There are many aspects to the role of Financial Vice President of Local 802 but the responsibilities are mainly twofold: to oversee the financial interests of the local, and to manage and negotiate the freelance concert, ballet, and opera contracts. These functions intersect only insofar as a good negotiation outcome will result in higher wages and bring in more work dues. Work dues and membership dues in turn fuel our operations. With both income streams drastically reduced and the reopening of our industry at least 6-12 months away, we had to take a very close look at our finances and make some difficult decisions. I would like to share some thoughts and updates on what we are doing to ensure our union will be intact when this time of crisis passes.
As you are likely aware, we recently had to significantly reduce our workforce. This step was taken after studying several different financial projections and the effect of lost revenue on our cash flow. The titled officers and Executive Board did not come to these decisions lightly. We highly value our staff and we worked hard over the past year and a half to create a positive work environment. Sadly, the numbers left us with no choice. We also made some small adjustments to our already conservative investment strategy to safeguard our assets and maintain cash flow through the end of 2021. By that time, if not sooner, we hope that there will be a significant return to work for you, and much needed revenue for the local in turn.
We take our role as stewards of your money very seriously. Living in a state of austerity is not much fun, but it is unavoidable right now. The remaining staff and officers have taken on significantly more work for less pay. The Paycheck Protection Program was not made available to labor unions but we have applied for and received all government help available to us and we continue to research other programs. This has provided a bit of relief, but not nearly enough to make a difference in our projected losses. We are especially grateful to the New York State AFL-CIO and the NYC Central Labor Council, who were very understanding and supportive of our situation. With the safeguards we are putting in place, I am confident that Local 802 will emerge from this moment stronger and more streamlined when we return to routine operations.
While employment has ground to a near halt for our members, negotiations are continuing everywhere, from Lincoln Center, Broadway, and teaching artists, to the freelance orchestras. Since my June report, we have negotiated side letters with ABT and Mostly Mozart. Both agreements included full health benefit payments per their respective contracts and a percentage of wages and pension for the cancelled season.
In June, Little Orchestra Society ratified both a new, three-year agreement and the Integrated Media Agreement with plans to move their season online. Musica Viva, Stamford Symphony, and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra have projects in the pipeline and St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra held a series of concerts online over the summer. We will continue to work with our orchestras to find ways to stay in the public eye while creating income for members.
The annual ICSOM (International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians) conference was held via Zoom July 15-17. Although the fellowship of the in-person conference was missed, presenting remotely permitted almost twice as many people to attend. The agenda included many of the same themes as last year but examined through the lens of the pandemic: negotiation strategies, health and safety, AFM-EPF, and electronic media as it pertains to symphony orchestras.
Local 802 member Anthony McGill (NY Philharmonic) and his brother, Demarre McGill (Seattle Symphony) presented on diversity issues in symphony orchestras. Our administration has been focusing awareness on this subject and the need to do better. I found their presentation enlightening and helpful and will be discussing their suggestions with our committees and orchestra managements as part of an ongoing dialogue on this important topic.
Three infectious disease experts — Larry Rich, Dr. Carlos del Rio, and Dr. Adam T. Schwalje presented a sobering look at health and safety concerns surrounding a return to live performance. They quickly discredited the use of plexiglass barriers and discussed social distancing (wind players should be at least 8-12 feet apart, not 6), performing outside vs. inside, use and practicality of personal protective equipment, and other ways of mitigating exposure. It is critically important to note and understand that although Local 802 has posted its own performance guidelines, the responsibility for musicians’ health and safety lies squarely with our employers. As a side note, I have heard that some employers have asked musicians to sign waivers when returning to work. If this happens to you, please do not sign any such waiver, and let us know.
The Local 802 ICSOM delegates were: Javier Gandara, Met Orchestra, Sarah Adams, NYCO, Ethan Silverman, NYC Ballet, and Leelanee Sterrett, NY Philharmonic.
According to Dr. Schwalje, “We will be dealing with this virus for the rest of our lives.” It was hard to hear that, even though the thought has crossed my mind many times since March. While troubling, I do not accept that statement as a death sentence to our industry. Orchestras across the country and here in NYC have figured out ways to survive, whether performing remotely for an empty hall or streaming live or prerecorded events. Orchestras are not giving up hope and neither should we. The content currently being created and shared on social media, while entertaining, can never replace the thrill of live performance. Can a video ever capture the electricity in the air before the curtain rises on a Broadway show? Can it create the anticipation and excitement in the silence right before the downbeat to a Mahler symphony? Of course not. Not for us as performers and not for our audiences. I predict that when this moment passes, the appetite for live performances will be stronger than ever before. As we eagerly wait for that magical moment, Local 802 will be there for you.