successes Off Broadway have established an industry standard that puts us in the best possible position to ultimately negotiate a master agreement.

The resident orchestras of Lincoln Center — the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet, New York City Opera, American Ballet Theatre and Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra — are, of course, all union orchestras. Their contracts are strong because they are union contracts. They are also high contributors to the resources of this union and therefore must be part of the decision-making process concerning the future course that will be set for their union.

The wealth of other orchestras and ensembles that play in Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, Lincoln Center, and the many other live music venues of New York City, require that our Concert Department and Organizing Department make sure we keep the playing field level. Groups coming in from out of town that rent these major venues must not undercut union scale. Again, we have a great track record in this regard.

Although we have major club date agreements, and have launched and won several key campaigns, we have lost density in this field.

As DJ’s — the club date industry’s “virtual orchestra machine” — have overtaken much of what was once an exclusively live field, our ability to set an industry-wide standard has been under increasing attack as the nonunion sector has expanded.

That, in addition to many members’ fear of visible union involvement, has greatly impeded the union’s ability to truly set the standard across the board in this field.

We have already begun to take steps to turn the tide to face these organizing challenges.

The Organizing and Club Date departments have begun to mobilize a newly-formed club date committee on organizing.

This committee will be the cornerstone of our renewed organizing efforts in that field. We will work hard to protect this committee. There are labor laws that protect workers from employer retaliation for union activity.

There is much work that remains to be done for the jazz community as well. Despite our flagship contract with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and our contract with teachers in the Jazz Department at the New School, we are years behind in providing these artists with the contracts and benefits that they so rightly deserve. Our “Justice for Jazz Artists” campaign needs renewed strength and vigor.


In this issue of Allegro, we are pleased to announce three organizing victories.

The teaching artists at the Metropolitan Opera Guild and the Children’s Orchestra Society have achieved their first union contracts.

At the same time, our Organizing Department helped teaching artists at the Early Ear music school stave off a decertification drive.

Local 802’s focus on organizing teaching artists, over the past five years, is beginning to pay off. Our ongoing campaign to fight for fair wages, benefits and working conditions for teaching artists is important for a number of reasons.

First, New York City is unique in its diversity and sheer number of music schools, from large institutions such as Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music, to many smaller schools that may hire as few as three to a dozen teachers.

Second, for many of our members this work provides a critical supplement to their annual income.

Moreover, what example are we teaching their students if we turn a blind eye to the low wages, poor working conditions and lack of benefits that have prevailed in this field for all too long?

Justice demands that those charged with the profound responsibility of teaching our youth receive the dignity of fair wages and benefits.

As a result of our successful efforts in this field, we have secured contracts with two departments at the New School: the Guitar Study Center and the Jazz Department. Contracts have also been achieved at Music Outreach, Early Ear, Kaufman Center, Midori and Friends Foundation, and now — the Metropolitan Opera Guild and the Children’s Orchestra Society.

Each of these campaigns required much stamina, hard work, discipline and courage on the part of the musicians. They are to be commended for showing the way to those who will follow as we expand our organizing efforts in this field.

The oversight of these important contracts will remain in the Organizing Department.


The inextricable ties between organizing and education require Local 802 to assume a leadership role in bringing labor education to our conservatories and music schools. We have begun to move forward on such initiatives.

Most recently, Local 802 hosted a day of education and training for the Juilliard students who participated in Elton John’s joint concerts between Juilliard and the Royal Academy at Radio City Music Hall.

We spoke to these students about the importance of union solidarity and the role the union would play in their future careers.

They also had the opportunity to go through the ABC’s of a collective bargaining agreement and basic grievance and arbitration procedures in an afternoon session with Local 802 legal counsel Len Leibowitz. Also presenting was Peg Leibowitz, who is a professor of labor law and an arbitrator.

The success of that day can be summed up in the following question asked by one of the students: “Why aren’t labor courses such as this part of our regular curriculum at school?”

It is critical that 802 answers that call so that incoming ranks of young musicians about to embark on a professional career are prepared for the challenges facing all working musicians.

In fact, the students we reach out to today will enter the workforce with the understanding and knowledge that can and may very well initiate the organizing campaigns of tomorrow.


We need to create a vision of where we want to be two years, five years and 10 years from now — one that is more powerful, vigorous and representative. But we must first do the internal and external work necessary to realize those goals.

As I previously reported, the Local 802 Executive Board and Organizing Department have already begun a process of review of the daily operation, deployment of staff and resources, and organizing challenges facing each Local 802 department representing a major field in our industry.

This step must come first so that the board and our organizers have the information they need to prepare for a strategic analysis and organizing plan for the union’s future.

This process must ultimately involve not only the elected officers and staff, but rank and file representatives from every area we represent: theatre; symphony; opera and ballet (Lincoln Center and freelance); club date; jazz and latin; musicians who work in the recording field; teaching artists; and finally, the composers, orchestrators and copyists who comprise the music prep community.

The goal of this process is to build a concrete consensus on what needs to be organized by the union’s stakeholders — a committee representative of the union’s membership, leadership and staff.

Internally, the process identifies capacities, resources, staff deployment and staff needs. Externally, the process identifies the broad trends, identifies what the union has to do to build its power, identifies targets and creates a timeline.

We need to engage in this process through a skilled outside facilitator, someone external to the union who holds no particular bias.

Thus, selecting organizing targets needs to be part of a fully informed strategic organizing plan — a “change to organize process.” One that capitalizes on our strengths, works within our resources, and incorporates tactics to overcome any internal or external barriers to effective organizing.

If we are to succeed, it will require the focus, commitment and cooperation of 802’s entire elected leadership, staff and membership.


Organizing the recording field, one of our greatest organizing challenges, requires a national strategy.

Virtually all recording contracts are negotiated and administered through our international, the AFM.

Clearly, it is neither appropriate or within Local 802’s authority to spearhead such an organizing initiative.

The AFM Futures Committee is the official body charged by the delegates to the 2003 AFM Convention to address this issue.

I represent Local 802 on the committee, which is comprised of local AFM officers, player conference representatives and members of the International Executive Board. AFM President Tom Lee and AFM Secretary-Treasurer Florence Nelson are ex officio members of the committee; Vice Presidents Bradley and Herriat serve as their alternates. Former 802 president Bill Moriarity chairs the committee.

When the committee last met in Las Vegas in June, Moriarity appointed Local 47 (Los Angeles) President Hal Espinoza and me to co-chair a subcommittee on organizing in the recording field.

The subcommittee will make recommendations to the full Futures Committee at its next scheduled meeting in Chicago in mid-October.

It is reasonable to assume that both Local 802 and Local 47 would play a major role in any national organizing campaign in the recording field.

The direction of that campaign, however, must ultimately come from the AFM.