Looking back, looking forward

President's report

Volume 124, No. 1January, 2024

Sara Cutler

Happy New Year everyone!

It seems the appropriate moment to look back at the year that just concluded, and forward to the upcoming one. So, here goes…

Let’s start with two of our biggest accomplishments in 2023: our new contract with New York City Ballet, and our first-time agreement for the musicians of DCINY.

On Broadway, in 2023 we fielded two requests from Broadway producers for Special Situations. (For our newer members, let me just explain that a “Special Situation” refers to a provision in our Broadway contract where producers can attempt to hire fewer than the minimum number of musicians required. This triggers a formal process and review.) We prevailed in the first with a negotiated settlement that the won employment for live musicians in “Here Lies Love,” the David Byrne show about Imelda Marcos, the ex-first lady of the Philippines. The second is in process. As of this writing, our panel of experts has met with the producers of “Water for Elephants” to hear their creatives talk about why their show qualifies for a Special Situation. Step two is another meeting at which we explain why we feel a Special Situation is unwarranted. (This process gives new meaning to the words “special” and “situation.”) We expect to conclude the process – successfully, we hope — by the time the show comes into the Imperial Theatre in February.

Of course, the other bad news on Broadway this year was the large uptick in accidents and assaults in and around theatres. (See Bud Burridge’s story in the December issue of Allegro, which has garnered lots of attention, and this story in the New York Post.) This is a huge concern for chairholders and subs alike. 802 has been talking to all producers and is reviving our Health and Safety Committee to monitor the situation and make recommendations. We have succeeded in getting nets over pits where props have been flying out of control, but these kinds of nets may not be a universal solution. As always, there are two sides to this question. Do we want to further decrease the visibility of our members working on Broadway in order to pre-emptively protect them against hazards that may or may not materialize? This is an ongoing discussion within 802, on the Theatre Committee and in the pits.

All 802 departments have successfully renegotiated dozens of contracts in all fields. We have a new club date contract, a new promulgated single engagement scale, a new contract with jazz instructors at the New School, successor agreements in concert, jazz, Off Broadway, touring contracts for theatre musicians joining out of town productions, as well as several new successor agreements with hotels around the city whose previous agreements with 802 had lapsed or expired. In addition, we won a recognition agreement with the ABT pianists and we are currently negotiating first-time agreements for title callers at the Met and with the entire venue at the new Perelman Arts Center.

Several forward-looking initiatives have begun, not least of which is the building renovation, but also education modules for schools and conservatories that will educate students about the union, a campaign to include hip-hop artists in membership, projects to increase diversity in both members and the entire business, and a deep dive into our current promulgated agreements with a goal of creating new, more flexible contracts that can adapt to changing conditions and demographics in our industry. This category includes a brand-new fundraising agreement that makes it much more affordable for organizations to pay musicians to play fundraising events.

And, of course, there was an abrupt change in leadership at 802 this year. I predicted in my first president’s report that it would be a wild ride…and it has been! (I also suspect that it will continue to be.) I have relied heavily on an amazing staff to keep me grounded and upright. Without them, I can’t imagine much getting accomplished at 802.

On a 2023 side note, President Gagliardi’s departure left a vacancy on the Musicians Health Fund Board of Trustees. I have appointed Financial Vice President Karen Fisher to the vacant seat. The union trustees are now Martha Hyde, Morris Kainuma, Harvey Mars, Karen Fisher and me (as co-chair). If you have MHF questions, you may e-mail any one of us for help, or reach out to Gloria McCormick’s department at

So, that brings us to 2024.

Where is the union headed? What should be its priorities?

Obviously, everything we did in 2023 will have to be done again. The cycle of negotiating and renegotiating never ends. First up will likely be the Broadway League contract. 802 plans to use this negotiation to start bolstering our Organizing Department — a huge priority for the union. I have placed the Organizing Department under the supervision of the President’s Office, and we have engaged the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations to create a plan for internal organizing around the contract negotiation and to provide training for both our Theatre Committee and Broadway Negotiating Committee. Many committee members and chairholders are new to their jobs and new to the scene. They will need to learn quickly what they can expect of their union and what the union will expect of them. An educated membership is a strong membership and we aim to create a very strong membership over the next few years.

Streaming rights are on everyone’s minds right now. The national film and TV negotiations between the AFM and AMPTP begins in Los Angeles this month, and 802 will have a presence there. We hope the talks will be productive and achieve real gains for streaming compensation.

But we also need to look beyond streaming to the next big tool or big danger, depending on your point of view. A.I. is already here in the background, playing a big role in how music is created. How will we harness it and make it work for us? Inevitably, as technology improves, its role will increase, and it will find its way into all artistic content and how that content is performed. Like earlier technologies (such as the radio and the record player), we cannot just say “no” and ban it from entering our world. It will come anyway. We must embrace it enough so that we are the ones in control. This is going to take some study and creative thinking and the union should be at the forefront of this process. We will continue talking to people in this new world. Membership input and ideas on how we approach this issue will always be welcome.

Creating a green building that projects an image of a forward-looking and powerful union can, and must, be leveraged to increase our political and fraternal influence. When it’s finished, the union must embark on a P.R. campaign that will make it hard for elected officials to ignore us. We will establish ourselves as a force to be reckoned with among all the entertainment unions and in the wider labor movement across the state and country.

Finally, I’m happy to report that Local 802 won first place in the entire country for “Best Use of Social Media” by a local, regional or state union in the annual Labor Media Awards of the International Labor Communications Association.  The contest is always for work done in the previous calendar year, and we won for a fun meme post we put together. As you know, we’ve been attempting to modernize our social media since the pandemic, including starting a Local 802 TikTok account and Threads. We post almost every Allegro article on social media and it’s become an important platform for reaching our members. It’s nice for Local 802 to be recognized at the national level for something innovative. We are moving forward. Social media is a key part of our communications and it’s something we do on a daily basis. Congrats to us all!

In summary, it will be a busy year. We’ll need to keep our eyes on all the prizes. And we’ll need your help to do it. The union only exists to serve the members. We can only do that effectively with member involvement. Otherwise, we become an ivory tower, out of touch with those we serve. This would be a waste of the greatest professional resource any musician has. Come join us and be part of your own future. Here’s to a healthy, successful, and engaged year for all of us.