Fear vs. Hope

Financial Vice President's Report

Volume 117, No. 10October, 2017

Tom Olcott

Tom Olcott is the financial vice president of Local 802 and the supervisor of the union’s concert department

It has been some months since I wrote a column for Allegro and perhaps I should explain my reticence. I have been pretty uncertain as to what my commentary could add to a very strange environment. In the larger national scene, I have felt a good deal of dislocation regarding my normal expectations of the political world and the world of acceptable public speech. I have experienced nothing in my life that parallels my personal sense of dislocation from norms. I have an unprecedented underlying anxiety that doesn’t reflect any personal psychological issues (famous last words!) but seems more reflective of a disruptive uncertainty in the country as a whole. So, while I am no one’s shrink and no one’s political analyst and surely don’t speak for all political views, I do think that a general sense of uncertainty has wormed its way into our small corner of the economic world. We in the Local 802 Concert Department see this every day.

Here are a few items on the current radar that create a good deal of uncertainty and anxiety among members (and the Concert Department staff). I’ll not do “public shaming” by naming specific orchestras, but here is a rundown of current troubling issues:

Orchestra #1. This is an orchestra that is at least two payments behind schedule and which also seems to have no clue regarding the protocols for payment of wages, benefits and work dues. This institution has been advised several times about these deficiencies. The Concert Department has offered assistance and instruction as to appropriate accounting and record-keeping. To date there is no resolution.

Orchestra #2. This orchestra is more than two months late in its payroll and has given us no schedule of when we might expect payments. It has promised an eventual payroll that will explicitly include contractual late penalties. That group wants to hire for the coming season, though it has no immediately visible means of support.

Orchestra #3. These folks want a freeze for year three of the promulgated rates. Poverty, they claim. They claim they need the break to add one more concert to the season…which will utilize one-half (!) of its customary roster of musicians.

Orchestra #4. This one says they can’t afford premium pay anymore (i.e. payments for principal musicians, etc.). We’re about to commence a grievance.

This list extends further. In general, there’s a pile-up of dim outlooks. Individual musicians are being affected even more severely. Factor in the aging demographic of concert performers and the well-known and documented uncertainty regarding the AFM Pension Fund and we have an understandably freaked-out membership. The uncertainty has become pervasive.

So, after that grim summary, we need to take a deep breath and decide what to do. The labor movement has always been about hope vs. fear. We can never let the fear win.

First of all, let Local 802 know if a job offer is sketchy in any way or if past payments are due. We won’t necessarily know what’s going on unless members tell us. It is better for all if we are ahead of the curve rather than mopping up afterwards.

Secondly, when you get hired by a contractor, please make sure that the job meets your own standards and that it is a union job. We are here to help you – but you need to tell us what’s going on.

Third, please understand that the Concert Office will always follow up on a tip from a member. Can we guarantee success? Not really. But we don’t have a chance to help you if we don’t know the terrain.

Communication in service of our community is our best immediate weapon as we do our best to combat uncertainty. Perhaps staying in touch with the union and with each other can also do something to keep our bearings in the wider world. It can’t hurt! To let us know about a job in the classical field where you’re not being paid what you deserve, you can make a confidential call to (212) 245-4802. Ask for the Concert Department.