Goldman Band Shuts Down

Volume CV, No. 7/8July, 2005

Jacob Heyman-Kantor

In late May, the Goldman Memorial Band decided to cancel the 2005 summer season and cease operations entirely. Management chose to shut down operations after band members voted to reject an extremely concessionary offer. The offer included cutting the band by five positions, removing all musicians from the board of directors, and eliminating the season guarantee.

Local 802 had fought to keep the band alive, recommending that the Music Performance Fund allocate $87,000 to the band over the last five years in order to keep it going. Mark Heter, the Goldman Band’s lead negotiator, said across the table that 802 provided them with 80 percent of their funding.

Before our first negotiation session, the union offered to play under the terms of the old agreement until we agreed on a new contract. The extension was a guarantee that the musicians would play the band’s Memorial Day concert.

Not only did management refuse to sign the extension, but they told us that if we didn’t come to an agreement by May 1, they would cancel that concert.

We concluded that Ken Force, the president of the board of directors, wanted to pressure us into making a deal quickly, a deal that was worse than the previous contract, and was willing to jeopardize the band’s season in order to do that.

Management started off negotiations with a number of extraordinary proposals. The initial proposals included a provision for automatic discharge for “tardiness, conduct unbecoming, and fighting or provoking a fight on GMB premises, regardless who provokes it.”

There was also a “most favored nations” clause, which would allow management to unilaterally alter the collective bargaining agreement.

Management wanted to be able to change the “concept” of the band at their discretion and then be able to lay off whoever didn’t fit the new concept.

Finally, they wanted to eliminate the anti-discrimination clause in their contract.

The employer’s negotiating tactics were as offensive as their initial proposals. They acted like a large anti-union corporation in a right-to-work state. They waited until Friday, April 22 — a week- and-a-half before the contract expired — to give us their comprehensive proposals.

On the following business day — Monday, April 25 — they gave us a new proposal and declared that it was their last and final offer. They also posted this offer on their Web site along with a letter criticizing the union and declaring that they had lost their Memorial Day concert. Two weeks later, the musicians responded by rejecting the offer and giving the committee strike authorization.

With the committee empowered to call a strike, management came back for another negotiating session. At this session, management seemed to want to reach a deal. They gave the band a season guarantee and gave musicians significant control over choosing substitutes. The committee and the reps thought long and hard over what we could sacrifice in order to keep the band going. Ultimately, we offered management two different package deals — one without musicians on the board, and the other with the removal of three chairs in the band. Management responded by insisting that they needed both concessions — not one or the other — and that the removal of three chairs was not enough. Instead of giving us a counter proposal, they just walked out of the negotiation room.

On the following day, Mark Heter informed the union that the band had ceased operations. He said it was a fait accompli. That same day, a reporter from the New York Times called the union to ask us why the Goldman Band had shut down. A small article in the Daily News reported that the band had “sounded its last note.”

At this point, we contacted board president Force to demand a true last and final offer.

Force told us that he had been directing Mark Heter and that the one place he had flexibility was with the board seats. He had no problem with the concept of musicians being elected to the board. He did have a problem, however, with the particular musicians who had been elected. Perhaps he wanted them banned for their previous union activity.

Force then faxed us over a proposal that was actually worse than what Heter had told us across the table. Force said that he had managed to revive the Memorial Day concert, but if we didn’t sign the deal he’d lose it. Heter called the union to say that they needed us to sign the agreement within the hour. Then Force called me personally and threatened that if we didn’t sign the agreement by 5 p.m., he’d permanently shut down the band!

We managed to convince him that under absolutely no circumstances would we bypass the committee, the musicians and union democracy in order to accommodate his threats. However, we were willing to hold a ratification meeting. We did this for two reasons: the offer was better than what we had presented to the rest of the band two weeks before; we were convinced that the band’s future was in serious jeopardy.

At the ratification meeting, many musicians made it clear that they wouldn’t accept this offer even if it meant that the band would shut down. Just about everyone was angry.

Early Anderson, the chair of the committee, expressed the frustrations of many musicians. “We are willing to compromise,” Anderson said, “but management just wants to dictate terms to us. The employer has created an atmosphere where most of us would rather not work for them.”

Wally Kramer, a musician who was on both the negotiating committee and the Goldman board of directors, put it this way. “I’ve played with the band for 30 years,” Kramer said. “It used to be a great institution, but over the last few years, things have gone downhill. Management selects low quality music, never listens to musicians, and has been consistently dishonest with us.”

Kramer was not alone in his sentiments. The band voted to reject the offer. The next day management informed us that they were shutting down the band.

The Goldman Memorial Band negotiating committee consisted of Early Anderson, Howard Harris, Wallace Kramer, Ronald Caswell, and Peter Hirsch. Local 802 legal counsel Harvey Mars and I also participated in the negotiations.