Over the last month or so, Local 802 has reached agreement with two important employers of jazz musicians for improved terms and conditions. The first of these, the New School, engages more than 70 musicians, a number of them performing jazz artists of the first rank, to serve as adjunct faculty for the school’s Jazz and Contemporary Music Program. The second, Jazz at Lincoln Center, is one of two premier jazz repertory companies located in New York City (the other being the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra).
Each of the agreements (details on the New School contract appeared in the January 2002 Allegro; for a report on Jazz at Lincoln Center, click here) contains significant improvements on bread-and-butter issues – wages, health insurance and pension. The outcomes of both negotiations reflect a maturing of the relationship between Local 802 and these employers.
Jazz at Lincoln Center has experienced substantial growth during the last several years and is now a nearly year-round job for its regular orchestra members. Reflecting this, the new agreement provides them a complete health insurance package that is comparable to the one offered members of the other Lincoln Center orchestras, the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera orchestra. The new agreement also improves pension contributions, although they remain substantially below the contributions provided members of these other orchestras. Still lacking in the Jazz at Lincoln Center agreement is any real job security, or coverage of music preparation work.
These latter issues are not unrelated. It is obviously difficult to speak out and act on issues of concern without a sense of security. Despite this, however, most of the orchestra members were involved in some way in the recent contract discussions, including several who attended and spoke up at negotiations. This involvement bodes well for the future.
Similarly, the active participation of a negotiating committee of rank-and-file faculty members at the New School was the key to contract improvements. Gains in real wages were achieved, along with an increase in health benefit contributions. But here, too, job security provisions remain limited and we were unable to make the improvements in pension contributions we had hoped for. Pension was 4 percent and is now 5 percent on an expanded category of work.
While the increased participation of musicians at both venues gave us much greater strength at the bargaining table, what we were able to achieve was constrained by the union’s somewhat limited presence in both the music education field and the jazz field in general. Increasing our strength at the bargaining table requires that we increase our presence in these fields of work. In the labor movement this is known as union density. We need more – and how we get it remains a matter of concern and discussion here at the union.
Besides teaching, income in the jazz field comes from a wide range of live performance work – clubs, festivals, and tours taking place both within Local 802’s jurisdiction and beyond
Our efforts to improve conditions in the club scene center on a tax relief initiative that would provide a funding stream for musicians’ pensions. It would require both state and local government participation and has proven to be somewhat complex in its development, although none of the legislators we have spoken to opposes the concept. Unfortunately this measure, if successful, would affect only clubs in New York City, and very few jazz musicians make a living by working only in New York. What is to be done about work in the rest of the AFM’s jurisdiction (and in the world) remains a puzzle – although we have solved a limited piece of that puzzle by reaching agreements with several musicians’ corporations for work done by and for those corporations wherever the work takes place.
In doing all this we are trying to accomplish several things. It is still true, as it was when we first began organizing in the jazz field, that these workplaces are marked by too much exploitation and too little dignity. Jazz musicians – like all workers – deserve a voice in the terms and conditions of their employment. Only a union contract gives that.
More specifically, though, as trumpeter and union activist Jimmy Owens has said on many occasions, “Any time musicians pick up their instruments to perform, there should be a pension contribution on their behalf.” Those words should be our constant guideline. Certainly in the more financially viable venues, whether festivals or nightclubs or schools, it is unconscionable that pension benefits are not uniformly in place.
We intend to continue pursuing organizing efforts in this area. Perseverance is essential, here as almost everywhere. As long as jazz artists are trying to earn a living, Local 802 will be striving to guarantee them decent wages and fair benefits.
CONGRATULATIONS FOR WORK WELL DONE
Four years ago, Recording Vice President Erwin Price was appointed to the Advisory Board of the Mount Sinai/Irving J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine. He has been an active participant since then in that organization’s initiatives. Recently, all Advisory Board members received the Chairman’s Appreciation Award. It states, in part, “You have served our great city by volunteering in the rescue effort, working at the site, providing legal support and assistance to victims and their families, providing training and outreach to workers and the community at large, fulfilling the mission from your offices, attending to medical and emotional needs of our citizens, taking care of those at ground zero and in nearby areas, and keeping the music playing in our hearts and theatres.”
Congratulations and thanks to Erwin for all his work with this organization and for the recognition he has gained.
A GREAT PARTY
The Local 802 mortgage burning party, last Dec. 19, saw 300 to 400 members and friends gathered in the Club Room for a happy evening of music, food, and award presentations and receptions. The music, by the Junior Mance Trio, was more than wonderful, the food was good and the speeches were short. So it was a good party.
Those who actually organized the evening deserve our special thanks – Bill Dennison, who oversaw the arrangements and handled several sticky last-minute problems, and his staff of co-workers: Gloria McCormick, Tara Donach, Heather Beaudoin, Major Little, Amoh Essandoh, Tony Hubbard and Elaine Howard.