Democracy in Action

Volume 116, No. 4April, 2016

It’s all about respect! Part-time jazz faculty at the New School first won a contract with Local 802 in 1998. At the time, faculty had received only one raise in over 10 years and had no health benefits, pension or job security. Now, 18 years later, faculty have just unanimously ratified the latest version of their contract, which includes some big changes. We asked some of the teaching artists to reflect on what they’ve learned. One thing’s for sure: these artists felt empowered by working together!

THE NEW SCHOOL COMMITTEE IN ACTION: Teaching artists, union reps and Local 802 counsel Harvey Mars negotiate seriously (left) then relax later after a bargaining session (right). The new contract contains significant benefits for teachers as well as significant changes.

THE NEW SCHOOL COMMITTEE IN ACTION: Teaching artists, union reps and Local 802 counsel Harvey Mars negotiate seriously (left) then relax later after a bargaining session (right). The new contract contains significant benefits for teachers as well as significant changes.

Our new five-year contract includes improvements to wages, health care, job security, longevity pay and paid academic leave. These accomplishments resulted from intensive, protracted work involving occasionally difficult exchanges with management at the New School. Ultimately, improvements far outweigh frustrations. The latter include no improvements to our pension benefit and certain working conditions. One major concession was dissolving the Curriculum Committee, whose responsibilities will be subsumed by the Executive Committee as part of a merger with the new College of Performing Arts.

In this uncertain environment, the Local 802 team headed by attorney Harvey Mars and assisted by Maggie Russell-Brown, Todd Weeks and Sarah Koshar fought hard for our rights. In the first meeting, attended by about half of the 72-member jazz faculty, the Local 802 reps solicited passionate concerns from each person. In subsequent discussions, these were vetted to find a consensus leading to the proposals presented at the bargaining table.

This democratic process reminded me of how there is power in numbers. The journey from expressing individual self-interest to formulating coherent proposals expressing common interest is a transformative and sometimes messy one, but in the end everyone gains from it. I feel proud to have been a part of the negotiating committee. My friendships with and admiration for my teaching colleagues have grown immeasurably. I want to thank them and the folks from Local 802 for their dedicated service and enthusiastic camaraderie.

I am gratified by the adoption of new longevity-based proposals for course appointment categories, base load maintenance and wage increases. There is now also a new, clear definition of maximum teaching load. Personally, I also welcome the new access to the dental PPO plan formerly enjoyed only by full-time employees.

This contract protects and fairly rewards our faculty for its work. As a result, the students we serve all will benefit from our renewed academic commitment.

– Armen Donelian

This contract represents a significant paradigm shift from course “ownership” to a guaranteed number of teaching hours. Under normal circumstances, it would not have a significant effect on most of us, since we tend to maintain our baseload hours from semester to semester, which Martin Mueller, the jazz school’s dean for many years now, has always worked hard to sustain. But these are not normal circumstances. We just merged into a new program structure with Mannes and the drama school, which will be called the College of Performing Arts. No one is sure of what the ramifications will be for what were previously separate, freestanding programs. I think Local 802 counsel Harvey Mars, our chief negotiator, did a great job navigating through our wariness about the new paradigm. He took our legitimate concerns into account. The longevity bump in hourly wages was a biggie (not achieved until the very last day of a 10-month negotiation!), as was the victory in getting the New School to pay most or all of our premiums if we choose the Local 802 health plan instead of the school’s. While the former was long overdue and the latter a no-brainer, you don’t get these kinds of concessions without a dedicated and skilled negotiating team, which we clearly had. The jury’s out on the long-term fate of the program, but I think we made the right move. The hugs all around the table at the conclusion of the negotiation – something I’ve never experienced before – suggest that the university shares that sentiment. Rare indeed.

– Dave Lopato

I have been on the jazz faculty since 1995 and was grandfathered from Mannes after teaching there from 1989 to 1995. Needless to say, our program has undergone and weathered considerable changes and tectonic upheavals during these years.

I was on the very first negotiating committee in 1998, which was an all-consuming, immeasurably protracted and very contentious process. I did not serve again until this most recent contract negotiation, and I am really glad I did so because I believe there was as much at stake for the unit’s future as that very first negotiation.

Management’s initial posture was quite ominous, taking away our access to all university-sponsored health care and wanting to dissolve our Curriculum Committee. With the palpable potential of major changes ahead (as evidenced by developments over the last year and a half), it became clear that we needed to craft another model of income preservation in the event of a consolidation of the jazz and Mannes curriculum and other administrative moves that could prove to be deleterious to our employment security.

Our negotiating committee this time around was small but extremely dedicated, focused and keenly aware of what we needed to accomplish, and unswerving in its commitment to crafting a contract that benefited everyone in the unit regardless of their course load or number of years of service. We really stuck to our guns on all critical issues and were able to craft the kind of language necessary to address them. So thank you to my brothers and sisters on the committee. We worked great as a team.

Working with the Local 802 team of Sarah Koshar, Maggie Russell-Brown and Todd Weeks was fantastic. They prioritized our negotiations and were always there to help keep our strategy sessions focused and on-point. Their efforts and support all along the entire process was the solid glue that kept us going amidst the daunting dynamic we faced from management.

I cannot say enough about our counsel, Harvey Mars. Both at the table and at our strategy sessions, his acumen for meticulously consolidating and articulating our demands and rationale for them were always spot-on and delivered across the table with an urgency and absolute conviction as if it were his own job that was on the line. He was also quite insightful by framing our proposals in a broader context beyond our bargaining unit, i.e., that they would have a positive impact on the newly-merged College of Performing Arts and the university at large. His prior negotiation experience with New School’s point person was also a major advantage to both sides, ultimately setting a more constructive solution-oriented tone in the latter stages of the negotiations that engendered real movement on our proposals. His openness to accept language submissions from committee members and incorporate them directly (often verbatim) into his presentations was another true indication that he was acting as our voice. Also, Harvey permitted committee members to strategically speak directly across the table to management, and these statements were timely and very potent, putting a real face on the faculty’s concerns and demands.

Although we didn’t achieve everything we asked for, I believe we negotiated the best contract in the unit’s history, again, with as much at stake as our vanguard agreement in 1998.

Among the key highlights and achievements are: getting a five-year agreement; changing our income security model from course seniority to baseload guarantee (this will be vital as we go forward in this very changeable and uncertain climate); receiving a long overdue and significant longevity bump, only the second of its kind since the first contract; choice of access to health care (New School vs. Local 802, where choosing Local 802 could result in no employee premium payments).

Although we didn’t succeed with language governing class sizes and modifying other aspects of working conditions in the contract, our incisive report of chronic sub-par air quality and soundproofing inadequacies was taken very seriously by management, resulting in an initial walkthrough of our facility and eliciting their intent to implement remedies at some point in the near future.

We now again find ourselves in an intense period of flux and uncertainty with the recent consolidation of jazz, Mannes and drama into the College of Performing Arts at the New School. This new administrative hierarchy and realigned powers has already manifested itself in salient efforts to mitigate jazz’s self-determinacy vis à vis expanding its current curriculum and extending its brand into new programs such as our long-awaited master’s degree and a continuing adult education program. There is an unsettling ambiguity about who’s coming up with these moves and how they will ultimately play out over time. Irrespective of their initiated source, questionable rationale or longterm intentions, administrative accountability cannot be averted in an institution like the New School, which prides itself on the core principles of equal opportunity, transparency and treating its top-shelf faculty as the primary driver that makes this university unique. Sweeping changes may lie ahead, and we need to remain vigilant.

It is my hope that our new contract will help preserve our job security, recognize our faculty’s contribution to the university, and faciilitate the expansion of the jazz department’s longstanding academic and artistic mission.

– Richard Boukas

Many thanks to all of the New School’s part-time faculty who dedicated countless hours of their time in formulating proposals. The dedication of Harvey, Maggie, Sarah and Todd was immeasurable. We are grateful for their unrelenting efforts in representing us during these negotiations. A five-year contract with 2.5 percent annual raises, a system in place to motivate the New School to maintain our base load hours or compensate us for reduced class hours, a seniority supplement, and an option for 100 percent health coverage through Local 802 are major accomplishments in today’s economic environment and we should be very proud of our achievements.

With the establishment of the new College of Performing Arts, changes in structure and governance at the New School presented unique and especially challenging issues during the negotiation of this contract. As we are now an important part of a larger entity, our participation in curricular governance has changed. This was a concession to many but I remind us all that we still have a voice. We must continue to exercise it effectively and with significant input if we are to make a difference during this very important time of change. Ultimately, all parties are interested in the same outcome; the successful governance of a financially fair and viable institution of higher learning which provides for its students in return for their significant investment a worthwhile education and a promising, successful future. No easy task but one we have won the right to continue to participate in if not in exactly the same form. And we must continue to do so with vigor. Congratulations to all on a job well done!

– Dave Glasser