There is a lot at stake for our union in the coming months. First of all there is the Nov. 7 national election. There really seems to be a chance to change direction: to stop the waste of resources on ill-advised military adventures and turn the nation’s attention and resources to critical issues like solving our health care crisis, properly funding education and findings solutions to the soaring cost of housing.
I would urge you to vote and if possible to help on electoral campaigns in your community.
The second important decision you will be called upon to make is your vote in the Dec. 5 Local 802 officers’ election.
You will be electing leadership for the next three years who will have to deal with the 2007 Broadway negotiations and New York Philharmonic negotiations. You will be electing leadership who should continue our efforts to finally obtain benefit contributions for more of our jazz musicians — and leadership who needs to solve the organizing challenges we face in the club date field.
Our union needs competent people who can deal with the difficult challenges in the rapidly changing recording field. This is an area where leadership is needed who has the experience and knowledge to negotiate in this complex terrain.
We have to find ways to bring more recording work to New York and then to keep it here, especially in the rapidly growing fields of independent film, cable TV and game music.
I have confidence that the members of Local 802 will elect leadership who can unite our union for all of these challenges.
The third issue we face — and a problem that you need to be more aware of — is the difficult situation facing the Local 802 health benefits fund.
Over the last two years, a combination of soaring health costs and stagnant employer contributions have left the fund in serious financial trouble.
We have to find a way to close a gap of several million dollars that has grown between the fund’s income and the benefits that members depend upon.
There are only a few ways to close the gap: larger contributions from employers and cuts in benefits or co-payments from members.
We will have to fight to get as much as we can from employers in coming negotiations and try to minimize the impact on members.
Every health plan in the nation is grappling with the same problems, including the other entertainment union plans.
The bottom line is we have to save the Local 802 health fund — and we will. There are too many members and their families who depend upon it to do anything less.
THE BOTTOM LINE
We need leadership at Local 802 who respect the fact that ours is a democratic rank-and-file run union. The members’ interests come first. The voice of the members is the final word. Our orchestra committees and other bargaining unit committees rightly have the power and responsibility to make the decisions that effect their jobs and income.
With that in mind I have to express my strong disagreement with some recent actions by our Executive Board majority. The June Local 802 membership meeting passed — by a wide margin — a financial improprieties bylaw in response to the discovery that President David Lennon had charged $10,000 in personal expenses on the union’s credit card.
The bylaw required repayment of expenses the union incurs because of any credit card misuse.
I believe members viewed the bylaw as fair — and a way to ensure that the members are not stuck with the cost of an officer’s misconduct.
So far the union has spent over $35,000 in attorneys’ and accounting fees because of Lennon’s actions.
On Sept. 26, Local 802 Counsel Harvey Mars presented a five-page report to the board that validated the bylaw. He assured us that it conformed with federal law and recommended that the bylaw be enforced. Mars explained further that the union could be sued by any member if it didn’t enforce the bylaw.
The board majority chose to ignore union counsel’s advice — as well as the will of the membership reflected by the financial improprieties bylaw.
On Oct. 3, this majority — board members Babich, Gagliardi, Gale, Schwartz, Shankin and Weiss — voted to table and then kill a motion “to enforce the financial improprieties bylaw.”
They then voted to “take no action” because, in their words, Lennon has not “been found to have committed misconduct.”
However, we all know that Lennon had not only “been found” to have committed misconduct, but after being confronted with irrefutable evidence, he admitted his wrongdoing.
The report by outside independent counsel Larry Cary — commissioned by the Executive Board — found that Lennon had engaged in “serious misconduct.”
Then, in the pages of Allegro, Lennon wrote, “I fully embrace and accept the findings and recommendations of the Cary Report.”
The question was a simple one: who should bear the burden of cleaning up after the mess made by an officer’s misuse of union funds?
The membership answered: the offending officer.
But the Executive Board majority answered: you, the members.
This is wrong.
The full-time officers and the Executive Board are here to serve the membership. And whatever loyalties and friendships are developed must be put aside when the interests of the membership are at stake — whether it means enforcing bylaws, ensuring the financial integrity of the union or speaking out against disastrous policies.
I can only hope that the membership will accept no less from whoever is elected in the Dec. 5 officer’s election.
This should not be a partisan issue.
Democratically passed bylaws must be observed and financial integrity must be maintained.