The economic, societal, and emotional fallout from the pandemic will certainly be discussed and dissected for many decades to come, but one thing is clear: the pandemic brought about a resurgence of unionism and worker power in America. In New York City, a strong union town to begin with, this has hit home in a good way. Starting with the WGA strike, joined by SAG-AFTRA, and now the UAW, we have seen union after union hit the streets mad as hell and not taking it anymore. Local 802 has been marching alongside our sister unions providing music and words of support whenever and wherever possible. Our union brothers and sisters have supported us in kind, whether on the picket line at a DCINY rally or at Lincoln Center supporting the musicians of the New York City Ballet in their fight for a fair contract.
In my last column, I asked you to join us on the picket lines. Now I am going to make another familiar ask that is closer to home.
Since I started working at Local 802 in 2007, I have been fortunate to work with some incredibly talented, smart, and brave orchestra committees. It is gratifying (and certainly makes my job easier) to enter negotiations with a group of musicians who have been at the table for decades, know the territory, know the rules, and know their employer well. Some committee members have been serving for more than a few decades. But no one works forever, and thanks to our pension, several longstanding committee members have recently been able to retire from their orchestras. They have done well by their colleagues and the union and deserve to sit back and let someone else take up the cause.
Because of this, your orchestra needs you! Good contracts do not happen by magic. If you have never served on an orchestra committee, now is the time to step up. It is more important than ever to get involved with the business side of your orchestra, band, chamber group, or whatever organizations you perform with. It is simply not enough to show up, play well, and collect your check.
Local 802 is the “exclusive collective bargaining representative of all musicians it engages during the term of (our) agreements.” This sentence is found in our contracts right up front, in “Article #1: Recognition.” Your elected representatives at Local 802 take this responsibility very seriously and we strive to do our very best to represent the interests of each group.
For a number of reasons, not least of which is the potential for conflict of interest, the three named officers are not permitted to play professionally while in office. That is where committees come in. I have said it many times — committees are the backbone of our union. They are the rank-and-file representatives on the ground, watching what happens at every rehearsal, every concert, and making sure management is following the terms of our contracts. Moreover, the committee is responsible for attending and participating in negotiations, ensuring that we, as officers, are doing the best we can to improve the wages and working conditions in each negotiation.
The days when there was one big negotiation with the “consortium,” and everyone signed onto the rates are long gone. Negotiations now happen year-round. Before we lose all the institutional knowledge, savvy, and spirit these people have brought to the table, let’s make sure that the next generation learns from their experience. When a call for nominations for new committee members goes out, I hope that there will be some new members mixed in among those with experience. The job is not easy. It can be incredibly frustrating, as it demands your time, energy, and patience. There is a lot riding on decisions made at the bargaining table for you personally and for every one of your colleagues. But having a platform to voice your opinion, make improvements in your own and the working lives of your coworkers, can give you an enormous sense of satisfaction that is different from nailing a solo or finding a new trick fingering. It is knowing that you are a part of a proud legacy of activists and can now create and grow your own legacy.
If you want to step up and learn more, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.