A strong Local 802 relies on member engagement

Views from the Board

Volume 123, No. 7July, 2023

Lynne Cohen

Congratulations on the election of Tino Gagliardi as AFM president! We owe Tino our profound gratitude for all his efforts and dedication to Local 802 and wish him well in his new position. He will leave his job at 802 on August 1, and the remaining officers, staff, and Executive Board are hard at work to ensure that the Local continues to run and transition to a new structure. Modifications will have to be made to job descriptions and workflow, and we are confident that we are up to providing continued service to all our members. These changes offer us a unique opportunity to think about the union’s day-to-day operations and overall governance structure. I know that I speak for all of the Board by stating that member input in the shape of these new structures is welcomed and, in fact, necessary.

I joined Local 802 thirty years ago after being a member of the Miami and Palm Beach locals for the early decade of my career. At present, much of the work in South Florida is nonunion, and I have witnessed the erosion of players’ rights firsthand. Without union representation, musicians can be skipped over for jobs they’ve played for years, schedules can change at the last minute, orchestras can be asked to go without the proper breaks in rehearsal, and remuneration can be well below union standards. I first became involved in 802 committees after the 2003 Broadway Musicians’ Strike. I mistakenly believed that, with shows going dark when other unions refused to cross our picket lines, with producers unable to run certain shows on recordings, with the fantastic solidarity of the Broadway players, the expertise of President Moriarty, and the deep resolution and hard work of the Theatre committee and the Negotiating committees, we would indeed, prevail. Surely, even though we were the little guys in the room across the table from prominent lawyers, we could withstand the transplantation of talks to Gracie Mansion and the premature publication of new theatre minimums in the New York Times. I naively believed that I could trust that a handshake would suffice until the “real language” was ironed out. Since that contract, we have been living with 30 percent fewer chairs on Broadway and, later, a Special Situations clause that continually makes us fight for those seats. Hungry to learn how and why that all had happened, I joined the theatre committee, the State of Broadway committee, and the Negotiation committee for the next contract. In 2018, I was elected to the Executive Board and re-elected in 2021. I still find the difficulties of representing the real needs and desires of my union brothers and sisters challenging and essential.

I have been in many freelance orchestras and pits when orchestra committees or delegates to the 802 Theatre Committee were nominated. It is usually not a contest. Anyone willing to serve is gratefully elected. One pit I played in just selected “the new guy.” Musicians sometimes believe that the work done on committees is frustrating, and I can see why. Sometimes there is too much bluster in the room. Sometimes players have unrealistic ideas about what can be gained in negotiations. Sometimes excellent initiatives get mired in a cumbersome committee system. Sometimes managements and administrations simply ignore or steamroll committees. It is a messy, imperfect, and vital part of the functioning of our union.

Civic participation across all types of organizations is decreasing in the U. S., including among union members. Reduced engagement, worker rights threats, and fewer opportunities have impacted our communities, government, and union. There seems to be less awareness of the shared responsibility in making the collective better in families, businesses, and public institutions, as people are frustrated about their inability to move the needle. But the very definition of a union depends on members’ engagement, and our local is a collective where a person or groups of people can effect change. We, together, are the union. In return, the union offers protection, the privilege of collective bargaining, and resources, financial and otherwise.

The job of the presidency, in its present form, demands an inhuman commitment of time, energy, resilience, expertise, and stress management. It impacts the holder’s health and relationships. The musicians who agree to serve as the chief executive of the Local are subject to constant criticism and unrealistic expectations. The current Board is investigating ways to restructure the administration to ease some of these demands and make the job of the Presidency better supported. With a less top-heavy structure, the President could thrive at the most critical tasks under their purview. An ongoing narrative amongst musicians is that only musicians can understand how to run our Local. I don’t entirely agree. Yes, we are best tasked with describing our unique needs in the workplace, but are we best at having to learn labor law, business, accounting, and running a building with six floors and a staff of over 50 employees? Perhaps there are better ways of supporting the Officers, Staff, and Board. These are ideas about which I would relish hearing member input.

Local 802 needs a leadership pipeline of engaged members who will fill the officer and board seats of the future. The Executive Board is asked to make decisions on a vast array of subjects. We depend on each other, on past experience, occasional outside advice, and, most importantly, member reports to make them. This way, possibilities emerge outside one’s wheelhouse and get fleshed out or jettisoned after a healthy, respectful debate. Steady freshening of the Board with new perspectives provides streams of viewpoints representative of all corners of our membership. A good way for anyone with aspirations to assume a leadership position at 802 is to become involved on a committee or Board, either at 802 or at one’s orchestra, school, theatre, or elsewhere. Learn about the contracts under which you work, talk to colleagues, start an initiative, and get excited about opportunities to make 802 more robust, multi-faceted, and better prepared for a rapidly changing arts landscape. The current Board is at work identifying ways to offer guidance, advice, and experience-sharing to those interested. If you have opinions to contribute but do not opt to serve, please reach out to your representatives so that Local 802 can continue improving its services to members.