It’s Time to Earn Your Trust

Organizing Matters

Volume CXI, No. 1January, 2011

Michael Donovan

Musicians, in order to survive in the industry, have to be fluid. Broadway musicians may work Off Broadway from time to time. Freelance classical musicians may play club dates. The list goes on.

This fluidity among musicians can be a great help in bringing more members into the union fold.

Using our members to spread the word about 802, and thus becoming ambassadors for the local, happens in many instances and it should be happening in many more cases.

How many times have you heard members complain that they couldn’t find a union rep when they needed one?

This is not a condemnation of our union reps by any means but it is certainly something that you don’t want to hear – ever!

Or how about this line: “I’d go to the union but they don’t do anything anyway?” I’ve only been at 802 for a short period of time and I’ve heard this on a number of occasions.

We need to turn this around to take advantage of our most prized resource – our members.

Let’s take a closer look.

As 802 musicians find their way into different areas of the music industry, has their experience with their reps – the front line of the union – been positive?

  • Have we been there when called?
  • Have we solved the problems?
  • Have we been talking to the members in order to stop problems before they grow into bigger problems?
  • Have we shown that Local 802 is there to fight for musicians?
  • Do we successfully process grievances?
  • Do we capitalize on our successes?

The answer to all these questions must be “Yes!” or we will have problems.

A job done well in the club dates will result in a member who will contact the union when a problem arises when he or she is playing in other areas of the business.

We must be seen as a place to turn to. Like workers everywhere, musicians may play nonunion gigs for bad employers. These employers care more for dollar signs than for the very musicians whose product brings in the dollars in the first place.

This generally results in a workplace rife with problems and one where musicians are more apt to contact Local 802. (For instance, see the story of Latin bandleader Michele Bazzani on page 7 of this issue.)

Now take a musician who has had a previous experience with the union – and that experience was negative:

  • There was no union rep available.
  • No calls were returned.
  • No problems solved.
  • No grievances filed.

The last place that player will go to find relief from a bad employer is the union.

On the other hand, musicians can become front-line organizers simply by coming to the union with their problems. By telling us about bad gigs, musicians are really bringing us organizing opportunities.

This only happens when the union is seen as a solver of problems, not an ignorer of problems. Only then will musicians turn to the union for relief and help.

Union reps must build up our reputation by doing what’s historically been our weekly work: visiting musicians on the job. We must make sure that musicians are being paid well, working under good conditions and being treated with respect. If this isn’t happening, it’s our job to do something about it!

I have trained numerous union stewards. These are workers who have agreed to be a liaison between their fellow workers and the union. The importance of this position cannot be underestimated. It’s sometimes the only contact a worker has with the union.

The same applies to union reps.

It does the union no good when musicians go from venue to venue, Off Broadway to Broadway, small orchestras to club dates, relaying their bad impression of the union based on the alleged failure of our reps to carry out their assignments.

A musician with that bad an impression of the union is a person who will not call the union when trouble arises on the job, will not be ambassador for 802, and will, in many instances, work against the union when we attempt to bring in new members.

While I hope this is not happening on a regular basis I would like to say to any musicians who feels that they are not getting the representation they deserve, who want to see their rep on a more regular basis, have a grievance or they feel has not been properly handled or not handled at all – PLEASE CONTACT ME!

Organizing begins with the members – and members who feel that the union is not doing its job are members who will not help us organize.

Happily, the reverse is true as well. So we pledge to do our job well, to earn your trust and respect.

Call me anytime at (212) 245-4802, ext. 141 or e-mail me at