Recently I had the privilege to participate on a Zoom panel at Yale School of Music — my alma mater — with students who will soon be graduating and joining the workforce. The question I received most from the students is the same one we all are thinking: “When are musicians going to be able to return to work safely?” Unfortunately, the answer right now is still the same: we’re not sure. One recent data point comes from the Broadway League, which recently announced that it will issue refunds to ticketholders for all performances through Sept. 6. There is also widespread expectation that live performances will not be taking place even soon after that date.
Your union is now working to be sure that when we do go back to work, all of our members will be safe. Local 802 is active in many of the groups that are weighing in officially in the industry, the city and the state regarding safe return-to-work policies. We are currently in the process of launching a Local 802 Reopening Task Force, which will deal with the question of how best to protect our members when live performances return. We will rely on the advice of experts in the public health and epidemiology fields to come up with guidelines and best practices. In addition, Theresa Couture, Local 802’s principal business rep, is currently serving on the Covid-19 Reopening Committee of the Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds. Finally, we are in close contact with both the governor’s and mayor’s office and their various task forces.
Looking at the big picture for all musicians, I have also been lobbying Ray Hair and the AFM International Executive Board to take a more active national role in the musicians’ response to the pandemic. One step the AFM can take is the creation of an AFM National Live Performance Reopening Task Force, which could study how best to protect our members with a set of national guidelines. The task force should establish a set of uniform policies that the AFM formulates in consultation with safety specialists that could be distributed to all AFM locals.
The officers, Executive Board and our amazing office staff continue to work hard to assist members and run the business of Local 802 remotely. Everyone is doing a great job in the face of this unprecedented crisis. The Executive Board has continued to make tough decisions in order to assure the long-term financial safety of our union, including the gut-wrenching call to put a large percentage of our staff on emergency leave, including many incredible people who have served the union with all of their heart and soul for many years. I would like to name them here (in alphabetical order): Alex Blake, Cathy Calabrese, Jiayin Chu, Bettina Covo, Bill Crow, Maureen Cupid-Pierre, Maria DiPasquale, Amoh Essandoh, Julie Ferrara, Shane Gasteyer, Darlene Irizarry, Fran Kayne, Vicki Levy, Wen Lin, Major Little, Marcus Medina, Cassandra Palacio, James Park, Bob Pawlo, Avelon Ramnath, Chris Reza, Denise Rodriques, Paul Rusk, Debbie Shew, Steve Singer, Ralph Smalls, Greg Venuto, Peter Voccola, Anna Wichert and David Will. (We’ve been able to hire back some of our Electronic Media Department on a daily basis to process essential recording checks for our members.)
Three of our remaining staff have been asked to drop down to part time and everyone has been asked to accept a pay cut to conserve our resources. In solidarity, all the officers and members of the Executive Board have voluntarily reduced their salaries as well. (See more in Recording Vice President Andy Schwartz’s column on page 3.) A complete list of our current staff can be found at www.Local802afm.org/leadership.
On a related note, this could be the last paper copy of Allegro that you receive for a while. To save money, we are temporarily changing to an all-digital format that we’ll post online and send out via e-mail. If you have any questions, please send an e-mail to Mikael Elsila at Allegro@Local802afm.org.
I also want to mention the passing of Elaine Howard, our long-serving receptionist, who was the voice of Local 802 for almost 40 years. A tribute to Elaine and to others who have recently passed appear in our obituaries on page 32.
An important and tough question right now for us as a union is what will happen to the 802 Health Fund in light of major reductions in employer contributions due to the Covid-19 crisis? This is one of our top priorities and we’re working on this around the clock. We hope to have an update soon that will come from the union-side fund trustees.
Members continue to make me proud in the ways that you are using your creativity, music and kindness to help make the world a better place. Now more than ever our music is needed, and we have to make sure as a community we get that message out. One way we’re doing this is a partnership called MUSIC FROM THE SOUL with the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and NYC Health + Hospitals. From the middle of May to the first week of July, select Local 802 members will be streaming solo Facebook Live performances from their home, every day from 12 noon to 1 p.m., seven days a week. Their performances will be beamed to all of NYC’s 11 public hospitals via https://www.facebook.com/NYCHealthSystem. Be sure to watch! Special guests include Tony Bennett, Questlove, Rosanne Cash and more. (These performances are paid under a Local 802/AFM contract.). We’re very excited about this way to share our music with hospital heroes and their patients.
Another way we’re reaching out is our Songs for Support video campaign to support the Local 802 Musicians’ Emergency Relief Fund. Watch our latest video at https://erf.local802afm.org,where you can also apply for support or donate to the fund.
All of these videos are great, but many of you may be wondering, when can we get together as a community to talk and get union updates? Obviously, our membership meetings can’t take place in person, but there will be a first-ever 802 virtual town hall meeting in June, and information will be sent to the members once details are in place. I look forward to updating membership on our overall response to the Covid-19 crisis and our plans for the future.
The last question we are all thinking is: how are we going to get through this? The way we will persevere is by sticking together with our families, friends, fellow 802 members and musicians, allies in the labor movement and government, and all of our powerful communities and groups. We will help others when we can, and we will also all need help as an arts community. The road ahead will not be easy, but we can do it — and we will. Our union is strong. In the face of this unprecedented crisis, I have seen our community of 802 musicians come together to support one another in many meaningful ways. No one will be left behind. We are all in this together and we must have hope that as we fight through this crisis as one, we will prevail. As scary as these times are for musicians, I know we are all hopeful at the core. It is from that place of hope that we will overcome.
On a personal note, I want to share with everyone that my wife Betsy and I recently welcomed to the world our first child — a happy and healthy baby girl named Poppy.