Hotel Contract Settled

Negotiations Roundup

Volume CVI, No. 6June, 2006

Jim Hannen

Grab your cocktail and listen. In mid-April, musicians unanimously ratified the new hotel agreement, which had expired in March 2005. It currently covers more than 40 musicians who perform in more than a dozen Manhattan hotels, and is the standard for all other steady work taking place within Local 802’s jurisdiction.

“We achieved a very strong contract over the last 15 years — pension, health and hospital insurance, sick days, paid vacation, and reasonably secure jobs,” said Committee Chair Rich Jenkins. “The only thing missing for the last five years, due mostly to the recession and 9/11, was a pay raise. This year we have a raise with retroactivity. It would not have been possible without the hard work of the committee and the union.”

Some highlights of the new contract are:

  • The new three-year contract expires in 2008 and provides for a 3 percent wage increase retroactive to March 1, 2005 and a 2 percent increase effective March 1, 2007.
  • The pension contribution increases to 11 percent from 10 percent on January 1, 2007.
  • Health contributions rise to $30 per day with a cap of $60 per week, enabling more musicians to achieve or maintain Plan A coverage. (The old contract paid $25 per day with a cap of $50 per week.)
  • Maintenance payments to harpists increase to a maximum of $45 per week starting this July 1.

There were a few concessions. In the new contract, the New Year’s Eve premium will be reduced to 50 percent (from 100 percent). But most steady hotel musicians do not work on New Year’s Eve because the hotel usually produces a special show of some kind. And musicians will now get four weeks’ notice — instead of two — if they are not needed on New Year’s Eve.

Also, in the new contract, the notice the employer is required to give musicians of schedule changes will decrease to five days. (The previous notice was two weeks.)

These were minor concessions the committee was willing to make for wage and pension increases.

The previous contract was negotiated in the aftermath of 9/11, with a severely crippled hotel industry. Occupancy rates were at an all-time low, hotel staff was being laid off, and musicians feared their jobs were tenuous at best. The old joke about hotels eliminating music and then cutting back on bar snacks or flower arrangements seemed a not-so-funny possibility. The resulting agreement was a rollover of the previous agreement, and froze wages and benefits at 2001 levels.

But by 2005 the hotel industry was enjoying sustained increases in occupancy rates, and the atmosphere at the bargaining table was decidedly more congenial.

The threat to continued live music in hotels, however, is ongoing.

The Four Seasons Hotel recently discontinued solo piano music after more than 10 years.

Landmark hotels, like the Plaza and the Stanhope, have been partly or fully converted to condos, and more undoubtedly will suffer the same fate — eliminating good paying jobs for musicians and other hotel workers.

Thankfully, many Manhattan hotels remain committed to presenting live music, and it’s more than just an amenity like flower arrangements or bar snacks. Hotel musicians draw people to lounges and lobbies, where they become goodwill ambassadors for the hotel and the city.

Nancy Winston, a longtime pianist at the Pierre Hotel and a member of the committee, summed it up succinctly.

“Our contact with visitors to New York is a direct and personal one,” Winston told Allegro. “And our visibility to longtime hotel guests from around the world gives them a sense of continuity and warmth.”

Hotel entertainment is more than just background music. It’s about talented, accomplished musicians building relationships that benefit their employers.

If hotel venues like the Café Carlyle, the Café Pierre, the Waldorf’s Cocktail Terrace (with its Cole Porter piano) and the Astor Court at the St. Regis have become New York institutions, it is because of the unique talents of Local 802 members like the late Bobby Short, Kathleen Landis, Daryl Sherman, Rich Jenkins, Kurt Wieting and many others.