With the recent conclusion of the New York Philharmonic negotiations, we’ve arrived at a relatively calm spot. Or is it the eye of the storm?
After a year of almost nonstop negotiations, it appears that we’ve arrived at a relatively calm spot, or perhaps it’s just the eye of the storm. As readers know by now, we finished negotiations with the New York Philharmonic, thus ending 12 months of major contract talks that included Broadway, Radio City, the Met Opera, the New York City Ballet, the New School, the Apollo Theatre, Cirque du Soleil, the Winter Jazzfest, Westfield, the Stamford Symphony, the American Symphony Orchestra, the American Composers Orchestra, Opera Orchestra of New York, the New York City Opera and about a dozen Off Broadway productions.
Looking back, I want to acknowledge the blood, sweat and tears that the members of these various orchestras and ensembles have expended. Difficult negotiations can be worrisome to musicians and negotiating committee members. They take bravery and nerves of steel. With the labor movement under attack like never before, we have largely been able to hold onto our gains, and that’s thanks to your unity and extremely hard work.
With our most recent negotiation at the New York Philharmonic, we were able to avoid a strike or indeed any kind of job action and that was a welcome outcome. But let’s be clear: the two-year agreement that musicians agreed to at the Philharmonic is essentially a placeholder. It offers a minimal wage increase and it maintains the orchestra’s defined benefit pension plan for the length of the agreement. The fight to maintain this pension plan (instead of switching to a defined contribution plan) will most probably be revisited when we negotiate the next cycle.
Let me say a word about pension. As musicians know, defined benefit pension plans – the kind that are the backbone of unions – are now seen as fair game at negotiations. Employers and even governments believe that pension plans are the root of all evil and must be snuffed out.
Obviously, we disagree. To us, pension plans represent a social contract. If you work your whole life, you deserve to retire in dignity. We see this as a human right.
The principal alternative to pension plans are investment accounts like 401(k)’s or 403(b)’s, which put individuals at the mercy of the stock market by transferring the responsibility of managing investments onto the participant.
In contrast, defined benefit pension plans guarantee a monthly payout despite the vagaries of the market. The responsibility of allocating fund assets, investing employer contributions and providing strict oversight of the fund’s overall management to ensure that all benefit obligations are met lies with the fund’s trustees.
In the unlikely event that a pension plan becomes insolvent, a U.S. government agency (the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation) provides at least a minimal monthly check to workers. Compare that to a 401(k) or 403(b), where you could work your whole life and if the stock market crashes right when you want to retire, you lose everything. That is not what musicians deserve.
The threat against our pension plan is real. With the New York Philharmonic, we have the next two years to gather forces, mobilize musicians, inform the public, and prepare ourselves for a showdown over pension. The warning shot has been fired and it’s up to us to prepare for this upcoming battle.
As for what’s to come, we have continuing negotiations with the New York Philharmonic substitute musicians and the Metropolitan Opera staff musicians. We also have negotiations with a number of the freelance orchestras, including the New York Pops, Little Orchestra Society and Queens Symphony. And our Justice for Jazz Artists campaign is about to take center stage. More on that next month.
WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH
March is Women’s History Month and there are several features in this issue of Allegro that readers will find interesting, including a feature interview with former New York Philharmonic cellist Evangeline Benedetti, who was one of the first women to be accepted into the orchestra.
We are also proud to feature a guest commentary by New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and much more.
Women’s History Month has its roots in the textile industry, where women historically endured terrible working conditions. It’s the month in which we remember the 146 victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which was the largest industrial disaster in the history of New York City. Most of the victims were immigrant women. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the textile workers’ union (the ILGWU). This year’s commemoration, which is the 101th anniversary of the tragedy, will be from noon to 1 on Friday, March 23 at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street at the site of the original building. For more information, go to www.RememberTheTriangleFire.org.
This year is also the 100th anniversary of the “Bread and Roses” strike of 1912. Textile workers – including many women and recent immigrants – struck for higher wages and improved working conditions in Lawrence, Mass. During this strike, workers developed something we take for granted now: the moving picket line. This was a strategy to get around the prohibition against loitering. (If you’re moving on the picket line, you can’t be loitering!) Strikers ultimately won many of their demands. For tons of great info and events, see www.BreadAndRosesCentennial.org
This action also has a place in music history; James Oppenheim’s poem “Bread and Roses” was put to music more than once and has long been associated with the strike and with the women’s movement.
In many ways, “Bread and Roses,” is the perfect slogan for the musicians’ union. We definitely want the bread (i.e. fair wages and benefits), but what we provide to society is roses – the beauty of live music. The meaning of those words has not changed in 100 years.
Lastly, March is also the month in which Cesar Chavez, the founder of the farm workers’ union and a defender of human rights, was born. He would have been 85 on March 31. For information about activities and how to get involved, see www.ChavezFoundation.org or www.ufw.org.
SAVE LIVE MUSIC…AGAIN
In early February, the Algonquin Hotel announced that it was closing its famous Oak Room and turning it into a lounge. For 32 years, the Oak Room was home to live cabaret music and musicians who performed there were covered by a Local 802 agreement. The loss of the Oak Room means that NYC is down to two major cabaret venues: the Café Carlyle and Feinstein’s at Loews Regency. An online petition has been set up to convince the Algonquin to reverse its decision and reinstate the Oak Room. Sign it at www.TinyURL.com/SaveTheOakRoom.
OFF BROADWAY UPDATE
Producers of the Off Broadway production “Carrie” have signed Local 802’s Nonprofit Agreement. Pay is $816.06 per week, with pension payments of 9.81 percent and $72 per week for health. These rates apply to Off Broadway theatres that contain between 200 and 299 seats.
Also, producers of the Off Broadway production “Rated P” have signed our Commercial Off Broadway Area Standards Agreement. Performance pay is $874.18 per week, with pension payments of 9.81 percent and $112 per week for health.
A groundbreaking merger is in the works. Members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) are voting on whether or not to merge the two unions. The voting is being done by mail and the results could be in as early as the end of March. The boards of both unions have overwhelmingly endorsed the merger.
The two unions have produced a joint Web site, www.SagAftra.org. On it, the following reasons are given in favor of the merger:
A combined SAG/AFTRA union will increase bargaining leverage.
A merged union will improve the ability to organize.
One union will better provide health and pension benefits.
In general, the merger is considered a way for workers to gain more leverage over large producers.
According to the Workers Independent News service, the merger would combine 70,000 journalists, broadcasters, disc jockeys, singers and dancers from AFTRA with the 125,000 members of SAG, making it the largest entertainment union in Hollywood. The merger will take effect only if 60 percent of those who vote support the measure.
“We now have the opportunity to finally stand united through one union to secure more union work and better benefits for our members, and for the generations of entertainment and media professionals who follow us,” said AFTRA national president Roberta Reardon.
Local 802 has not taken an official position on this merger, but my personal opinion is that there is strength in numbers and I am intrigued by the prospect of the kind of influence the largest of all entertainment guilds could bring to the recording industry.
WEB SITE OVERHAUL
As president of Local 802, I want to ensure that our membership has access to information and the ability to fully utilize the Internet. In an effort to fulfill that commitment, we are collaborating with a team of designers and programmers to radically improve our current Web site, making it more user friendly and a more effective tool. This overhaul will represent an upgrade of the public face of our union. We anticipate going live in June, with the same address as we have now.
LOCAL 802 INTERNET RADIO
In addition to launching our new Web site, I am extremely excited that Executive Board members Pat Dougherty and Clint Sharman have teamed up to develop Local 802’s first digital radio station that we hope to launch in conjunction with our new Web site.
The station, which will stream 24 hours a day, will be an excellent way for our members to showcase their music to new audiences. Details on how you can submit your music for the radio station are coming soon!
LOCAL 802 AND CITY HALL
Local 802 will be joining the City’s entertainment unions and guilds to support the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) initiative to create a multimedia experience to celebrate the history of Broadway. MOME Commissioner, Katherine Oliver is working to develop short documentaries that will tell a story about each of the 40 theatres in the Broadway District. We are looking forward to sharing more information with you as this project develops.
MUSICIAN CARRY-ON LEGISLATION
As we recently announced via our electronic newsletter, we are pleased that Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform ACT (H.R. 658), which finally established a uniform national policy regarding musical instruments on airplanes. The legislation states that any instrument that can be safely stored in overhead bins or under a passengers’ seat may be allowed on board a plane as a carry-on item. Maximum size for instruments may be up to 150 linear inches and up to 165 pounds including the case. For more details regarding the legislation, feel free to reach out to K.C. Boyle at KBoyle@Local802afm.org.