Organizing Tales From the Front

Organizing Matters

Volume CV, No. 1January, 2005

Amy Cocuzza

Perhaps this has happened to you. You’re at a wedding or a big corporate party. It’s in one of those swanky Midtown hotels.

All the guests are in their finest clothes. The floral centerpieces are the size of your typical studio apartment. The hors d’oeuvres are divine. The waiters, bartenders, janitors, doormen, attendants and housekeepers all have pension and health benefits to die for. But the band is…the band is…GASP! The band is nonunion!

Okay, that’s a bit over the top. We all know that there’s nonunion club date work going on under our noses. The question is what to do about it. Do we ignore it? Ostracize the musicians who take the nonunion gigs?

Or do we get out there and organize them?

There’s an unprecedented campaign underway to organize more work and increase contract enforcement in the single engagement field. Club date and pre-heat musicians have come together to form a single engagement organizing committee. They decided that one of the first steps was to increase the union’s visibility in the field beginning this past October.

Having more bodies in the field means that we, as 802 members, have a better sense of who’s doing what work and where. It means that we can connect with musicians playing nonunion work. It means that we can check in with the musicians playing the union gigs to make sure everything is kosher.

And, as the past few months have proven, it means that we come away with some wonderful stories.

On a recent Saturday evening, a group of musicians hung around one of those behemoth Midtown hotels. As an act of solidarity with the band’s one smoker they were standing together outside a few minutes before their gig.

This one wasn’t under contract; it was arranged by one of those huge nonunion agencies. The gig paid pretty well — around $325 per person. Of course, there were no benefits, or parking or cartage or any other premiums.

In any event, one musician wanted to tell the others about the conversation he’d just had with a rep from the musicians’ union. He got really animated, and his enthusiasm infected the rest of them. The band members were eager to talk about health and pension and other benefits.

Before they had a chance to get too worked up, they spotted the 802 rep leaving the hotel and flagged him down. They had a lot of questions, and by the time they needed to head back inside, they’d all exchanged contact information with the rep.

And there was an organizing lead. As simple as that.


Last month a wedding was nearly disrupted when an extremely pro-union club manager learned that the musicians didn’t have a contract for the gig.

He was prepared to drag the leader off the bandstand then and there. Never mind that the bride and Daddy were in the middle of their spotlight dance; this was an injustice that couldn’t be tolerated!

Fortunately, the 802 rep persuaded the zealous manager that a softer approach might be more appropriate, given the circumstances. The musicians still got information about making their future gigs union. The wedding continued without a hitch.

I’m sure the bandleader was a bit uneasy for the rest of the evening, but for everyone else the night was a huge success.


Reps can’t be everywhere at the same time. Sometimes there’s a venue that doesn’t get visited for a few months. Apparently this does not go without notice.

On a Saturday evening in October, a rep visited one such venue. Alors! There, on the bandstand, in the flesh, was a well-known signatory band.

But there was no contract filed for this gig.

Like children who can’t resist testing their parents’ omniscience, even some of our signatories occasionally get a bit restless. “Just this once. What’s the harm? And, gee, if we don’t get caught this time….”

Well, they got caught that time.


There have been a lot of reps out in the field — talking to musicians, making new connections, handing out the new laminated cards.

But this campaign is just getting started. Here’s where you come in.

So, many of you are probably thinking, “But I’m not a club date musician.” Your primary work is on Broadway. Or in teaching. Or classical concerts. Or recording.

Sure, you play a wedding here, a bat mitzvah there. But this is not your primary source of income.

Let’s face it, nearly every musician in this union wears the “single engagement” hat from time to time. We all have a shared responsibility to uphold our long-fought standards and help increase the union density in this field.

As a professional and union member, you have a responsibility to get involved.

Get to know your reps. Get involved. Come to meetings. This is your union. Take a Saturday night — go out on rounds with a union rep for a few hours. Other musicians would rather hear from you than just a rep. I promise.

If you get called for a nonunion gig, take the job! Then call it in, posthaste. You don’t even have to give your name if you don’t want to. Leave a message on the 802 hotline (212-245-4802, ext. 260) with the details of any nonunion work you get called for. We can only organize the work that we know about.

Keep track of your union jobs. Just because the agency is a signatory doesn’t necessarily mean that the job will be filed. Just because it’s filed doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the musicians will be on the contract. Protect yourself, and protect your hard-earned benefits.

Encourage people to visit Let them know that 802 has a musician referral service. Give them the names of our signatory agencies.

And the next time you’re at an affair that’s using nonunion music, by all means say something. Find the party planner or host. Remind him or her that this is New York. That New York means professional music. That professional music means union music.

Accept nothing less.