“NO CONTRACT, NO PEACE!” That was the battle cry of the orchestra of Distinguished Concerts International New York as they rallied for a fair contract across from Lincoln Center on a recent cold day near the end of November.
They were joined by Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine along with musicians from the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and New York City Ballet, and other union supporters.
“I am here to stand with you in your fight for a decent contract,” said Levine. “You deserve the security of a pension and retirement. You deserve health care like every American. You deserve a salary that allows you to pay for housing and other needs for your family. This is not too much to ask. I am here to stand with you as long as it takes to get a fair contract!”
Within days after the rally, DCINY agreed to federal mediation, a process where the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service appoints a mediator to assist in crafting a contract that is amenable to both sides.
“We are hopeful that the use of a mediator will lead us to a fair first contract,” said the DCINY Orchestra Committee in a statement that it sent out to its bargaining unit.
“We believe that federal mediation will go a long way to ending this conflict and give us a path to a deal,” said Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi.
“It’s clear that the rally we staged with musicians on November 20 gave the right amount of pressure and encouragement to convince DCINY to agree to federal mediation,” said Local 802 Recording Vice President Harvey Mars. “This shows that solidarity makes a difference.”
The orchestra of Distinguished Concerts International New York, many of whom are members of the NYC musicians’ union (AFM Local 802), is demanding a fair contract from DCINY, a for-profit company that produces concerts at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.
“We would like to thank all our supporters for a meaningful rally [on Nov. 20],” said the DCINY Orchestra Committee in a statement that was posted publicly on their social media. “Thank you, Local 802 musicians — specifically the musicians of the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and the NYC Ballet Orchestra. Your solidarity gives us comfort and also builds a stronger, more powerful union that will benefit all members.” Read the musicians’ full statement here.
The DCINY orchestra successfully formed a union with AFM Local 802 three years ago. But their employer still refuses to sign a first contract that offers meaningful job security and hiring provisions, union wages in line with area standards, pension, and health contributions, recording payments, and more.
For more than a decade, DCINY has operated as a producer and presenter of music at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. For many of its choral concerts, DCINY assembles choirs of amateur singers from around the world who pay a fee to perform in New York’s most prominent venues. DCINY then hires a professional orchestra, soloists, and conductors.
The company resumed live performances in 2022 and immediately replaced the full professional orchestra with just a handful of musicians. The company also replaced professional musicians with an amateur high school ensemble. Musicians fought back with a high-profile musical protest at Carnegie Hall in June that was covered by Labor Press here, which brought massive visibility to their campaign.
Percussionist Andy Blanco, who performs in the orchestra and serves on the musicians’ negotiating committee, said, “While we enjoy the work of playing in this orchestra, it often involves unreasonably long rehearsals with inadequate breaks; intense, physically demanding performance days; and an atmosphere of fear due to frequent retaliation for voicing concerns to management. We do not have a contract, do not receive benefits of any kind, and have no guarantee that we will be hired for future engagements. To address these issues, we came together with the support of Local 802 to negotiate a fair collective bargaining agreement that allows musicians to express our concerns without fear of retribution.”
Management refused to schedule negotiations with the union for many months. This stalemate was finally broken after Local 802 filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the company that was settled when DCINY agreed to negotiate regularly. The company has also been charged with additional Unfair Labor Practices, which are currently in progress.
Violinist Tallie Brunfelt, a member of both the orchestra and the negotiating committee, said, “This struggle isn’t just about our orchestra. This is about maintaining professional standards for musicians everywhere, but especially at prominent venues that our company uses as home bases for its concerts.”
“An injury to one is an injury to all,” said Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi. “We must stand up for professional standards, especially when an employer hires musicians to perform at iconic major venues like Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center. We demand a fair contract for the musicians of DCINY.”
“Musicians are raising their voice for fair treatment and professional standards,” said Local 802 Recording Vice President Harvey Mars, who is leading the negotiations on behalf of musicians and the union. “The full DCINY orchestra has demonstrated its willingness to perform, despite DCINY’s refusal to hire a full orchestra or offer meaningful job security and hiring standards, pension and health contributions, protection against unauthorized recording, and other professional standards. Musicians deserve a fair contract now!”
Musicians are asking the public to sign their letters of support.
This article appears in the December 2022 issue of Allegro, the magazine of Local 802. Some information and quotes from this story were from Local 802’s press release and this story in the Labor Press, which was submitted by Local 802.
Click the links below for more background and to download photos of the orchestra: