‘Pay Attention, Stand Strong and Get Involved’

Union Rep Notebook

Volume 118, No. 5May, 2018

Karen Fisher

Labor relations, like any complex subject, requires that its practitioners keep up to date with current trends. The U.S. presidential election of 2016 changed the makeup of the NLRB, which in turn affected collective bargaining and rights in the workplace. In an ongoing effort to stay informed and to provide the best possible advocacy for our members, I attended the 2018 National Labor Conference held by the American Arbitration Association this past March. The theme was “Skills and Strategies for Workplace Challenges and Opportunities in the New Economy,” and was specifically geared towards union activists, attorneys, and arbitrators.

The workshops covered a variety of topics within three categories: Advocacy Skills, Developments in the New Economy, and Handling H.R. Problems in the Union-Management Relationship. The panels consisted of both labor and management side presentations. It was especially interesting to hear management’s perspective in a non-adversarial context, something a labor-side business rep doesn’t get the opportunity to do very often.

Two major topics emerged that are deeply impacting workers in the U.S. today: the effects of social media on labor relations, and developments in the so-called “gig economy.” Both of these topics are crucially important to how musicians make a living and how we get paid.

Can you get fired from your job (even as a musician) for posting on Facebook?

Did you know that you can be fired for posting disparaging statements about your employer on Facebook, Instagram, and other media platforms? If the remark is inflammatory enough, and the employer can prove that you have damaged their business or reputation, you may find yourself in a very unwelcome situation, literally overnight. Even if you can avoid that particular fate, inflammatory posts can damage your status with colleagues or contractors.

A case was presented to us in which a public schoolteacher posted a rather innocuous (to my mind) two-sentence comment on Facebook. Some parents saw it and got offended. Screen shots were sent around, and less than 24 hours later, not only was the person fired, but anyone who “liked” the post was disciplined by the school administration! The case went to arbitration, and the arbitrator upheld the decision to fire the teacher, claiming damage to the school district’s reputation.

Incidentally, it’s also best not to post about off-duty conduct (drinking, drugs, etc.) that could in some way impact your reputation as a professional. Always stop for a moment and ask yourself: what is the upside of posting something that may be misconstrued? Can I be compromised by this in some way? Can this possibly be used against me? Before you hit “enter,” it pays to take a moment and really consider the possible fallout vs. the temporary rush you may get from venting online.

Our little corner of the music world is highly connected and the temptation to call out a colleague, conductor, leader or manager is great. Rather than posting online, vent to a friend, spouse, bartender, shrink, or anyone who doesn’t have control over your employment! You can even call me or one of the other business reps at Local 802.

Just like in music, when in doubt, leave it out.

Why does the “gig economy” matter to musicians?

As freelance musicians and union members, we all have a vested interest in developments relating to the burgeoning “gig economy.” We practically invented it! The same goes for technology. How are we as artists going to deal with increasing automation, artificial intelligence, and protecting our work from theft? How will new legislation regarding freelance work impact collective bargaining and collective representation? We must ask ourselves these thorny questions, as the answers will greatly impact how we work and how we get paid. If labor unions are to survive against the rising tide of political opposition, we are going to need to delve deeply into how we do business and how we get our message out to members, nonmembers and allies.

Will the teacher strikes in Oklahoma and Kentucky translate to the voting booth?

The theme of the final session was the current state of global labor relations, which left most of us on the union side a bit disheartened. The presenters had done extensive research on the state of labor relations throughout the world. It will not shock you to hear that labor relations in the United States are going the way of developing nations, rather than toward the equality and protections in the workplace that are enjoyed by northern European countries. This means we are experiencing less representation and breeding more independent contractors. Why? Unions worldwide have been slow to respond to the diversity of needs and wants in a society of changing demographics. We even need to examine again what work is. Unions in the U.S. are not being effective in getting our message out. That message is: unions deliver better wages, pensions and health care; we offer due process for grievances; and we work to create community and social justice.

As I write this, teachers are striking for better school funding and higher wages in Oklahoma and Kentucky. Will that anger translate to the voting booth come election time? The tide can be turned, but it is going to take active involvement and care from all interested constituencies. If the 2016 election proved anything, it is that we must pay attention, stand strong, and get involved. Our survival depends on it.

Karen Fisher is the senior concert rep of Local 802. Contact her at (212) 245-4802, ext. 174.