Local 802 Sets New Classical Scale

New York Pops contract is the framework, with compromises on both sides

Volume 116, No. 3March, 2016

Tom Olcott
Tom Olcott is the financial vice president of Local 802 and the supervisor of the union's concert department

Tom Olcott is the financial vice president of Local 802 and the supervisor of the union’s concert department

Local 802 members who perform in the freelance classical field have experienced a world of hurt for many years now. I hate to write that sentence. I prefer – both personally and institutionally – to present a more optimistic, brighter side of our work. And, well, who doesn’t? But, over some time, I have described some of the factors that have adversely influenced the classical world. I have tried to persuade – and even goad – moribund board members of classical music ensembles to get more involved in their own survival.

The union has definitely done its part to help the classical music companies. In recent years, Local 802 and the freelance orchestra committees have negotiated extremely modest contracts that were much more austere than musicians deserve. We hoped that this exercise of good faith bargaining might give management a little breathing room and cause some orchestra board members to wake up and get some serious fundraising done.

Unfortunately, for the most part, our efforts appear to have had little or no effect. In short, Local 802 cannot continue to subsidize the employers. Moreover, musicians should not keep shouldering that burden. Employers must acknowledge their responsibility to meet their own mission statements and to compensate their musicians fairly.

However, there is a bright light. We clinched a new deal with the New York Pops, which the Pops committee unanimously endorsed to the rank-and-file musicians, who voted to ratify it. During these year-long talks, both sides compromised – which is what negotiations are supposed to be about. A satisfying deal means that there are no winners and losers, only a joint understanding of each party’s needs. We applaud the fact that both New York Pops musicians and management have crafted a new contract based on two realities: the reality of the improving overall economy and the reality of the enduring and excellent contribution of its core performers. Each freelance orchestra needs to join in that affirmation.

The New York Pops (pictured above in a rehearsal last year at the DiMenna Center) set the bar for Local 802's new classical scale. Photo: Walter Karling

The New York Pops (pictured above in a rehearsal last year at the DiMenna Center) set the bar for Local 802’s new classical scale. Photo: Walter Karling

The Local 802 Executive Board has promulgated the New York Pops rates as our new Single Engagement Classical Wage Scale, which is our flagship union scale for freelance classical performances. The official rates can be found under “Forms, Scales and Agreements.” See Karen Fisher’s article for more.

(Special note to our classical employers: if you are on an extension agreement with us, the rates have changed for renewals starting September 2016 and beyond. Contact my office for more information.)

We have upcoming negotiations with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, American Symphony Orchestra and American Ballet Theatre. Each group will have to acknowledge a slightly improved economic environment. Although each employer faces its own business challenges, the current pattern of concessions by musicians is no longer acceptable to us. Employers can no longer freeze or reduce musicians’ pay as a way to balance their own budgets. Those days are over. The specific and special skills of our musicians should be compensated accordingly. Period.

I need to make one final point. As I’ve hinted throughout this article, the New York Pops agreement may well have reflected a slight upturn in the U.S. economy. I certainly cannot make any prediction on that issue – no one can. That said, Local 802 constantly strives to read the tea leaves and to negotiate the best contracts possible that take into account the real world. In other words, as the economy improves, musicians can and should expect that our employers can attract more donors, improve the health of their businesses, and pay more to musicians.

However, alarmingly enough, as this issue of Allegro went to press, word arrived that the Long Island Philharmonic, a Local 802 signatory since 1979, has ceased operations, effective immediately. (I will have more to report on that unfortunate turn of events in next month’s Allegro.)

Our members are the union, and we never forget that. If you are a new member or a musician who wants to learn more about how union membership can be an integral part of your professional life, we want to hear from you. We can help you create a viable career. Please call me at (212) 245-4802, ext. 105. Our doors are always open. Our concern is you!