Classical Musicians Come Together

Volume CVI, No. 6June, 2006

Jay Blumenthal

Many years ago Local 802 established the Classical Musicians Forum. The purpose was to provide an opportunity for classical musicians who perform in New York area orchestras to discuss issues of common concern. It also provided an opportunity for working union musicians to communicate with one another and engage with their union.

Unfortunately, the forum stopped meeting for years, leaving many classical issues unaddressed. Recently, we have revived the forum and are about to hold our third meeting.

The first meeting was devoted to gaining a better understanding of our changing work environment in the context of the entertainment industry. Susan Borenstein delivered a special program developed by Cornell called the Strategic Education Training. (Borenstein is a senior organizer for the AFL-CIO and was Local 802’s director of organizing for many years.)

The workshop was a real eye-opener. It examined how the balance of power is changing at the bargaining table. An increasing number of mega-corporations are diversifying their holdings, which results in an employer that can maintain an income stream even during a labor action. While there are no easy solutions to this problem, it is clear that we must join forces with other unions to build union power.

The second meeting of the Classical Musicians Forum discussed health benefit issues for classical musicians. A health benefits committee was elected to look into the possibility of implementing shortfall funds to help cover tenured musicians who perform with the major freelance orchestras. The fund would help cover musicians whose contributions fall short of making a health plan in a given period. The committee is currently investigating any impact this might have on the 802 Health Benefits Plan.

As Allegro went to press, the third meeting of the Classical Musicians Forum was scheduled for May 24. The topic of discussion was to be the reduction of work offered by employers in recent years and what can be done to address it.

Elected orchestra committee members serve as voting delegates to the Classical Musicians Forum; however, all classical musicians are welcome to attend and participate in the discussion.

For the date of the next meeting, please call my office at (212) 245-4802, ext. 105.