Fighting for the Arts
Volume 117, No. 5May, 2017
I hope everyone is enjoying the warmer weather and the beginning of a beautiful spring. There’s been a lot going on at Local 802 in the month since my last report, and I’d like to share all the news with you.
First of all, we took part in a very successful rally at City Hall to support the National Endowment for the Arts and other crucial arts organizations that are threatened in President Trump’s proposed budget. The rally was organized by Queens City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Many Local 802 members attended, and you can read some of their testimonials in this month’s Musicians’ Voice as well as an op-ed by David Byrne. I made the following remarks at the rally, and they’re worth repeating here so that we can all keep these words in mind whenever the arts are under attack.
Local 802 is the largest local union of professional musicians in the world. We are made up of thousands of musicians – representative of every style, ethnicity and background. When you go to a Broadway show or a performance at Lincoln Center, you hear us. When you go to the Apollo Theatre and many of our great jazz clubs and cabarets throughout the city, you hear us. When you watch “The Late Show,” “Sesame Street” or “Saturday Night Live,” you hear us! And when our nation’s president – a New Yorker – shamefully attacks support for the very music and the art that makes our city and our nation a global cultural leader – you better believe me, he will hear us!
When it comes to musical excellence, New York City and the United States are beacons to the world. The reason for this? Arts are a core value, a vital part of our diverse and vibrant heritage. Our union’s members are made up of the finest musicians on earth. They are musicians who grew up listening to music – some of it on public radio. They were inspired by live music in their home towns – some of it made possible through public grants and arts funding. Their lives were changed by music teachers in public schools. They honed their craft at arts programs supported by local, state, and federal governments. And now the music they make is a celebration of our common heritage and a gift to our future, inspiring the next generation through creative performance that bridges cultural, economic and social divides.
The NEA plays an important supportive role in our artistic communities. It contributes to music education organizations like Midori, iconic venues like the Apollo Theatre, and artist development programs run by nonprofit theatres like Roundabout and the Manhattan Theatre Club. Some of our greatest ensembles, including the NYC Ballet, New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera – organizations that have helped make NYC a cultural capital of the world and that act as ambassadors of our creative society – receive support from the NEA.
Though the NEA represents a fraction of a fraction of the federal budget, it has an outsized impact on our creative world. We must celebrate it and we must fight for it.
Together, we must call on our Congressional representatives and let them know that attacking the NEA is an attack on our national character and the health of our neighborhoods.
The NEA must not be undermined. We must demand that Congress reject any budget that defunds the National Endowment for the Arts. You have heard me, now let’s make sure Congress hears all of us!
Please read Financial Vice President Tom Olcott’s column, which hammers home the importance of the NEA on a very local level.
OUR OUTREACH IS KEY
When the arts are under attack, the best thing that musicians and other creative artists can do is constantly remind the public of why we matter. We must keep our craft as visible as possible and become strong members of our community. I’d like to mention two ways that Local 802 members are doing a great job in this regard.
The first is with the recent efforts by MET Orchestra musicians, who are organizing a new initiative to use live music to support communities, advocate for important social issues and engage with New Yorkers of all ages throughout the city. As we reported last month, the MET musicians presented a concert of “Peter and the Wolf” to benefit an innovative group called Our Children’s Trust. Soon after, the MET musicians performed for 80 students at Harlem’s PS 185 to celebrate “Everybody Reads Week.” A week later, the MET musicians performed at the Fort Washington branch of the New York Public Library.
MET Orchestra cellist Kari Docter said in our press release, “As a parent and a member of the orchestra, I can say that music, the arts and social advocacy go hand-in-hand, and we must ensure that our children have a well-rounded education that provides the opportunity for them to thrive.” Docter added, “In an age when the role that the arts play in our schools and in our neighborhoods is constantly under threat, we must find ways to introduce more people to the power of live music performance and the vital role it plays in supporting a well-rounded, healthy, inclusive and positive society.”
I couldn’t agree more. The MET Orchestra musicians are using their passion, creativity and artistry to support our neighborhoods and engage with our communities every day. They are not only musicians; they are New Yorkers, parents, teachers and community advocates who are active in the civic life of our city and who care passionately about making sure our children have access to the arts.
The other major outreach that I’m proud to mention is how the Broadway Theatre Committee and Broadway musicians have developed and are continuously updating their own web site – www.BroadwayMusicians.com – to give greater visibility to the musicians who power live musical theatre. I’d like to take this opportunity to say congratulations to newly-elected Broadway Theatre Committee chair Jan Mullen and vice-chair Chris Reza, and to say thank you to outgoing chair Wally Usiatynski. You can read a special report about the Broadway Theatre Committee in this issue, along with a terrific article by Broadway woodwind player Greg Thymius, who reminds us that outreach is all of our jobs, all of the time. It’s how live music will survive.
On a side note, I’m happy that Broadway has earned such positive media coverage in recent days, including a story in the Wall Street Journal with the headline “Musicians Taking Center Stage on Broadway,” about the importance of on-stage orchestras. A separate story in the New York Daily News was spotted with the headline “The Workers Who Make Broadway Hum Deserve a Standing Ovation.” And a third Daily News story called “Meet Theatre Workers Who Built Successful Careers” included a feature on Local 802 member Peter Donovan. This is another part of our outreach and it’s clear that musicians make an important difference in the minds of New Yorkers.
I and other pension trustees and professionals continue to visit with AFM locals around the country to give updates about our pension fund. Our most recent visit was to AFM Local 6 (San Francisco). Since my last report, the pension fund has posted a snapshot of our presentation to its web site. You’ll find lots of in-depth information in this presentation, and for those of you who were waiting for a summary of our Feb. 22 membership meeting, this is it. To see this presentation, log in to www.afm-epf.org, then click on your name from the upper-right hand part of the screen. Then scroll down, click on “5500 and Other Documents” then “2017 Membership Meeting Presentation.” As always, the latest updates can be found at www.afm-epf.org. In this issue of Allegro, members continue to write about the pension fund in our letters section. (By the way, this issue of Allegro contains the most letters we’ve ever received in a single issue. Many also wrote in with their memories of legendary engineer Jim Czak, who sadly left us too soon.
LOCAL 47 ASKS FOR OUR HELP
AFM Local 47 (Los Angeles) recently sent out an appeal that I hope you were able to read. It’s a warning shot to nonunion employers, and it’s an important and relevant message to our members as well. Here’s what the Executive Board of Local 47 said:
“Our contracts are the heart of our union. Whatever we achieve through collective action and collective bargaining is secured because management signs agreements. Our contracts allow us to make sure employers do what they are obligated to do. They raise the expectations of all musicians for pay, benefits, and professional treatment.
“Recently, those contracts have been put at serious risk. Members of Local 47 are being asked to record music for major, well-funded projects without union contracts. If union contracts are made irrelevant by work done in the shadows, the floor for pay will drop for both union and nonunion musicians. These employment practices are especially divisive and pernicious because they exert enormous pressure on individual union members.
“We all know what it is like to wonder where your next call is going to come from or how you are going to pay your bills. No single musician can stop the forces that undermine our profession, but as a union we have always been able to push back.
“We believe that it is now necessary to take action together. We call upon the Federation and other AFM locals to unite with our membership in defense of our union and our contracts. In the coming months we will be launching a campaign to uphold our contracts, to recapture work being done in the shadows and to ensure that musicians can earn a livable wage working in Los Angeles.
“Our goals are:
- To ensure fair pay, benefits, and professional treatment for musicians.
- To protect our union’s ability to bargain, administer and uphold our contracts.
- To bring more work under union agreements.
“We, the Executive Board of AFM Local 47, are committed to building a stronger, more successful future together.”
LABOR HISTORY MONTH
May is Labor History Month, chosen to commemorate the marches for the eight-hour day that took place on May 1, 1886, chiefly in Chicago. Our annual calendar of labor history events in NYC can be downloaded here. Please also see a letter to the editor on about a new labor musical that recently debuted in Maryland under an AFM union contract. The show was called “Love Songs from the Liberation Wars: The 1940’s Tobacco Worker Struggle.”
OTHER UNION UPDATES
- Two openings have recently occurred on the Local 802 Executive Board due to the death of Bob Cranshaw and the resignation of Gail Kruvand, who is moving to the West Coast. The Executive Board is in the process of interviewing potential candidates. We hope to complete that process in the months ahead.
- I recently met with the American Guild of Musical Artists about upcoming negotiations with the Metropolitan Opera. It is integral to successful negotiation that we work with our sisters and brothers of AGMA and that our relationships remain strong and collaborative.
- In that same vein, I recently met with IATSE Local 1 President Jim Claffey. Local 1 and Local 802 enjoy a very strong and cooperative relationship. The meeting was a valuable opportunity to catch up with each other regarding our ongoing initiatives as well as advancing our policy of standing side by side as we approach the Metropolitan Opera negotiations and other dealings we have with mutual employers.