Off-Broadway, Hotel Musicians Win Settlements

It Pays to Belong!

Volume CI, No. 9September, 2001

Local 802 collected thousands of dollars this summer for members who work in the Off-Broadway and hotel fields, in grievance settlements that reaffirmed the value of working under a collective bargaining agreement.

One settlement involved the two musicians who were fired from Love, Janis because they are union members (see May and June Allegros). Each received $7,500 in wages, an 8 percent pension payment, and first call rights to any substitution work or the chair if the job is vacated by a regular member of the orchestra. Perhaps most important, the pension contributions they received enabled both to complete their vesting requirements for an AFM pension.

A pianist who was not given proper notice of a schedule change at the Inter-Continental Hotel was awarded almost $5,000 in wages and pension contributions.

And the five musicians who performed in It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre are sharing payments that total almost $9,000, as the result of a grievance 802 filed after the producer failed to properly pay musicians’ benefits

Here are some details:

Love, Janis: On June 22, the two musicians fired from this show agreed to the settlement with the producers outlines above. Local 802 had discovered, in the midst of a battle to win union recognition from the producers, that they had been fired because of their union membership. The union filed an unfair labor practice with the National Labor Relations Board in early April, asking the NLRB to issue formal charges against the producers for blatant violations of labor law.

The musicians also filed charges on their own behalf. Both they and the union demanded that producers re-engage the fired musicians and pay them all back wages and benefits.

802 brought the organizing battle to the public, forming a spirited picket line in front of the theatre for eight straight performances, and enlisting the participation of a 15-foot inflatable rubber rat. With support for the union coming from many quarters, including neighborhood residents, the producers were soon forced to negotiate. By April 18 the union had a signed contract and agreed to drop its portion of the unfair labor practice charge pending before the NLRB. However, Local 802 continued to support the charges the orchestra members had brought.

In June the labor board notified the employer that the case was ready to be processed. Rather than going through a long and expensive trial, the producers made several overtures and finally made a financial offer the musicians were willing to accept.

Inter-Continental Hotel: This grievance was settled in July, when Local 802 received more than $4,600 in wages and over $350 in pension contributions for Richard Atkins.

Atkins worked at the hotel until recently, when the employer decided to discontinue live music. While reviewing his employment record at the hotel, it was discovered that the hotel had unilaterally changed his schedule during the summer of 1998, reducing his hours from 25 to 15 hours per week, and had failed to give written notice to either Atkins or the union. The Hotel Users of Music Agreement requires the employer to give two weeks’ written notice.

Although the grievance was more than two years old, there are no time limitations to bring a grievance in the Hotel Agreement, and Local 802 decided to proceed. The union sought a remedy of all lost wages and benefit payments. The hotel initially balked – but after receiving notice of arbitration, it requested a settlement. Business Rep Kirk Kelly negotiated the settlement.

It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues: A settlement reached on July 24 provides five musicians a total of $5,746.54 in pension, $1,080 in health benefits, $598 in hospitalization, $364.64 in sick pay benefits and $1,093.88 in deducted work dues.

The grievance arose out of an agreement negotiated with the employer’s representative just as the production was about to move from the New Victory Theatre into the Vivian Beaumont. Upon learning that the show was being nominated for a Tony award, Local 802 argued that the agreement should incorporate all the terms of the League agreement. A contract was drawn up to that effect and the employer and the union both signed. However, the employer later argued that it had misunderstood the provisions and had never intended to pay pension at the League rates – rather, they said, the pension contribution should be 8 percent.

After an informal discussion between the parties at the American Arbitration Association, a compromise was reached in which the employer agreed to pay everything at League rates except for pension, which would be paid at 10 percent. (League rates at that time were approximately 14 percent.) Local 802 agreed to the compromise, on the condition that checks were cut immediately. Local 802 was represented by attorney Leonard Leibowitz.