On Sept. 11 and 12, the Board of Trustees of the American Federation of Musicians and Employers’ Pension Fund had scheduled one of its three annual meetings, this one at the Fund offices at One Penn Plaza at 34th and Eighth. The offices are on the 31st floor and command a panoramic view of the New York City skyline in all four directions.
In the hour and a half period starting a little before 9 a.m., that skyline – along with the lives of all New Yorkers and, probably, every American – was changed forever.
A relatively small group of people believing themselves to be right and all others to be wrong and displaying the blind intolerance too often characteristic of such extremists, had decided to engage in acts of destruction that would kill thousands and affect the lives of tens of thousands. Words have not yet been found to adequately express the incredulous horror that the rest of us feel toward these acts and those who committed them.
By 10:45 a.m., One Penn Plaza was evacuated and our meetings for the week cancelled (including the final arguments in the arbitration case scheduled for Sept. 14). I walked back to the Local 802 offices in what seemed a different city. Many businesses had obviously closed and workers filled the streets and sidewalks, seeking a way home or trying to contact family members to give and get assurances of personal safety.
When I reached the office the phones were eerily quiet. (They were working at that point, but were out for much of the next week and a half.) The staff had been notified they could leave, and most did – but many did not and the Local 802 offices were open and operational through the entire crisis, although on Tuesday, Sept. 11, and Wednesday, Sept. 12, I don’t believe that more than a few calls came in. The entire city, in fact, sat in stunned disbelief. Except, that is, for the uniformed services and emergency personnel and administrators who, under the direction of Mayor Giuliani, immediately began their efforts of rescue, recovery and damage control.
Things began to change for us late on Wednesday when I received a call at home from Joe Volpe, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, asking if a special benefit performance, with all proceeds going to aid the many victims of this tragedy, could be arranged for the weekend of Sept. 21-23. With the unanimous support of the Met orchestra, this was put in place in less than a day.
The same was subsequently true for the New York Philharmonic’s opening concert on Sept. 20 and the New York City Opera’s Oct. 8 performance of The Flying Dutchman. Literally all the members of these orchestras were seeking a way to contribute, as were freelance string players who volunteered their services for masses, funerals and memorial services, musicians wishing to provide entertainment for rescue workers, and trumpet players making themselves available for “Taps” for victims who were members of the Fire and Police departments.
Then, mid-afternoon on Thursday, Sept. 13, I was notified of two meetings of the Broadway Fact-Finding Committee being set for the following day. This committee, made up of representatives of all the Broadway unions, separates into three general groups: the stage performers, represented by Actors’ Equity; the Local 802 musicians; and the large group of technical employees represented at the international level by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and, on the local level, by unions representing wardrobe workers, hair and makeup technicians, scenic artists, box office employees, ushers, porters, managers and press agents and, most prominently, stagehands.
Over the course of the two meetings on Friday, Sept. 14, and several subsequent meetings, Broadway producers presented information which they hoped would demonstrate to us that a substantial number of shows, some of them long-running productions, would not be able to survive over the short term without temporary cost reduction measures, including wage concessions.
Ultimately, after many difficult meetings within a period of little more than a week, all the unions agreed to a 25 percent reduction in wages for four weeks (the week ending Sept. 30 through the week ending Oct. 21) for seven productions: Rent, Chicago, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, The Full Monty, Kiss Me Kate and The Music Man. These shows, heavily dependent on tourist business, also received relief in the areas of theatre rent (which was waived for the four-week period), royalty payments, vendor costs and management payments. The producers maintained that each of these shows had the ability to stay alive for a longer run if they were able to get through this most difficult period.
As I write this report, at the end of the second week of reductions, audiences for many of these productions have started to come back and several of the producers have either rescinded portions of the reductions or promised repayment of the lost wages.
While our hardships pale in comparison to those whose families were destroyed or whose livelihoods were wiped out, one aspect of the Broadway situation has been mentioned to me as of some concern to many members.
You should rest assured that the reductions agreed to as a result of this tragedy will not set precedents for any future decisions. These events were simply of too great a magnitude for any easy or facile comparison to be made to some event in the future. Many of you know that, as a result of the situation at Kiss Me Kate – where the cast, crew and orchestra voluntarily agreed to donate an additional 25 percent back to the show – one Broadway employer requested that Local 802 allow it to discuss matters directly with its employees. That request was denied and a letter clearly stating the union’s position on this subject (click here for letter) was sent to the League. This letter was drafted by legal counsel and went out over my signature. We believe it will suffice to address the issue.
Finally, and most unfortunately, the already hard-hit hotel music field was even further affected by the precipitous dropoff in tourist business. A number of the major hotels were reporting occupancy rates of only 20 to 25 percent, leading to several hotels’ decision to allow a number of their entertainment venues to go dark. Jobs were lost as a result of these cuts. Local 802 has been meeting with musicians from this field and their rank-and-file committee to determine whether anything can be done to rectify this.
On behalf of the local, I hope all of you will accept my heartfelt thanks for your willingness to contribute your time and talents to the city’s efforts to recover. It was deeply appreciated by everyone. If any of you were directly affected and need temporary emergency help, please call my office at (212) 245-4802, ext.101.