There can be little doubt that the last six months have been among the most difficult I have experienced at Local 802. Recent events have created divisions among us; some have even fallen prey to the instinct to characterize these differences over policy as “political posturing.” I believe that to be a mistake.
A union, like any other large organization, is a diverse group of individuals with many viewpoints; these must be reconciled to make the union successful. The task of developing consensus within the membership is an essential requirement of leadership. Fortunately, we have an election in the fall which will allow the membership to have the final word on our controversies. Those who aspire to elected leadership should therefore spend time planning for the future rather than arguing about the past.
One of the consequences of the recent turmoil has been the departure of a large number of staff. Although this is not to be desired, it cannot be changed and it does give us an opportunity to restructure and become more relevant to changing times. What goals should we set in choosing new staff?
One position which will soon become vacant at Local 802 is that of political/public relations director.
I think we need to define an expanded role for that position to enhance our ability to advocate for musicians effectively.
Whether one is thinking about the fight for new contracts, protecting arts education and funding for the arts or advocating for the preservation of live music, we must have strong alliances in the political arena.
Relying upon one person to develop these bonds limits us; instead we need to involve members in political outreach.
During the last presidential election, Local 802 hosted phone banks organized by the AFL-CIO; a number of 802 members were enthusiastic participants. Unfortunately, there has been no follow up to build upon this experience.
The person chosen to replace our current political/public relations director should be directed to organize a rank-and-file political action committee and develop a plan to utilize it in key electoral races and campaigns for legislation beneficial to unions.
We should also use this opportunity to bring control of our public relations efforts back into the union.
While it is valuable to have an outside consultant to use in specific instances, we should require the new director to work with both officers and members to create a comprehensive, long-term public relations plan which will efficiently utilize the public relations funds set aside as a result of the last dues increase.
Another area to be studied is organizing. This department has lost its entire staff and must be totally rebuilt. Many members realize that this has historically been one of the most productive departments of the union, one which is used in almost every emergency.
For example, the Organizing Department was an essential component in the campaign for the last Broadway contract. This group of employees also made it possible for Local 802 to defeat a decertification election at the Early Ear music school and stood side-by-side with Midori teaching artists during their extended strike.
From a more long-term perspective, we must organize or we will face continued increases in dues and losses in bargaining power as our membership numbers decrease. Therefore a plan to re-establish this department must be a top priority.
In an ideal world, we would expand this department, but our limited financial resources make this impossible at this time. Careful consideration should therefore be given to the choice of a new director of organizing. We should seek an individual from a union active in new organizing. That person should then be supported in choosing new full-time organizers and in preparing a plan to utilize the other union representatives currently on staff to assist in organizing goals. Only then will we be able to expand our capability to organize new bargaining units in areas which Local 802 does not currently represent and hopefully reverse the downward trend in our membership numbers.
These are two ideas that come to my mind when I think about the future of Local 802. It is the responsibility of the entire administration to bring our best ideas to the board room and to plan for our future. By doing so, we will we be able to put our current difficulties behind us and once again move forward in a unified fashion.
Mary Landolfi is an elected member of the Local 802 Executive Board.