Majority Of Early Ear Teachers Want To Be Represented By 802

Volume CI, No. 1January, 2001

Mikael Elsila

After only a few short weeks of organizing, a solid majority of teachers and pianists at The Early Ear, Inc., have decided that they want to be represented by Local 802. On Nov. 14 the union sent a formal request for recognition to the employer, asking for a third-party card check.

The campaign is led by an organizing committee made up of Lucy Djoi, Andy Jordan, Dorothy Lawson, Teresa Okheanehuk, Sandy Opatow, Eva Rainforth and Maryna Rogozhyna. Their discussions with colleagues about the importance of a union have elicited an overwhelmingly positive response.

“I am pleased, heartened – even thrilled – by the fact that a majority of my colleagues support a union at The Early Ear,” Opatow told Allegro. “It shows that we are all willing to take the risk to stand up for our rights as employees and people, and to work together to better our collective situation.”

Jordan said that he and his fellow committee members were able to get majority support for a union because, “once open communication lines are established among colleagues, we can really get some goals accomplished.”

As reported in last month’s Allegro (click here for article), The Early Ear is a music school that teaches the basics of music to children as young as four months. The teachers and their pianist accompanists, who number 22 in all, started a union campaign in October after being forced to sign a contract that contained an overly vague “non-compete clause” that might have prevented them from teaching music for up to two years after leaving The Early Ear. Unilateral pay cuts, wide variations in who gets health benefits, breaks of only 10 minutes in a nine-hour day, no vacation or sick time, no substitutes, low wages, and a discrepancy between the pay of teachers and pianists are among the concerns that have led the musicians to seek union representation.

Four days after the union requested a card check Dr. Ilya Lehman, the employer, informed Local 802 that he was going out of town until early December. He has hired Jane B. Jacobs, of Klein, Zelman, Rothermel, and Dichter, LLP, as his attorney, and referred the union to her.

The committee is currently making plans about what to do if he refuses a card check, which is one of the simplest ways an employer can recognize a union. Instead of holding a formal election administered by the National Labor Relations Board, a card check empowers a neutral third party to verify that a majority of workers want a union, by examining who has signed union representation cards.

The committee called a mass meeting of teachers and pianists early in December to update everyone on the progress of the campaign and survey what people would like to see in their first contract, once the bargaining unit is recognized.

Committee member Eva Rainforth said, “To me, the fact that the majority does want a union at The Early Ear means that we believe we can make a difference at work, and that we’re taking responsibility to make our working environment the best that it can be. What could be more empowering than that?”

Committee member Teresa Okheanehuk said that, while she supports the mission of The Early Ear and wants to see it prosper, “we want to organize a union because we need to feel and be protected. We need some regular benefits. And we have to clarify our rights.”

Senior Organizer Mikael Elsila and AFL-CIO Organizing Institute Apprentice Chris Meckstroth are working on the campaign.