New School Stewards Step Up to Serve

Volume 118, No. 12December, 2018

We’re thrilled to announce an exciting new chapter in the lives of part-time jazz instructors at the New School. Stewards have stepped up in new and courageous ways and are looking to build an ever-stronger presence for the benefit of their unit and for their students. The faculty is increasingly concerned with not having a voice in a program that they largely built over the past 30 years. They all have a deep commitment and love for their students and the school and hope to see a powerful united voice to keep the program alive for years to come.

In the fall of 2015, the jazz program was re-situated within the New School as one of three schools making up the College of Performing Arts. (The college’s two other schools are the Mannes School of Music and the School of Drama.) As priorities and management changed within the school because of this merger, the bargaining unit felt they needed to find a way to reinforce their union and make it stronger. They held an open meeting and the members agreed it would be a good idea to have a team of stewards – a group of bargaining unit members who would increase communication with each other and as a union. Prior to this fall, Arun Luthra was the sole steward for the unit and had been since the first contract was ratified two decades ago. As of this fall, there are now four additional stewards joining Luthra: David Lopato, Gene Perla, Jimmy Owens and Junko Arita.

In 2016, jazz faculty at the New School won their latest collective bargaining agreement. Teaching artists, union reps and Local 802 counsel Harvey Mars negotiated seriously (left) then relaxed later after a bargaining session (right). The new contract contained significant benefits for teachers as well as significant changes.

In the late 1990s, after more than 10 years of no raise in their wages, no benefits and no job security, the part-time faculty at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music decided to organize a union so their work would be covered by a collective bargaining agreement. They ratified their contract in 1998. Over the past 20 years, some things have changed, but many of the dedicated faculty members who have made the program what it is today remain on the roster. The jazz program has about 65 part-time faculty members who make up the Local 802 bargaining unit. As the first group of “adjuncts” to organize in the university, they chose to be represented by Local 802 as they are all working, professional musicians.

Throughout the years, these members have fought and won major improvements within their collective bargaining agreement. In the last round of negotiations, their committee secured an option for 100 percent employer-paid healthcare, paid academic leave and new job security provisions that would guarantee work in a new and more secure way than had ever before existed in the CBA.

The New School stewards have two main roles:

  1. Support new hires as they get acquainted with the New School and Local 802
  2. Serve as the conduit between the bargaining unit members and the Local 802 staff at 322 West 48th Street.

New School steward David Lopato explained the significance of the role, particularly as a jazz musician. “The jazz grapevine may be alive and well,” said Lopato, “but this rarely extends to the fragmented realm of university adjunct teaching, where it is really needed. Adjuncts understandably feel disenfranchised in such environments. Having a colleague who knows perhaps a little more about both the workings of the administration and the rights of those teachers, vis-a-vis their union contract, can potentially help them be more engaged in the program and perhaps a bit more empowered. Ultimately this of course would benefit not just the teacher but the program.”

Arun Luthra concurred. “It’s wonderful to have David, Gene, Jimmy and Junko join me as stewards for our bargaining unit,” Luthra said. “The more every bargaining unit member knows about our contract – and the more active engagement we have from all our colleagues – the stronger we will be. Our new team of stewards is just what we need to inform and bring cohesion to the faculty at this critical time.”

To prepare for this new responsibility, all the stewards went through a preliminary training that reviewed the basics of labor law, what the roles and responsibilities of the steward are, the tenets of Local 802’s CBA with the New School, and Local 802 membership basics.

New School steward Gene Perla described how he sees his role and why he felt prepared to step up. “I now have 12 part-time faculty members who I’m responsible to support with understanding our contract and any issue arising in the workplace,” Perla said. “I felt confident in taking this position because the 802 organizers have always stood alongside me.”

The stewards have expressed their excitement at the opportunity to support their coworkers. “It’s a one-on-one situation which helps me to get to know my peers,” added Perla.

Junko Arita said that serving as a steward “is my way of [giving back] to the bargaining unit who helped us to build up our contract [to be] strong this far. Changing my existence from a passive member to a little more active member makes me feel more positive.”

Building a strong union is no easy task. “We’ll have to see how effective we can be as stewards,” said Lopato. “In a country where less than half of the people ever vote, participation in the process is key.”

If you are covered by the Local 802 agreement with the New School and have questions about your contract, feel free to contact the stewards listed in this article directly, or call the Local 802 Organizing Department at (212) 245-4802.

Junko Arita, Sarah Koshar, David Lopato, Arun Luthra, Gene Perla and Jimmy Owens all contributed to this article.