Midori Teachers Win First Contract

Agreement is Union's Fifth for Music Teachers

Volume CII, No. 11November, 2002

Joe Eisman

Teachers at the Midori & Friends Foundation will be working under a union contract when their season begins in November, making them the fifth group of teachers who have been organized by Local 802.

On Sept. 25 the employer signed a three-year agreement, which the teachers then voted unanimously to accept. It covers 12 teaching artists who work in public schools in all five boroughs, providing music education and appreciation to children who have received little or no exposure to the arts.

Founded in 1992 by the concert violinist Midori, the foundation is a private, not-for-profit organization that contracts with individual schools to provide classes in woodwinds, strings, brass, percussion and general music, as well as performances by various ensembles and by Midori herself.

“I am ecstatic,” said Jennifer Raine, a general music teacher and a member of the organizing committee. “I’m going to have health insurance and pension benefits for the first time in my professional career.”

“We took a full 10 months to negotiate our contract because we needed to reach a settlement that works well for part-time teaching artists, which all of us are,” Mark Gunderman, violin teacher and organizing committee member, told Allegro. “We needed to figure out the details of the contract in a way that would allow most of us to qualify for the health insurance, and also would satisfy our need for a decent level of job security. We wanted to make sure that more experienced teachers would receive the first offers of new work before new teaching artists were hired. I think we succeeded on all counts.”

All of the teachers signed a petition seeking representation from Local 802 in November 2001. After presenting the petition to the executive director, the teachers, along with union representatives, began negotiations with the foundation. The unanimous petition, along with the presence of every single teaching artist at the negotiating table, strengthened the union’s bargaining position.

“Solidarity definitely won the day; every single one of us signed the public petition,” said woodwind teacher Sean Lyons. “After that, we knew we’d end up with a great contract. I’m proud of my union and I’m proud of myself for what we achieved at the Midori Foundation.”

Teachers’ hopes were raised last December when it looked like they could agree to an early offer on the table. However, a change in the leadership of the foundation’s board required both sides to work out several problems that remained, along with some new issues.

“We were all frustrated by the prolonged negotiations, but we’re all very happy with the final product, and we’re pleased that we never had to take any serious job actions to achieve all the benefits and strong job security language we ultimately won,” Raine told Allegro.

The contract pays $5 per class in health contributions for all teaching artists, and pension benefits of 4 percent, 6 percent and 8 percent in years one, two and three of the agreement. Most teachers started receiving health coverage on Oct. 1.

The wage increases will be 1.5 percent, 2.5 percent and 3 percent for years one, two and three, and the minimum starting salary is $40 per class.

The teachers also successfully negotiated strong job security language, including first offers of new classes and assignments for senior teachers, as well as layoff protections. In addition, there is now a grievance procedure that calls for binding arbitration for labor disputes, and a three-judge panel for all artistic disputes. The panel will consist of two professional teachers from the music education departments of the Bank Street College of Education, Columbia University or New York University, and a third panel member who will be the contract’s labor arbitrator.

Other important contract gains include transportation pay (which had been taken away in recent years, before the teachers organized), commercial recording protections, payment for fingerprinting costs for current employees, a guaranteed wage rate equal to a teacher’s regular wage for in-school meetings and a guaranteed flat rate of $50 for two-hour professional development meetings.

The Midori teachers’ victory came just five-days before the National Labor Relations Board mailed ballots to teachers at the Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center (EKCC), who are seeking representation from Local 802.

“I was relieved to hear about the Midori victory, just in time for our election,” said Miho Matsuno, a violin teacher at the EKCC. “We can see that their perseverance really paid off.”

All of the Midori musicians participated in the negotiations, assisted by the Organizing Department and 802 attorney Lenny Leibowitz.

If you are a teaching artist and are interested in winning union benefits at your job, call the Organizing Department at (212) 245-4802, ext. 191.