It is with great anticipation and a profound sense of responsibility that I assume the duties of the office of president. I congratulate my fellow officers, Jay Blumenthal and Bill Dennison, and commit to working together with them to build a strong and effective administration. My goal in these monthly columns will be to keep you informed of the state of the union, critical issues that we are facing and, most importantly, the methods and means by which we are setting out to achieve our goals. In this introductory report, however, I wish to acquaint myself with those of you who don’t know me and to focus on our internal challenges that must be addressed in order to lay the foundation on which this administration will be built.
Many of you know me as 802’s former Concert Supervisor and Broadway Representative. Most may not know how I got here and I wish to briefly share some of those experiences and hopefully shed some light on who I am and what I believe in. My journey in the labor movement certainly affirms the fact that union activists are not born; they are made. I joined Local 802 in 1985, while still an undergraduate in college, in order to begin playing union jobs. No more, no less. When I won my first steady orchestra job, to be truthful, I did not pay attention to whether or not my work would be covered under a union collective bargaining agreement. It was not. I moved halfway across the country, played a season and much to my delight, received the approval and support of most of my colleagues. The conductor, unfortunately, did not share that opinion. That is when I first became painfully aware of the total vulnerability and lack of recourse available to a musician on a nonunion job. Subsequent to that early experience, I moved back to New York and began freelancing.
It was not until I became a longtime member of a touring orchestra, this time under union contract, that I came to truly appreciate the protections of a union contract and the power of worker solidarity. The company I was working for had run smoothly for many years. A sudden change in management instantly presented many problems and, within two years, the union filed over 100 grievances. I, along with several other senior members of the orchestra, was elected to the orchestra committee. I also came to serve as union steward. It was a long, hard fight. Our problems were not solved overnight. But, with perseverance and our demonstration of unwavering solidarity, we were able to achieve a substantial monetary settlement of all our grievances and set the course for a more productive relationship with the employer.
Throughout that process, I worked closely with our union officials and found them to be helpful, skilled, dedicated and trustworthy. To my surprise, however, that sentiment was not shared by all of my fellow orchestra members or committee members. It was at that moment that I became aware of a mistrust of the union that sometimes exists among some of its members. That would also become a defining moment in my future approach to union leadership. I realize that many of our members have great confidence in the work and value of the union. I also believe that the opinions of those members who feel otherwise are equally important and valid. Unfortunately, their opinions are often based on prior negative experience with the union. That fact sets the single most important internal goal for this administration.
This has been a difficult year for many of you. There have been disappointments. I am well aware of them. I hope that together we can overcome them and recognize the important distinction between disappointment and discouragement. Things will not always turn out the way we all want. That is a given. But, I ask you to imagine your working life without the benefit of a union contract. Even in disappointing times, we must maintain perspective. It is in our own best interests not to succumb to feelings of discouragement. The union can always do better and will continue to try to do better. On my part, I will strive to improve the communication among all of us. I will need your help. In order for the union to accurately represent your collective interests, I urge you to stay close and get involved. My door is always open. Your thoughts, ideas and expectations are needed and welcome. Differences of opinion will always exist and are inherent in the democratic process. That, in fact, is the sign of an active and healthy union. I will have the difficult task of developing consensus out of the vast diversity of opinion. In so doing, I will try to stay mindful of my obligation not only to lead, but also to serve. I alone am not the union. You alone are not the union. We are, together, the union. We must embrace that truth. In it, lies our best chance to succeed as we face the many challenges ahead.
In the next issue, I will address some of the changes and external priorities of the new administration. Until then, I wish you and your families a peaceful holiday season and look forward to an exciting New Year for all of us in the 802 family.