Meeting With Club Date String Players Produces Action

Response from Members Help Bring Jobs Under Contract

Volume CI, No. 6June, 2001

This article deals with efforts being made by club date string players and Local 802 to bring more jobs under contract, and ensure that scale wages and benefits are paid. It reports that, in the wake of a meeting on this issue, two jobs had been reported anonymously to the union and were subsequently filed by the contractors involved. These facts are correct.

However, at the time this article was written, the author was not aware that the 802 member who contracted a May 12 engagement involving 20 strings had independently contacted the Contract Administration Department requesting information on the appropriate scales. We regret the omission of this information from this article.

A meeting between club date string players and Local 802 officers and staff was held in late March to discuss problems specific to classically-trained musicians who earn much of their living in the club date field. Club date offices rely on these musicians to perform ceremonies and preheats, and also to work as stand-alone groups for various functions.

During the meeting it became clear to the 802 officers and staff that the problems these musicians face require both immediate action and long-term planning. The two most troubling areas of concern involve union members who do a substantial amount of work outside the club date field but contract one- or two-hour engagements (ceremonies and preheats) in conjunction with both union and nonunion club date offices, and nonunion employers who provide those same services to union and nonunion club date offices alike.

In the case of union members providing these services, it was determined that in most cases contracts are not filed with the union, benefits are not paid, and most often scale is being undercut. The Single Engagement Club Date Agreement requires minimum calls of three hours during the week and four hours on Saturday night. In many cases musicians are only being paid the one or two hours for a ceremony and cocktail hour.

The group agreed that what is needed to resolve this problem is a campaign to educate members about club date scales, more effective contract enforcement, and increased union presence in the field.

The issue of nonunion employers performing this kind of work for both nonunion and union club date offices was addressed by Joe Eisman, Director of Organizing for Local 802. He outlined the processes by which the Organizing Department determines organizing targets and how the formula has worked in the recent past with club date employers such as Starlight Orchestras, New York City Swing and Manhattan Swing.

“The most important ingredient in a successful organizing campaign is musicians,” Eisman stressed. “Without information about employers coming directly from the musicians who work for them, it is difficult for Local 802 to mount an effective campaign. But when musicians provide us with information about engagements in advance, anonymously or otherwise, we can show up on the job and protect the musician. Finding out who the nonunion employers are and where they work is the vital first step in organizing, and that first step is difficult to take in a vacuum.”

The meeting concluded with both musicians and union staff vowing to work together and to convene a string players’ subcommittee to police the industry. Within days, musicians began calling in engagements. Several such calls resulted in a high-profile engagement at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 23 becoming union.

Roman Teplinskiy of Empyreal Strings, a nonunion employer whose web site claims that the office performs more than 200 jobs each year, won the job after undercutting two union employers. It was learned that he planned to hire Local 802 musicians for the job.

The Contract Administration Department contacted Teplinskiy and informed him that he would need to file a contract, and pay correct scale and benefits. When he balked, the union called the museum to let them know there was a labor dispute with Teplinskiy. Within two days, Teplinskiy phoned 802 and agreed to file a contract.

Another engagement scheduled for May 12, employing 20 strings and contracted by a union member, was reported anonymously. It will also be filed, paying scale wages, health and pension benefits. Several other jobs have been reported and are being investigated, with similar results expected – more proof that close cooperation between members and the union yields positive results.