Contracts, anyone?

Financial Vice-President's Report

Volume 113, No. 8September, 2013

Tom Olcott
Musicians in the New York Grand Opera recently won a renewal contract.

Musicians in the New York Grand Opera recently won a renewal contract.

As another summer recedes into memory, I’d like to give you a few important updates in the classical field, and also throw out some topics that merit future discussion. The selection of items below is certainly not the gourmet’s tasting menu, but each has some bearing on the health of our musical world. Take a look, review at your leisure, and please let me know what you think. E-mail me at

1. Summer. Summer in the Local 802 Concert Department always seems like France in August. American tourists flock there, but the French are all out of town, taking advantage of the statutory six-week vacation. Like the French, many Local 802 members head to the country, attending festivals, summer residencies, or, maybe, if they are lucky, just recharging themselves for a while before the coming concert season.

Perhaps the main Concert Department summer job is oversight of the many outdoor concerts in our jurisdiction. Many of us can remember a time when a Music Performance Trust Fund “green sheet” job was a staple of summer employment. There are, alas, no more green sheets and, for the past few years, nearly no MPTF. But this is the first year in many when the MPTF has been able to make grants to organizations seeking to perform the traditional outdoor summer concert. The MPTF revitalization is directly linked to the improved AFM, which, among other accomplishments, has negotiated new MPTF funding sources in national media agreements. Our members are beginning to see the benefits of a healthier and stronger AFM.

2. AFM Convention. President Tino Gagliardi will give you an overview of the 99th AFM Convention in his president’s report on page 4. It was quite a remarkable event. I was, in a kind of “good news/bad news” scenario, named by AFM President Ray Hair to be a member of the convention’s Law Committee. That committee always has a full schedule, and considers each proposed bylaw amendment with extreme care. Its members are highly distinguished, and include presidents of locals, musicians, attorneys, veterans of every AFM battle in memory and delegates from ICSOM and ROPA – all in a 15-person committee. I can attest that the discussion is intelligent, exhaustive, and always aimed at musicians’ well-being. The Law Committee met early and often (just like the old joke about Chicago voters), and it was a true honor to be included.

3. Contracts, anyone? The Concert Department confronts the following question nearly every day: “Is this job under contract?” That question contains a world of considerations. Local 802 members need to know that every contract we sign attempts to address their rights, benefits, and viable employment. Every member who raises the question deserves an answer. The Concert Department negotiates, monitors and supervises the operation of more than 50 collective bargaining agreements, ranging from agreements with well-known ensembles (Mostly Mozart, American Ballet Theatre, American Symphony, etc.) to those with small local opera companies and small chorales in various boroughs. Many of those agreements are routinely extended and renewed when the expiration date is imminent. Recent renewals, in the smaller group category, include the School of American Ballet, Musica Viva, New York Grand Opera and the Hora Decima Brass Ensemble. In the larger category, we are working on deals with the American Symphony, St. Luke’s Ensemble and Orpheus Chamber Ensemble.

Additionally, after some negotiating difficulties, we renewed our contract with Manhattan Concert Productions, a for-profit classical music ensemble. We thank this employer for doing the right thing.

On the other hand, another for-profit entity called Distinguished Concerts International New York has refused to bargain. More alarmingly, Distinguished Concerts’ musicians seem afraid to contact the union. I want those musicians to know that our goal is to listen to you and find out what concerns – if any – you have about what it’s like to work for Distinguised Concerts. Do you feel you’re getting paid enough? Is there anything about the job that you wish were different? Let us know. We will always respect your confidentiality and we will keep your identity a secret. Call my private, direct line at (212) 245-4802, ext. 105. Feel free to leave a message.

4. No contracts, anyone? Where else does the “Is this under contract?” question arise – and where has it failed? Here are some examples, which represent long-term issues for the classical music community.

Let’s talk first about chamber music. Local 802 members could structure chamber music performances to include pension and health benefits, but historically have not. Why not? Chamber musicians can surely present their wonderful art while structuring compensation in a way that provides significant long-term, union-negotiated benefits. The Concert Department is dedicated to helping ensembles reach that goal.

Then there are the Knights, an orchestra that exists outside of union agreements. Not only is the orchestra populated with Local 802 members, it is owned by longtime Local 802 members. They have participated in the Naumburg summer concert series in Central Park, and have recorded with Sony Classical. None of these events have ever utilized Local 802 or AFM agreements. Also, the Knights continually refuse to engage in discussions with the union. As I mentioned, the family that constitutes and presents this ensemble are longtime Local 802 members and are clear beneficiaries of Local 802’s efforts on their behalf. Why not Local 802 now? I cannot answer that question. Perhaps it is a family matter. Under contract? Not!

One more non-union group: the International Contemporary Ensemble, a Mostly Mozart Festival participant. Despite repeated requests to engage in negotiations with Local 802, ICE has refused to talk to us. Under contract? Not!

So what does the “under contract” category mean? I can only reiterate that the mature Local 802 contracts stand as the models for how our classical musicians – whatever their age – can achieve the reasonable benefits of a lifelong profession. There is also substantial and continuing support from the national AFM shown by the recent AFM convention.

The real bottom line here is that musicians can create their own reality and need not accept intolerable or unfair working conditions. For those musicians who work under those conditions, I urge you to contact Local 802 and tell us how we can help you. Or contact the AFM directly. Your communication with us is always confidential and we pledge to help you maximize your wages and benefits. When those items are optimized, that is when your work is “under contract.” Contact Local 802 or the AFM and we will help you make that happen!

To reach us, call my office at (212) 245-4802, ext. 105 or 174, or e-mail us at or