Jewish Club Date Agreement Makes Substantial Gains

Volume CIII, No. 1January, 2003

Local 802 has signed off with several Jewish single engagement employers on a new collective bargaining agreement.

Representatives from Neshoma, Neginah, Barock and Nafshenu negotiated with Senior Business Rep Peter Voccola and an eight-member team of musicians. Both sides agreed to a new three-year contract, which musicians ratified unanimously.

The contract calls for a 9 percent jump in wages for the benchmark Sunday rate in the first year of the contract. This rate is the most important to musicians in the Jewish field because most Jewish engagements occur on Sunday. Traditional observers do not celebrate weddings during the Jewish Sabbath, which takes place from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown.

“These are the best increases we’ve ever achieved,” said Voccola. “It had to do with having a strong, visible negotiating committee.”

Local 802 has established this agreement as an alternative to the standard Club Date contract. The purpose is to cover the more religious Jewish work and take into account the differences between the secular and religious fields. Since many musicians work in both fields, the union tries to maintain a close relationship between the two agreements.

Under the new terms, Sunday engagements after 3 p.m. will increase to $220 from the current $202, moving to $227.50 in the second year and $240 in the third. These rates will also apply to any dates that occur on Saturday. The new rate is retroactive to Aug. 1, 2002. (Voccola said that musicians should be vigilant about computing and requesting retroactive pay from their employers and can contact him for assistance.)

The new weekday rate, which also applies to Sunday dates before 3 p.m., will pay $182 in the first year of the contract, $187.50 in the second and $195 in the third. Additionally, any Sunday dates before 3 p.m. will pay a $10 premium. Another special premium applies to New Year’s Day, which will pay the Sunday evening rate.

Pension rises to 8.5 percent on Jan. 1 from the current 8 percent. In the second year, pension rises to 9 percent.

Health benefits remain equivalent to the secular Club Date agreement. Most Orthodox club date offices are program employers, who pay a contribution rate of $18 to $21 per engagement and guarantee a full year of health insurance if musicians play more than 20 dates in a six-month period with them.

“I think the agreement is the product of lots of hard work and is good for musicians,” said bassist Harry Max.

“The negotiating committee did a great job in securing a new agreement,” said Mike Spengler, past chair of the negotiating committee.

“We waited to start negotiations until the Organizing Department was able to secure an agreement with Nafshenu,” said Voccola. “The committee felt that without having them on board, we couldn’t negotiate a contract that reflects fair wage increases.” (See September’s Allegro for the story on Nafshenu’s voluntary agreement.)

The Jewish Club Date negotiations occurred against the backdrop of a number of edicts or decrees (in Hebrew, takanas) that various Orthodox rabbis have issued since 1992, which limit the number of musicians who can perform at an Orthodox wedding. Some rabbis felt that weddings were getting so lavish that they were bankrupting families. According to the most extreme of the edicts, a one-person band is recommended as the ideal, but ensembles of up to five musicians are acceptable.

This decree is formal and is published every week in a Williamsburg paper. Various rabbis have signed onto it and refuse to officiate weddings where the takana is broken. Some musicians are upset about the edict, claiming that it has cost them work and that the takanas have been applied unevenly.

The negotiating committee consisted of Yochanan Briskman, Mike Cohen, Jordan Hirsch, Ron Horton, Israel Lamm, Marty Laskin, Harry Max and Todd Schwartz.