In my December 2020 column last month, I gave my usual comprehensive end-of-year report, so my topic this month will be looking forward to the new year. All of us are ready to put 2020 behind us. Our members and our union — along with the rest of the world — have lived through an unimaginable crisis. Although it’s now possible to glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel, our recovery will be long. For the moment, some of our members have asked the question, “Why should I keep paying union dues during the pandemic?”
First of all, please know that if you are having trouble paying union dues for 2020, we have waived late penalties through December 31. As you know Local 802 is mandated to collect dues by AFM bylaws and send per-capita membership dues to the AFM. In order to help members who need some dues relief, we’re attempting to negotiate with the AFM over collection of dues. (Click here to download a PDF of our open letter to the AFM.) The reality is the AFM is the final decision maker here, and we will proceed based on their decision.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this year of pandemic, it’s that we can’t go through it alone. At Local 802, we’ve always thought of ourselves not just as a labor union, but as a community. As we continue to fight for our very survival — and as we plan for an eventual recovery — we know that allies, friends and family have made the difference between hope and despair. This includes your union. Frankly, we need the support of our members to help us through this crisis together.
As 2021 approaches, here are some of the latest actions and campaigns that Local 802 has been working on for our members:
- We’re making sure that our employers know they can’t take advantage of the pandemic to do whatever they want. We’re negotiating interim agreements that keep our collective bargaining contracts intact while making no permanent long-term changes.
- We negotiated a landmark deal with the nonprofit Off Broadway theatres. More on this to come.
- We are working with our political allies to demand a voice at the table so musicians can be part of the conversation for a safe re-opening of NYC.
- We’re providing solid support to the stagehands of IATSE Local 1, who have been locked out by the Metropolitan Opera.
- We’re proposing an innovative collaboration with the NYC teachers’ union (the UFT) to help employ our members who are trained as teachers artists. More on this to come.
- We’re administering and enforcing all of our contracts, including a recent settlement with the New York City Opera. For more updates from our classical contracts, see Karen Fisher’s report here, including this update about the Shortfall Fund.
- We continue to process paychecks for musicians. (Much of the union work that’s taking place now are recordings and the late-night TV bands)
- We’re working with elected leaders on legislative relief to support our music community — including enhanced unemployment — and we’re also hammering home the idea that we need comprehensive area standards for all musicians in NYC. We’re also trying to find funding for grants from the city and state for venues like hotels and others to hire musicians as the city re-opens.
- We’ve been working with allies, including the Music Workers Alliance, Still New York, Musicians for Unity and Social Equity, Maestra, and the Musicians Advocacy Group for Inclusion and Change. Some of these collaborations culminated in a highly successful Zoom panel on diversity, equity and inclusion with AFM Local 47 (Los Angeles) as well as a digital town hall with the Music Workers Alliance. The crucial thing about this work is that, for the first time, we are engaging honestly and openly with musicians who we haven’t represented in the past, including composers, music assistants, DJs, music engineers and others who haven’t been part of the usual union mix. We fully acknowledge that Local 802 hasn’t always done the best job in reaching out to “non-union musicians.” Even that phrase can be divisive. “Non-union musicians” are simply musicians, like all of us. My goal in 2021 is to break down even more of these barriers and to make the case that musicians are strongest when we act together, especially when we channel their power through our union.
- On a related note, the Music Workers Alliance recently polled musicians to find out how they are surviving the pandemic. Read their results here.
- We’re working with the Maestra organization to create our very first demographic survey that will ask our members fundamental questions about ethnic and gender identification as well as questions about where exactly our members work.
- We’re actively fundraising for our musicians, including our #SaveNYCmusicians campaign, which has raised almost $100,000 to date. (Please contribute to the campaign’s cookbook project here.) We want to give a special shout-out to Emanuel and Yoko Ax for sponsoring $20,000 in matching donations and Joe Reardon and Anita Miller, who are matching donations up to $10,000. Please donate now!)
- We’re making sure that our members have access to our Emergency Relief Fund.
- We’ve worked with industrial hygienists and other experts in the field to create health and safety protocols to protect musicians as we return to work.
- We’ve promoted a program that helps pay for live streaming concerts.
- Our magazine Allegro was recently voted #1 in the country in our class.
- Our staff is working around the clock to serve you.
Finally, thanks to all of our members who helped pressure Congress to produce the most recent Covid aid package. The final numbers are woefully inadequate, but the only reason we won anything at all is because of the calls that all of us made. Our next goal is making sure that the U.S. Senate can flip to the Democrats. Please support the NYC Central Labor Council in its phone banking efforts.
I want to offer a hopeful wish to all of us that 2021 will begin our return to live performances and a recovery of our work as musicians. This is beginning to feel like it could be reality, although it will undoubtedly be a slow return. I can’t thank our members enough, especially the countless hours you volunteered on committees, fundraising and in meetings of all kinds. We truly appreciate all the time you put in — and we are especially appreciative to those who were able to keep their membership active in the union. The one thing I will never forget about 2020 is the support and strength of 802 members as well as the strength of all musicians and artists everywhere. We are survivors. I wish you all a safe and healthy 2021 as we proceed on the road to recovery.
As always, we love to hear from you with your questions or concerns. The best way to reach us right now is by e-mail at Membership@Local802afm.org.