Machine Can’t Take West Coast Heat

Volume CV, No. 9September, 2005

Hal Espinosa

As reported in the June 2005 issue of Allegro, Local 802 and Local 47 (Los Angeles) recently joined forces in the fight against the replacement of live music with the virtual orchestra machine. 802 president David Lennon appeared as an expert witness at the first day of arbitration hearings over the use of the machine at the Nederlanders’ Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles. After one day of testimony by both Lennon and Local 47 president Hal Espinosa, the hearings were adjourned to a future date to accommodate the testimony of numerous witnesses who were to appear on both sides. Shortly thereafter, the Nederlanders contacted President Espinosa with an offer to settle. President Espinosa outlines the details of the settlement below.

Here on the West Coast, we’ve scored a victory against the virtual orchestra machine. In June, we reported in Allegro about our fight at the Pantages Theatre (“V.O. Machine Stands Trial in L.A.”). Now there’s an update.

Local 47 normally maintains a good relationship with the Pantages. Unfortunately, we had to file two grievances against the theatre for its use of the V.O. machine to replace musicians — and we had to start arbitration proceedings on one of those grievances.

At the same time our grievances were being pressed against the Pantages, Local 47’s master agreement with the theatre and its owner was set to expire. This apparently caused some anxiety with Pantages’ management, since they wanted a written no-strike pledge from Local 47 for the run of the traveling show “Wicked,” which played at the Pantages in June and July.

We told management that although we couldn’t agree to a written extension of the master agreement or a written no-strike pledge for “Wicked,” we would play the show while negotiating the contract. Management didn’t like that!

After our face-to-face meeting with management, I had a phone conversation with Jimmy Nederlander, the owner of Pantages. Jimmy told me that the show would be bypassing Los Angeles if we didn’t extend the contract through the run of “Wicked” because the investors didn’t want to take the chance of a possible labor problem. He also told me that he wanted the show to come to Los Angeles.

We then discussed several issues that I believe were, and are, all connected to the contract extension issue, one being that he would do everything he could to keep the virtual orchestra machine out of the AFM’s Pamphlet B contract. That’s huge!

I then proposed that we settle the current arbitration — over the use of the V.O. machine in the production “Miss Saigon” — as part of any deal to extend the master agreement through the run of “Wicked.”

Jimmy graciously agreed to this offer and stated that the Pantages, without admitting any actual breach of the master agreement, would satisfy the grievance regarding the V.O. machine by paying the six musicians who should have been hired for “Miss Saigon” if we would extend the contract through the run of “Wicked.”

I took this offer to the bargaining unit to either accept or reject. They accepted. By making this move, it is our understanding that the Nederlander Organization will do whatever they can to keep the V.O. machine out of the Pamphlet B contract. We will be collecting payment, including benefits, for musicians who were replaced by the V.O. machine during the run of “Miss Saigon.” Finally, “Wicked” will be performing at the Pantages for seven weeks with union musicians in the pit and no machine!

Without the participation of a broad base of motivated union members, we could never have achieved the success we did. Thank you all!