Introducing Local 802’s DECIBAL Collective

Volume 123, No. 8September, 2023

Martha Hyde and Jessica Phillips

It is well-known and documented that unions have been crucial in the effort to narrow racial wealth and gender pay gaps. Through collective bargaining, unions endeavor to protect wage standards that benefit all – not just union, but also non-union workers – as well as establish and enforce rules and mechanisms that counteract systemic racism and gender discrimination in the workforce

Local 802, one of the largest local unions in the world is composed of approximately 6,000 members and represents a wide array of musicians who practice all styles and types of music, from the orchestral stages of the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic to the pits of Broadway, from the sound stages of the late night T.V. shows, to recording studios, clubs, restaurants, bars, hotels, and venues across the five boroughs. Yet, we know from our most recent survey, conducted in 2019-2020, that the demographic makeup of our membership does not fully represent the wide array of gender and racial diversity in comparison to the most recent census of the U.S. population. Furthermore, according to the latest report from the League of American Orchestras, 802’s membership diversity is at a lower level than that of the orchestra field as a whole. While it’s important to recognize that diversity is not the same as equity or inclusion, it is clear that certain underrepresented and persistently marginalized groups are not present in our local in numbers that reflect their presence in our city or country.

The chart below is from an article that Maestra founder Georgia Stitt wrote for Allegro in March 2023 (“As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we fight for equality of opportunity”). The data for this chart came from Local 802’s membership survey:

In the same Local 802 survey, 46% to 47% of the respondents said racial and gender diversity is “extremely important” or “very important” to consider during the hiring process. Furthermore, over 70% responded that it was “extremely important” or “very important” to consider race and gender equity in contractual requirements.

It was with this mandate that the Local 802 Executive Board appointed a DEI Initiatives Subcommittee at the beginning of 2023. With the understanding that Local 802 is not an employer of musicians, our goal was to explore how musicians, committee members, and activists could more accurately reflect the NYC and Local 802 music ecosystem with respect to race, gender identity, age, sexual orientation, and culture. The DEI Initiatives Subcommittee began by inviting groups doing work in the area of DEI to “listening sessions” with the Local 802 Executive Board. Invited groups were broadly defined as actively supporting traditionally marginalized groups and seeking to remove barriers that prevent access to union work. Over the course of six months, each group presented their missions, visions, goals, desired outcomes, and tactics. It was clear all of these groups were passionate about making specific and actionable change for the betterment of Local 802 and all musicians.

In response to these listening sessions, the DEI Initiatives Subcommittee invited all groups, as well as interested individuals and leaders in the community, to come together for a roundtable discussion on July 14, 2023. The goal was to collaborate and envision ways in which Local 802 could partner with these groups, amplify their work, build connections between them  that could exist beyond Local 802, and create a safe space for addressing difficult issues. Together, all the stakeholder groups — including the Local 802 Organizing Department and Financial Vice President Karen Fisher — identified the most important issues and co-created action items in these areas of concern. By the end of this meeting, strategic action groups were formed, with goals defined for each group. (See chart below this article.)

In August, our DEI Initiatives group broadened its work to include Diversity, Equity, Community, Inclusion, Belonging, Access, and Leadership (“DECIBAL”) and the DECIBAL Collective was launched. We consider these areas a framework for identifying and inviting additional interested groups, organizations, and individuals to join the DECIBAL Collective. Please read more about how you can join the DECIBAL Collective in our FAQ’s below. We’ll continue to keep our members informed through updates in Allegro. (Thanks to Julia DeRosa for our logo!)

If you want to learn more, we invite you to the public kick-off event to introduce the DECIBAL Collective on Wednesday, September 13 from 5:30pm to 7:30pm at Local 802. This event is co-sponsored by Local 802 and the Broadway Musicians Equity Partnership. We hope to see you there!

Contact the authors of this article for more information: Martha Hyde ( and Jessica Phillips (

FAQ’S about the DECIBAL Collective

How do I become a member of the DECIBAL Collective?

DECIBAL groups and individuals may become part of the DECIBAL Collective by contacting the Local 802 DECIBAL subcommittee: Martha Hyde at and Jessica Phillips at DECIBAL grassroots groups/organizations (but not individuals) will be invited to present their mission, vision, values, goals, and methods to the Local 802 Executive Board. Upon approval, the group will then be added to the DECIBAL Collective.

Why should we join the DECIBAL Collective?

DECIBAL groups that are accepted members of the DECIBAL Collective may participate in and propose events, partnerships, articles, etc. by working with the current strategic action groups.

How do we apply for funding for projects once our group is a member of the DECIBAL Collective?

All DECIBAL groups and individuals are eligible to request specific Local 802 support — both financial and non-financial — by bringing individual or group requests to the DECIBAL subcommittee, which will then work with the group on a proposal to bring the Executive Board for final approval.

What kinds of support will the Executive Board approve for the DECIBAL Collective, individual DECIBAL groups, and individuals?

All proposals will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Examples include but are not limited to:

  • Financial support for individual DECIBAL groups, or partnership with DECIBAL Collective events (e.g., refreshments, free use of club room – for which an itemized budget and supporting documentation are highly recommended)
  • Articles in Allegro
  • Assistance with demographic data collection
  • Amplification to the Local 802 community (e.g., e-newsletter/social media communications) about DECIBAL groups and the DECIBAL Collective’s activities
  • Support for initiatives for removing barriers to access to instrumental education in under-resourced neighborhoods
  • Support for direct targeted action and industry-wide DEI partnerships (e.g., political action; DECIBAL training and education, support in collective bargaining issues; participation in industry-wide discussions)
  • Support for a resource hub on the 802 website

Roundtable Participants from July 14, 2023

LOCAL 802 DECIBAL SUBCOMMITTEE: Martha Hyde, Jessica Phillips


  • Arts Ignite: Mary-Mitchell Campbell
  • Black Orchestral Network–BON: Emilio Carlo, Joseph Matthews III
  • Broadway Musicians Equity Partnership–BMEP: Anja Wood, CJ Chapuoco
  • MAESTRA: Georgia Stitt, Meg Zervoulis
  • Musicians United for Social Equity–MUSE: Greg Riley
  • Trans & Expansive Music Professional Organization–TEMPO (did not attend the roundtable but joined August 15, 2023): Sandy Sahar Gooen



  • Local 802 Executive Board Members: Deborah Assael, Karen Fisher
  • Local 802 Organizing Department: Cheryl Brandon, John Pietero

Strategic Action Groups and Goals



  • Help 802 and the grassroots groups amplify each others’ messages
  • Communicate with 802 rank-and-file about the activities of the Collective
  • Create a hub of the programs available through the DECIBAL groups on Local 802’s website


  • Explore what a new survey might look like and its efficacy
  • Explore the option of demographic data questions on new membership applications
  • Participate, in partnership with AFM, in industry-wide data projects (e.g., The League “Inclusive Stages”)


  • Consider best practices in the industry with respect to race and gender equity in CBA requirements
  • In partnership with AFM, help to facilitate training & discussions with each unique unit (as needed) around DECIBAL issues


  • Create centralized resources for existing programs (Arts Ignite, Borough Councils for the Arts, Dept. of Cultural Affairs)
  • Pairing schools in zip codes with musicians in those same zip codes


  • Allegro articles detailing the racial history of the AFM (see our first article here in this issue)
  • Begin to think about SMART goals and action steps to connect with the Direct Action Group