As we approach the last month of 2020, many of us would prefer to forget that this year ever happened. The pandemic has changed our union and industry in unrecognizable ways. We’re in an existential crisis, and as I wrote in the New York Daily News here, our country is risking a Great Cultural Depression. In that piece, I laid out the hard truth of where things stand in our field and proposed some solutions. I made it clear that musicians cannot be left behind in the pandemic recovery.
The truth is that almost all of our members are out of work. Many musicians are temporarily or permanently leaving NYC and a few are saying goodbye to their cherished career of music. Our health fund has been forced to cut benefits in order to achieve stability due to lack of employer contributions (see announcement here). And many of our employers are taking advantage of this crisis to attempt to extort us into making unacceptable concessions.
Despite all of this chaos, society does have the tools to make this situation better for musicians and all workers. Other countries pay lost income to workers and provide health insurance, and our country could too, if we had the political will. Communities could hire musicians to provide streaming concerts or socially distanced concerts outdoors. Solutions do exist — but we simply need the resources. These are points that I’m making over and over to our elected officials, who I’m meeting with every week on your behalf.
To that end, Local 802 has launched our #SaveNYCMusicians campaign, and we need your help in amplifying its message. Please start at www.SaveNYCmusicians.com and share the stories of your fellow 802 members. You’ll also see a way to ask members of the public to donate to the Emergency Relief Fund and Health Fund. I want to thank the hard-working #SaveNYCMusicians team who brought this campaign to life: Bud Burridge, Cenovia Cummins, Sylvia D’Avanzo, Pete Donovan, Rachel Drehmann, Mikael Elsila, Bill Hayes, Dean LeBlanc, Joanna Maurer, Rob Mosher, Louise Owen, Andy Schwartz, David Taylor and Keve Wilson.
Something we accomplished in 2020 is a model for how the community can support musicians. We worked with the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and NYC Health + Hospitals to book our own members on union contracts in a program called Music for the Soul, which many of you took part in. Local 802 members streamed solo Facebook Live performances from their homes, every day from 12 noon to 1 p.m., seven days a week. Their performances were beamed to all of NYC’s 11 public hospitals. This showed how with just a modest amount of funding, we can create win-win partnerships that benefit both musicians and society. This is the type of project and partnership which we hope can be repeated many times on a much larger scale.
Another bright spot is how various 802 ensembles have organized themselves, such as the MET Orchestra Musicians who have created their own concert series. You can follow them and support their effort at www.metorchestramusicians.org.
Speaking of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, I want to give a shout-out to my friend and ally, Commissioner Anne del Castillo who helped get Music for the Soul off the ground. We have a strong relationship with State Senator Jose Serrano, who spoke at our Nov. 18 digital town hall. We also have good contacts with both Governor Cuomo’s office (through NY Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon) and with the New York City Central Labor Council and its President Vinny Alvarez. On the federal level, we have been in contact with the officers of both Representative Jerry Nadler and Senator Chuck Schumer as well as dozens of City Council members. Our list of priorities includes enhanced unemployment benefits, health subsidies for COBRA and Obamacare, long-term direct relief to artists (including freelance artists), job creation during the pandemic through legislation like the Open Culture bill, subsidies for businesses to hire union musicians, a city partnership program to bring music education into students’ homes, regular livestream concerts paid for by the government, and much more. We have many allies who care about musicians. In the coming months, our union will start making endorsements to continue to build our political capital.
For now, Local 802 and its members are doing everything we can to help each other with the resources we have. I want to thank all the committees for their relentless hard work and dedication on behalf of their fellow 802 members.
I want to outline some of the ways that 802 has handled the crisis:
- Since March 15, we raised almost $300,000 for our 802 Emergency Relief Fund as well as created a new ERF website and Facebook page. We launched a video campaign featuring 802 members called Songs of Support to help fundraise for the ERF.
- Local 802’s Electronic Music Committee started consulting with members who want to learn new tech.
- We have taken huge steps to safeguard member resources. We implemented a new communication technology within the building that lets us work more efficiently with less resources. Everyone in the building has accepted pay cuts. We have scrutinized every single expense of the union and brought our budget down to the bare minimum possible.
- We created a Member Resource Center and a separate Covid Resource Center, both on our website. These contain:
- Applying for help through the Local 802 Musicians’ Emergency Relief Fund
- Applying for unemployment benefits
- Maintaining union health care through the Local 802 Shortfall Health Funds (for rostered members of certain orchestras)
- Our demands and petitions for relief from our elected leaders, including my own statements to the media
- We instituted a Local 802 Reopening Task Force and created the Local 802 Covid-19 Health & Safety Recommendations for Live Performance
- Local 802, the Actors Fund, and a coalition of union leaders and advocates worked with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS to relaunch an important campaign called EVERY ARTIST INSURED with substantial new funding. The first project of this campaign was a series of educational webinars designed directly for Local 802 members. The program now offers individualized one-on-one health counseling. We have an updated link on our website here.
- Our main political effort has been pressuring Congress to do the right thing and support workers until the economy and the country can get back on its feet. We launched a powerful campaign on all of our social media channels called #SaveTheArts featuring Local 802 member voices; check out some of the testimonials here. This campaign was our most successful political campaign ever; Local 802 musicians sent over 4,000 letters to Congress. The only thing standing in the way of an expanded aid package is the Republican Senate for the moment.
- We appreciate the outstanding effort of Local 802 Executive Board members Monica Davis and Elise Frawley, who helped organize “Pass the Mic,” a series of three webinars that took place in July. Hosted by Maestra Music and Women of 802, it was an opportunity to create community and focus on the individual perspectives of diverse women in a broader discussion of identity, access and inclusion, social responsibility, and accountability in the music industry. More recently, Maestra has co-created a new diversity effort called MUSE, which features many Local 802 members
- Recently, we worked with 802 musicians and the AFM on the #RespectUs campaign to support live TV musicians in their struggle for fair pay and equity. We hosted a successful rally in NYC where we welcomed Representative Jerry Nadler, State Senator Brad Hoylman, councilmembers Keith Powers and Helen Rosenthal and CLC President Vinny Alvarez, all of whom joined us in supporting our public efforts.
- Soon after that, we co-hosted another rally with the Musicians Workers Alliance to raise awareness about the shutdown of the arts economy in NY. The turnout was great and we continued to get our community’s message out. This was an important step in working with our allies in order to fight for the survival of NY musicians together as one.
- I’ve met with the New Music Caucus and the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers to discuss how our organizations can work together towards common goals to improve things for all musicians in new york.
- I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting with a number of Juilliard students to explain the importance of our union and the protections we provide.
- I was recently honored to be asked to join the board of trustees of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids and was put on the City & State Labor Power 100 list for the second year in a row. These honors have little to do with me but are a reflection of our members’ hard work and the power of our union.
- We are in the process of setting up a 401(K) retirement plan for our members who work on Broadway and at Radio City which we hope to expand to many of our units. Local 802 will be joining the Actors Equity – League 401(K) Plan.
- Local 802 has established a partnership with Maestra to do our first-ever self-identification survey of our membership. The data from this survey will give us a better understanding of how we can better address diversity, equity and inclusion in our union. To help conduct the survey we are working with Jonathan Reuning-Scherer, who is a senior lecturer in statistics & data science at Yale University
- Save the Date! Local 47 and Local 802 are producing a joint seminar called “Making Music and Making Progress: Strengthening our Union and the Music Industry’s Journey to Racial & Gender Justice” on Friday, Dec. 11 at 4 p.m. More info and RSVP at bit.ly/afm-dei-2020.
As painful as things are for professional musicians in New York, please remember that there’s always someone who’s in a worse situation. As the end of the year approaches, we all must try to keep in mind the things that we can be grateful for now.
I would also like to thank the many workers who are on the front lines. I’m thinking not just of health care workers but also those who work for the post office and delivery companies and those who work in grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, public transportation, warehouses and other places deemed essential services.
We know in reality that this crisis won’t last forever. The question will be, can we learn from this experience so that we’re better prepared as a society (or as a union) next time? What can we do better?
Even as we’re bombarded by change, we can take comfort in knowing that the fundamentals of our lives retain their same value. Our relationships with one another and the love we have for our friends, family and community are invulnerable. Our actual creativity — the core essence of why we became musicians — is still very real and cannot be destroyed by this pandemic. Our society is fragile right now, but our humanity will grow even stronger.
I want Local 802 members to know that the union is doing everything possible to help our members during this crisis. In this unprecedented time, there is one certainty: we have more strength when we act together. That is the true power of a union, and together we will get through these tough times.
As winter approaches, please reach out if you need help, or if you just need to talk. The best way to reach the union is by using the e-mail address Membership@Local802afm.org. We are here for you — and no matter what this crisis throws at us, this union, all of us will survive together.