New Term of Office Presents Significant Challenges
Volume CI, No. 2February, 2001
January 1 marked the beginning of a new three-year term of office for this administration, a period which promises some of the most difficult challenges the union has yet faced. A term of this length, of course, allows most of our contracts to be re-assessed and renegotiated. Although each in its own way raises special concerns, several are of overriding importance.
Agreements at three of the four long-established Lincoln Center venues – the Met, City Opera and City Ballet – all expire between now and the end of 2003.
While negotiations for the Met regular orchestra agreement were completed in May of 2000, approximately 15 months early, we are now preparing to negotiate terms and conditions for the Met associate and extra musicians, librarians and music staff, currently contained in three separate agreements. The music staff held its first internal meeting in early January.
Local 802 and the New York City Opera will begin discussions within the next several months, while the Ballet contract is several years away. The Philharmonic is working under a six-year agreement that does not expire until 2004.
The importance of each of these agreements cannot be overstated since, in many ways, they form templates for terms and conditions in these various fields across the Federation.
Work has already begun on the extremely important freelance concert negotiations covering the dozen or so high-profile “freelance” concert orchestras with which the union has signatory agreements. Local 802 Assistant Director David Lennon, the concert supervisor, has met with the freelance committee and they have begun to map out strategies and tactics for these next, always challenging, several months.
Looking to national contracts, those negotiated by the AFM, two expire within weeks of publication of this report: the National Public Radio agreement on Jan. 31 and the Children’s Television Workshop (Sesame Street) side letter on March 31. Erwin Price, Jay Schaffner and I will be deeply involved in the latter discussions. In addition, Local 802 will be working closely with the AFM in efforts to address nonunion recording dates. This will be an ongoing effort that should extend well beyond this three-year term of office.
However, three agreements – two of which expire in the first half of this year, with the third due to be renegotiated in early 2003 – present a special challenge to us.
The first of these, for Jazz at Lincoln Center, expires on Feb. 23. Our relationship with this employer has been rocky at best, but the recent resignation of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Executive Director, Rob Gibson, could open the door to better cooperation. Certainly the musicians would benefit from this.
Currently music preparation, which forms an integral part of this employer’s activities, is not covered by the agreement. It needs to be. Education work should be defined and brought into the contract. And the benefits, both health and pension, need to be brought up to parity with the Met, Philharmonic, City Opera and City Ballet. The musicians have met with Bill Dennison and Natasha Jackson, and a negotiating committee is in formation. Our goal is to obtain a contract equal to those achieved with other Lincoln Center constituents.
With the Single Engagement Club Date contract due to expire on April 14, work is under way on forming a committee and developing proposals. As you may have read or heard, the New Organizing Department has achieved great success in this field, including successful campaigns targeting Starlight Orchestras, New York City Swing and Manhattan Swing, among others. This should strengthen our ability to address several of the inadequacies in this agreement, including the pension percentage and the disparity between Saturday night scale and wages for other nights of the week.
In the course of our organizing activities we discovered that this pay differential does not exist for most of the high-end nonunion offices and, therefore, we see no reason to continue such a practice. Making this change will require hard work, along with the continuing involvement of a large segment of rank-and-file musicians in the field. If we are able to mount such an effort, these important advances can be achieved.
Finally, the Broadway contract is due for renegotiation in March of 2003. It may seem early to begin thinking about this agreement, but it is not. The League of American Theatres and Producers, Inc., has already warned us that they wish to “address” minimums. All Broadway musicians are aware that requests for Special Situation status are constant, unrelenting and almost completely unmindful of the very narrow provisions the agreement allows for this classification.
In pursuing their bottom line priorities producers have been willing to sacrifice orchestral quality, in the mistaken belief that amplification and electronic emulation offer a viable substitute for the warmth and expressiveness of live musicians communicating directly with an audience. Ensemble balances have been removed from performers’ hands, timbres have been altered, highly musical sounds have been distorted and entire tonal spectrums have been lost, all on the false assumption that quality doesn’t matter here and cuts are permissible. But it does matter and I look forward to addressing this subject.
In the meantime the rank-and-file theatre committee, together with Local 802’s Theatre Department, must begin developing strategies and tactics that will help us achieve our goals, chief among which is the promotion, preservation and increased recognition of live music and musicians.