New School Guitar Study Instructors Ratify First Contract

Volume C, No. 3March, 2000

Mikael Elsila

After ten months of roller-coaster negotiating, instructors at the New School’s Guitar Study Center unanimously ratified their first contract early in February. This brings the number of instructors working under a union agreement at the New School to more than 100 – including 35 Guitar Study faculty and over 70 instructors in the Department of Jazz and Contemporary Music.

Negotiating Committee members Ed Baker, Jay Bianchi, Terre Roche and Steve Tarshis, with support from their colleagues and Local 802 staff, won a three-year contract that boasts substantial gains in wages and benefits. A wage increase of 3.5 percent in the first year of the contract, retroactive to Sept. 1, 1999, is followed by raises of 4.5 percent and 4 percent in the second and third years. In addition, the minimum salary is raised to $34 per hour, also retroactive to Sept. 1.

Benefits are one of the most visible gains in the contract. For years, the New School had been promising Guitar Study instructors some sort of health care, but nothing ever came of it. Now, under their new agreement, instructors who teach as little as 50 hours a year will receive pension contributions of 3 percent, 3.5 percent and 4 percent (in years one, two, and three, respectively), retroactive to Sept. 1, 1999, as well as a 4.5 percent contribution to the Local 802 Health Benefits Plan, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2000. Both pension and health contributions will be based on gross salary, which will include wages both for teaching classes and for private lessons.

Also important was the inclusion of a “most favored nation” clause (also called a “me, too” clause) which states that, if the New School offers better benefits to other similarly situated part-time instructors, it has to offer the same benefits to Guitar Study instructors. This is important because, immediately after the jazz instructors ratified their first contract at the end of 1998, the New School offered a better pension package to other part-time instructors. The new contract protects Guitar Study instructors against such disparity.

“Being on the negotiating committee has been a very interesting process for me to be a part of,” said Terre Roche, who teaches guitar. “I’ve learned a lot about the importance of asking for what you need in your workplace. In particular, it has been nice to get to know some of my fellow faculty members a little better and to feel that we have supported one another as a group. I think we’ve negotiated a very reasonable first contract.”

Musicians ratified the agreement by a 16-0 vote and the New School was expected to ratify it at its Feb. 16 board meeting.

Instructors at the Guitar Study Center teach folk guitar, rock piano, blues harmonica, songwriting, audio engineering and more, mainly to adults in not-for-credit courses. Like their jazz colleagues in the same building, the instructors teach part-time. The program was established by Eddie Simon, Paul Simon’s younger brother, in the early 1970s. Fred Winston is currently the director of the program.

Teachers voted to be represented by Local 802 in a landslide victory in April 1999. The vote was 20-4, with a turnout of just under 70 percent.

Negotiations began last summer to a slightly faster beat than the jazz negotiations a year earlier. In fact, many basic provisions of the jazz contract were incorporated into the Guitar Study contract.

When it came to wages and benefits, however, the New School hemmed and hawed. That’s when the instructors took it to the streets. A rally planned outside the New School was cancelled after the university finally came forward with a minimal health and pension proposal.

But when management’s bottom line didn’t move for quite some time, instructors passed out flyers in front of their building at 55 West 13th Street, and asked supporters to send e-mails to New School Executive Vice-President James Murtha and Chancellor Philip Scaturro. After a flood of public pressure, the university improved its proposal.

Scott Noll, who teaches audio engineering, was disappointed by the New School’s response and saw the leafleting as “a way to bring our message to students, faculty and administrators who, most likely, were totally unaware of our plight. We handed out hundreds of flyers and, on the whole, received a positive response. I was very impressed at the solidarity shown by the other unions at the New School.”

And voice instructor Helen Baldassare pointed out that, “if you can provide even one person with information and background on an issue, you have made a difference. If you can provide that person with an avenue to respond to that issue – success!”

“I feel that our negotiations went well, leading to a good contract,” said Ed Baker, who teaches piano. “We had a great committee who stuck together and worked hard to achieve our main goal. The process was fascinating: sometimes fun, other times frustrating, but always a learning experience. One thing I found is that musicians have more power and control than they realize, especially when they organize. Having the faculty come together and vote overwhelmingly in favor of unionizing helped our negotiations.”

Many Local 802 staff and departments were involved in the two-year campaign for recognition and a first contract. Senior Organizer Mikael Elsila and Director of New Organizing Tim Dubnau ran the nuts-and-bolts of the campaign. Senior Organizers Joe Eisman and Chris Seymour lent a hand to several direct actions and strategic meetings. Financial Vice-President Mary Landolfi was the chief negotiator, along with Local 802 attorney Bob Archer; and President Bill Moriarity presided over the last negotiating session and sealed the deal.