A look back at the first year in office - and setting goals for the future
Volume 117, No. 1January, 2017
It is hard for me to believe that a year has elapsed since taking office in January 2016. What a whirlwind of a year it has been. The transition to the position of recording vice president has been one of the most gratifying and rewarding experiences of my career. As I have discovered, it is a job with great satisfactions and a host of daily challenges. This column is my opportunity to recap the year and report on what I have experienced.
President Tino Gagliardi and Financial Vice President Tom Olcott have been tremendous colleagues, welcoming me as I joined them to lead Local 802 during an era of radical change in the music business. Fortunately, this is clearly not our grandfathers’ union and we are growing in our ability to be both forward thinking and faster in response to the needs of our membership. My move from serving as an Executive Board member to being elected a top officer was a dramatic shift in my perspective. I am pleased to tell you that your current board is progressive, informed and doing a good job of governing our union during these fast-changing times. One big change for me is that I now report to them!
It is my privilege to have gotten to know a wonderful team of people who work diligently on behalf of the membership. Many of our members don’t get to know these folks and I want to take some of this column to tell you about them. They work in the fields of electronic media and organizing, serve as your business reps covering jazz, Latin music, hotels and single engagements; they handle contract administration and manage the day-to-day operations of 802’s building. I am proud of the great work they do and can report that the membership is in very capable hands. Coming in as the new guy and being welcomed by such a supportive team gave me the confidence to focus on the job at hand and I thank each of them for their goodwill. I have worked equally hard to be worthy of their trust and support.
While I wish I had the space here to thank each of them by name I would be remiss if I did not tell you about a few of those with whom I work closely and whose good counsel has kept me afloat.
On a most practical level, our building supervisor Major Little keeps your union hall functioning smoothly. It’s a job that requires 24/7 attention and his diligence has been unflagging. I thank him, along with his assistant supervisor Laura Fowler and a great building crew, for that effort. When you come to our building and all is well, please remember that Major and the team are the reason!
Steve Danenberg, supervisor of Electronic Media and Music Preparation, along with assistant supervisor John Painting, keep the recording department humming. This is an essential hub of 802 activity and the enormous amount of work flowing through this department requires great attention to detail. Whether that involves contract administration, enforcement, keeping track of new use and residual checks, or fielding questions from members and employers on the complex issues of AFM recording agreements, this team has been stellar in every way. I thank them all for looking after the needs of our recording musicians and taking the time to educate me about their work.
I cannot say enough good things about your Director of Organizing and Field Services, Maggie Russell-Brown. I want to take this opportunity to heap some special praise on someone without whom I would feel a void in the department. From the moment we met I saw that this was a person of great intelligence with an unbridled passion for her work. Maggie has displayed an uncanny ability to understand the vision to expand 802’s umbrella to include more of NYC’s music community and ensure that our members are covered under good, innovative agreements. She has shown me the ways in which a professional organizer can work to make that vision a reality. These are not tactics one learns from a book, but only by having struggled in the trenches of hard-fought organizing campaigns. She has been the point person on several important 802 negotiations, including those with Avatar Studios, the New School, and the Kaufman Music Center. She is also my very able right hand in negotiations with Jazz at Lincoln Center. Maggie works with me each day to plan strategically for upcoming organizing efforts. I have benefited from her advice to no end and I am confident that she will continue to provide the skill set to move our union on to better days. Maggie manages a staff of excellent organizers, administrators and business reps and has joined in my effort to create a dynamic team spirit in our department. There is much hard work ahead to frame the issues and plan the kind of organizing necessary to grow Local 802. We have the right team to make that happen.
Finally, two people whose support has been wonderful and who ensure I stay on track each day:
Maureen Cupid Pierre has served as the administrative assistant to several recording vice presidents, and has worked in the membership and recording departments as well. I laugh when I recall that during my first week in office, Maureen told my wife not to worry – she would train me well. In fact, she has. Not only is she a walking history of how things need to be done at 802, she delivers the information with warmth and good humor. She is indispensable and I am happy to recognize her great work.
Harvey Mars, counsel to 802, is familiar to many of you from his Allegro articles and participation in numerous negotiations. Members often turn to Harvey when they need legal advice about our business and he always goes the extra mile for us. As recording vice president, my relationship with him has taken on new importance. Harvey has been a constant source of support, leading me through the complexities of labor law, vetting sensitive correspondence and contract language, and sitting by my side at bargaining sessions. He has made himself available to me at all hours and I’m grateful to have him as a colleague.
So, having crowed about this great team, let me tell you about what has gone on during this first year as your recording vice president.
THE YEAR IN REVIEW
Soon after I arrived, I put into action two initiatives designed to highlight the importance of jazz to 802’s future. Of course, jazz is a big part of our city’s culture and in recent years efforts had been made to find a stronger connection between our union and the jazz community. As many know, that connection has sometimes been tenuous. I felt we could do more to demonstrate that 802 is truly open to fostering jazz and jazz education. This past January, as I watched an 802-sponsored panel at the Jazz Connect Conference at St. Peter’s Church, I saw that aspiring musicians were hungry to hear from top artists about their career path and how they made it happen as successful businesspeople. As result, our series Jazz Mentors was born. Todd Weeks, the union’s principal business rep for jazz, has consistently put together great panels with a balance of viewpoints and serves as our very able moderator. Now, with seven panels under our belt, Local 802 will continue to present world-renowned artists to talk openly to emerging players about the business of jazz. The response so far has been very encouraging. I hope that our union will soon be recognized as a great place in which to share this kind of knowledge and in the process strengthen the relationship with the jazz community.
The second initiative is the Jazz in the Afternoon series. I felt that 802’s clubroom needed to evolve into a performance space for our members. Ensembles were always in the room working on beautiful charts but rarely performed them for an audience. Surely there were appreciative audiences who would love to hear this great music. The idea was proposed to utilize the shows to benefit the Local 802 Musicians’ Emergency Relief Fund. Roger Rhodes and Glen Daum, co-leaders of the 48th Street Big Band, have been a driving force behind the initiative and I appreciate their continuing efforts to promote the concerts and the ERF. The support from musicians and donors has been very gratifying. Along with three performances by Roger and Glen’s band, Wally Dunbar, Ron Wasserman, Greg Ruvolo, 3Divas, Steve Karmen (in a very special solo performance), Bill Warfield, Ed Palermo and Jay Leonhart and their bands have all contributed to these events – and the ERF is the beneficiary. We hope to expand this series to the point that we become known as the place to go to hear the very best players performing exciting music in a relaxed atmosphere. If you are a bandleader who rehearses in the club room please contact Bettina Covo at (212) 245-4802,ext. 152 to talk about scheduling a show. Speaking of Bettina, along with her job as supervisor of contract administration, you may not be aware that she became the ERF fundraising coordinator when I left that position to become recording vice president. She made a smooth transition, ensuring that the ERF remains funded for our musicians in dire need. Thank you, Bettina. Don’t forget to contribute to the ERF at www.Local802erf.org.
Another initiative that needed a fresh look was our referral service. Prior to my arrival, a plan had been in the works for a different type of entity to help our members find gigs. Ultimately it was understood that the plan needed to be modified to be in line with our non-profit structure and mission as a labor union. The newly-minted NewYorkMusicians.com will enable our members to promote themselves to potential clients online, using personal marketing materials. Importantly, the new service guarantees your work will come under a union agreement with scale wages, pension and health benefits. I believe NewYorkMusicians.com will prove to be both enticing to employers and successful for our members. Please contact Julie Ferrara at (212) 245-4802, ext. 156 for more information.
The Council for Living Music, a non-profit operating foundation under the auspices of Local 802, has been in existence for many years but under-utilized. This past year the Council created the Teaching Artist Initiative and has begun to place 802 members in NYC public schools. This new outlet for our members’ talent looks to be a huge opportunity to contribute to both the arts in education and our members’ income. Please contact Miguel Santana at (212) 245-4802, ext. 146 or Bettina Covo at ext. 152 for more information on how you can become a part of this program.
As I discovered, much of this job is about responding to reports of work going on without a union agreement to protect musicians. Recent examples were in the fast-growing field of live accompaniment for films and video games. Three prominent producers in this genre came to our attention: Massimo Gallotta (“The Legend of Zelda”) Justin Freer/ CineConcerts (The music of “Star Trek”) and Tommy Tallarico/Video Games Live. All three were paying substandard wages and no pension or health contributions. In the case of Mr. Gallotta and Mr. Tallarico, the AFM and Local 802 were able to convince these producers that becoming a signatory to the AFM Touring Agreement was preferable to facing very public opposition in each city in which they appeared. In the case of Mr. Freer and CineConcerts, they were touring North America with an orchestra purporting to be the “Czech National Philharmonic,” paying very low wages and traveling in squalid conditions. We were successful in convincing the producer to double the number of orchestral musicians with 802 members when he came to Madison Square Garden, file a contract and pay our members scale wages and benefits.
All AFM members must be vigilant when called to perform for such productions. Call me and we will go to bat to improve the terms of the job and get it under an agreement here in NYC.
Our work as musicians has taken on, of necessity, far greater diversity in these challenging times. Very few of us work in only one field or genre these days and we must shift gears, sometimes during the course of each day, to stay afloat. Recognizing that new modality, we too are developing a greater level of interdepartmental collaboration here at 802 to address this evolution.
Local 802 departments are combining forces to cover events such as the live orchestral music with video shows mentioned above and musical theater concerts in the city’s parks as presented by the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. We are working together in negotiations that call for diverse expertise including that of our Electronic Media Services Department. Open exchanges of information ensure that our strategic planning is always in synch and enables us to better face the changing demands of our members’ employment. The goal is to foster a more collaborative, flexible union workplace, with a team that can move to respond rapidly and assist across departmental lines. Ultimately, it’s about addressing the membership’s needs in the most effective and efficient manner.
Our organizers are revitalizing efforts to work with activist musicians throughout New York City. With grassroots movements pushing for creators’ rights and sustainable wages, 802 is partnering as never before to expand its collaboration beyond our traditional borders. Meetings this past year with representatives from Content Creators Coalition, MusicAction and MusicAnswers opened new doors and encouraged the sharing of strategy to protect our music community.
We have looked anew at the Latin music field and an initiative that had been sidelined in recent years is now being reborn to support this major music community. Miguel Santana and Sarah Koshar are spearheading this campaign. If you perform any of the many styles of Latin music and want to see changes to this field please contact them at (212) 245-4802, ext. 146 or ext. 150.
Negotiations with Jazz at Lincoln Center have now stretched on for more than a year, primarily due to the unwillingness of management to address the right of the orchestra’s musicians to have their recorded work protected and paid at a respectful wage. At this time the AFM has stepped in to assert its rights and fight alongside us to get a fair deal. Charges have been brought at the National Labor Relations Board to address management’s misuse of direct dealing and surface bargaining. I will have updates on this as soon as a resolution is in sight.
Our efforts together with the part-time jazz faculty at the New School to gain an agreement proved successful. The 802 members in that bargaining unit were highly motivated and effective in negotiations with the school. The bargaining committee, ably assisted by 802’s Maggie Russell-Brown and Harvey Mars, achieved higher wages, addressed some difficult working conditions, and won the option of the union’s Plan A or A+ health insurance for the instructors, at the same amount the school pays for their university-sponsored plan. Currently members enjoy the option of receiving free health insurance coverage if they opt for the Local 802 plan. Because our department pursued an aggressive internal organizing campaign and our members maintained solidarity and invested their intellect and energy into negotiations, we succeeded. In our 20+ years of representing the New School Jazz faculty, more musicians were at the table and involved than ever before. When we stick together, we win.
The ongoing negotiations between the staff of Avatar Recording Studio and management have been difficult, to say the least. These 802 members are musicians who are working as highly skilled assistant engineers, techs and production assistants. They have been mistreated and grossly underpaid for the privilege of performing demanding work at New York City’s top studio. Management hired a union-busting law firm without experience in the entertainment field to stall the negotiations while waiting for a buyer for the studio, we believe. An Unfair Labor Practice charge has been filed with the National Labor Relations Board. Stay tuned for more news on this. Throughout the union election and negotiations, campaign workers at the studio have stuck together, weathering anti-union tactics and retaliation. Last September the National Labor Relations Board was prepared to prosecute management because they violated workers’ rights. At the 11th hour, management decided to settle the case rather than go to court. Workers received thousands of dollars in back pay, unjust policies were rescinded, and an agreement made that management will not violate workers rights again. Again, when we stick together we win.
New information on the vast number of professional engagements at New York University, both live and studio recording, has prompted 802 to press the school for an agreement to cover our members. At this time, the administration has refused to recognize our union and continues to pay members as independent contractors. That classification means the school takes no responsibility for worker’s compensation, Social Security or payroll taxes. Without an 802 agreement there is no guarantee of a livable wage scale, no protection for the future uses of members’ recordings, and no pension and health benefits. As a result, Local 802 asked the AFM to place NYU on the International Unfair List. If you are called to provide musical services at NYU, please contact me to learn if that work is affected by the AFM order. Note that faculty assignments are not the subject of this order.
Our organizing team is preparing to negotiate a new hotel agreement. More work is being done in hotels recently than in previous years, and it’s a field that is attracting many talented musicians. As I noted above, the fluid genre-hopping nature of our work is a fact of life. Nowhere is that more visible than in the hotel field. Our hope is to bring these musicians under an agreement with hotels that provides an area standard wage and the protection of working as an employee rather than an independent contractor. If you work in any of the hotels in NYC, we want to hear from you. Together we can make positive changes.
We are currently negotiating a new single engagement club date agreement and organizing to bring more musicians the benefits of a union contract. If you lead or work in a club date band, please call us. We can show you how easy it is to bring this work under an 802 agreement and provide the protection, wages and pension contributions that all musicians need.
Work dues are the funds that sustain our union. We represent members at the bargaining table, enforce your agreements, administer contracts and staff your local offices. To make progress toward a stronger music community we all need to pay a fair share of the cost. If you happen to receive a late notice from our department please respond and catch up on your work dues. Choosing to ignore the notice will result in a letter from legal counsel followed by turning the matter over to a collection agency. I find that to be a sad solution to a serious problem. Don’t be a “free rider”! Your brothers and sisters who support our union count on your participation.
In a previous column, I asked the question about “dark dates” (non-union gigs) led by our own members. Why do some of us become employers or leaders and then behave as if we never experienced the life of a working musician, depending on fair wages and the need for medical and pension coverage? If you are hiring, please call me and we will work out the right agreement to cover your fellow musicians. Members leading ensembles of any size can have an agreement tailored to meet their financial realities and working conditions. You’ll have your 802 brothers’ and sisters’ appreciation and respect for doing the right thing.
What’s in the future? I’m hoping for a rebirth of activism by our Local 802 members, regardless of the nature of the work they do. As established professionals it’s very easy to look at our workplaces and succumb to the notion that nothing is as good as it once was, that your time and energy now needs to be reserved for yourself. Wishing for a return to some halcyon day accomplishes nothing, but let’s remember that back in the 1980s, experienced musicians turned this local around in a revolution that impacted every aspect of union work. Without some of that energy – to get new work covered, pay into pension and health plans and lead our younger colleagues to an appreciation of the possibilities for collective action – we will watch the further erosion of our business. I know we can do better.
For those of you who are new members, your business model may revolve around performing for free or accepting very low wages to get a chance to be heard. That may seem like a good tradeoff. But giving your talent and creativity away to those who are happy to build their careers on your efforts is, in reality, self-defeating and drives down wages for the entire professional community. Nowhere is the “race to the bottom” mentality more self destructive than in the arts. None of us can afford to be a part of that problem. I have heard some say that they look upon our union as a monolithic entity having little relevance to today’s work. I believe that is a very short-sighted view. Our union is a democratic collective dedicated to organizing our workplaces, achieving solid agreements that honor the artistry we have developed, and protecting us from the abuses of the industry. The Local 802 of the future can be whatever its members decide it should be. Come to the membership meetings to learn what is happening or stop by my office for a discussion. We need your input. I hope you will consider how your participation will make our community stronger, better paid and respected. Contact me if you are ready to become an activist.
Finally, let’s acknowledge the surprising results of the U.S. presidential election. We, and all labor unions, must prepare for a tough battle ahead to defend the hard-fought gains made in past decades. A pro-business, anti-union administration in Washington means that our livelihoods will be under attack. There was never a more critical time for members of Local 802 to find their voice in support of the labor movement throughout the city, state and nation. This should include your own determination to work under a union agreement. Act locally, think globally, and let’s work for a better union – together!