Local 802 Steps Up Starlight Orchestras Campaign

Volume XCIX, No. 9October, 1999

Tim Dubnau

Local 802’s campaign to convince Starlight Orchestras to uphold area standards and begin providing its musicians with benefits has kicked into high gear. The union has begun informational leafleting at selected Starlight affairs, is holding conversations with potential clients to educate them about the campaign, and is developing other tactics designed to get Starlight on board.

On Sept. 4, about a dozen people set up an informational picket outside a Starlight engagement. They distributed flyers to many of the guests, explaining how important it is for employers to provide benefits to their musicians.

In the coming busy months, Local 802 will be showing up at selected Starlight gigs to keep the pressure on. Local 802’s New Organizing Department has been speaking with Starlight musicians and literally hundreds of players who perform in the unionized club date field. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Musicians understand that when Starlight manages to get a cheaper deal than its competitors, the result is an unfair, uneven playing field. Many club date musicians have volunteered to assist the union with the Starlight effort.

Several musicians who have retired with no pension have been pressing their younger colleagues to insist on a pension from their employer. Pianist Clifton Smalls, 81, had this message: “I played as a professional musician all my life, alongside Ella Fitzgerald, Earl Hines, Billy Eckstine, Sy Oliver and Smokey Robinson,” he said. “I have no pension now, because my employers refused to pay into a pension fund. Everyone gets older and, believe me, everyone needs a pension. I hope Starlight Orchestras does the right thing,” Smalls said. “They can afford it.”

As part of the campaign to increase pressure on Starlight to provide benefits, the union is now contacting party planners who may recommend Starlight, the unionized hotels where the orchestra does business, and various corporate clients who have hired Starlight for their affairs. “We believe that these people will call Starlight and tell them that they don’t want to hire them if it means walking into a labor dispute,” says organizer Joe Eisman.

The union is planning on doing whatever it takes to ensure success. “Starlight is one of the most successful offices in the metropolitan area,” President Moriarity told Allegro. “We are certain they can afford to stop undercutting area standards. This campaign will continue until Starlight agrees to do the right thing.”