Growing the Union

Recording Vice-President's Report

Volume CX, No. 1January, 2010

John O'Connor

We need to show New York that Local 802 is the champion for all musicians

I believe the most important task before the leadership of this union in the years to come is to work to reverse the trend of membership loss over the past several years. There are several ways we must work to do this.

First, let it be understood that the task of growing the union is not counter to the task of keeping our current collective bargaining agreements strong or working for significant improvements. To the contrary, musicians will be more apt to join a union that is viewed as one that fights for fairness and dignity for all its members. Local 802 must stand strong at the bargaining table and employers need to know this as well as our members.

Second, in order to grow the union we are going to have to embark on an ambitious campaign to grow the music industry in New York City. We can’t “unionize” a gig if it doesn’t exist. People who live in and visit this city expect it to be a vital center of live music of all kinds. The continuing loss of live musicians in hotel lobbies, at weddings, society functions, etc. is something that makes our city the poorer and I think the public will agree with that. What the public is not going to do is organize an effort to turn this situation around. It is incumbent upon this union to lead the way. We can’t do it alone. We need to start immediately building relationships with organizations, local politicians and others. We need to create and expand a visible campaign to put live music at the top of the cultural agenda of this city.

We have to look at the kinds of venues that we have traditionally organized and expand our reach. Club dates, non-Broadway theater and symphonic orchestras that are not covered by union contracts must be the target of well thought-out campaigns to bring more work under contract. Musicians who play in these fields must be involved. We need to develop an internal organizing mechanism that makes organizing in these fields more effective.

The Justice for Jazz Artists struggle needs to be taken to the next level. The jazz clubs received a windfall through the legislation that got rid of the admissions tax. It is time now for them to do the right thing. And it is time for Local 802 to stop waiting for them to do the right thing on their own. It is never going to happen. We need to look at several leverage points to compel the clubs to start contributing toward the well being of jazz musicians.

We need to get as serious about the Latin music scene in this town as we are about jazz. It is a vital part of the city’s culture, with thousands of musicians participating. Local 802 at present is irrelevant to these musicians at best. That cannot remain to be the case. We need to reach out and organize around the issues that are important to these musicians and to get union agreements where it is possible.

We have to reach out to the alternative freelance music fields such as rock, folk, noise, hip-hop and other disciplines. While we can find ways to cover musicians here, we need also to recognize that there are other ways to organize besides through conventional collective bargaining agreements. Where musicians are being exploited, Local 802 must organize to show musicians how to take collective action to stop exploitation.

The above will be challenging, if not daunting. It will take resources and a tenacious commitment over many years. But it is crucial that we make a serious commitment to put live music back on the map and to show New York that Local 802 is the champion for all musicians. Anything less will mean our continued decline. I think we will all agree that is unacceptable.