Solidarity remains strong as we press forward

President's report

Volume 123, No. 9October, 2023

Sara Cutler

Our Sept. 19 rally for a fair contract for the NYC Ballet orchestra brought out over 100 supporters, including members of many other NYC unions.

As I write this report, negotiations with the New York City Ballet for a successor orchestra agreement have broken down. The ballet has had a banner year: attendance has surpassed 2019 levels and fundraising for the last year has exceeded all benchmarks. Yet the orchestra’s compensation remains at more than 9 percent below 2019 levels (after taking a 15 percent cut in 2020 and receiving only COLA raises since then). Their spending power is 23 percent below 2019 levels. In addition, the orchestra participates in the company’s health plan and that health plan experienced a 38 percent premium hike on June 1 of this year. Now the employer is looking to offload a considerable amount of that new expense onto the orchestra. The union has received only two serious (and I use that term loosely) compensation offers, with the second being slightly lower than the first (!). Neither one was worth considering and while both do restore the cuts to pre-pandemic levels, neither offers real wage increases that come close to making up for the level of inflation and cost of living increases we have seen since 2019. And, in a summer where orchestras have settled for 10 percent and even 14 percent raises in the first year of new contracts, what the ballet has offered is frankly insulting. Therefore, the union is planning a massive “Rally at the Gala” at the New York City Ballet’s fall fashion gala on Oct. 5 outside Lincoln Center at 5pm. Please RSVP here and keep watching for other rallies at Lincoln Center over the next several weeks. PLEASE do come out and support this orchestra and the work we are doing to achieve a fair contract. We’ll post all rallies on the Local 802 website here, and please check out this video recap of our Sept. 19 rally, featuring many words of support from other unions and Lincoln Center orchestras.

Meanwhile, back in the office, we are rebuilding our staff, first with the hiring of our new concert rep, Judy Sugarman. Many of you may already know her as she was a free-lance bassist in town for many years. If you have questions regarding any contracts administered by the concert department, contact Judy at .

In August, I attended the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians in Milwaukee as the 802 representative. While this annual conference focusses on symphonic issues, there were many informative presentations whose topics can be said to be generally relevant to much of the industry. We heard a panel discussion on the tenure process and another on DEI issues in auditions. At the local presidents’ meeting, there was a vigorous discussion of nonunion tours originating in New York and performing in many local jurisdictions around the country. Hiring/firing, DEI and dark dates are all thorny issues facing the union and its members across the board.

We’ve all heard our union leadership drone on and on for decades about the dangers of dark dates. It’s been easy to ignore, particularly as the union really doesn’t want to interfere with any member’s ability to earn a living, so we have often turned a blind eye to them. But then along comes a situation like “Here Lies Love.” A bunch of fine players were offered a chance to record a whole CD of new music by David Byrne, a musical hero to many of them. It was recorded nonunion and few, if any, gave it a second thought. Fast forward ten years. That nonunion recording was poised to be used as the soundtrack for a Broadway show that would have used no live musicians and have no live music. So, a seemingly harmless and artistically rewarding dark date threatened to replace actual musicians on Broadway. Even though 802 was successful in heading that off, the recording is still being used to “enhance” the live music in the show and no one on that recording will see a dime from its use here. This dark date jeopardized the business and ripped off a whole band out of a whole lot of money. It’s a concrete example of what can happen when we refuse to acknowledge how risky dark dates can be.

Diversity concerns have been front and center this month with the kickoff of the DECIBAL Collective at Local 802. (See article in this issue here.) A very well-attended event in the Club Room sponsored by DECIBAL along with the Broadway Musicians Equity Partnership  on Sept. 13 generated lots of excitement as people shared their thoughts about inclusiveness in education and opportunities on and off Broadway. There will be many more of these events in the coming months as 802 continues to support grassroots groups within our jurisdiction. Watch your inbox for announcements and invites. People interested in joining the collective should email Martha Hyde ( or Jessica Phillips (

Building plans proceed apace. We are studying the results of the survey we asked members to fill out in the September issue of Allegro. It’s interesting reading! Many answers were supportive of our plans, including instrument lockers (they are planned for the back of the first floor and include oversized bass lockers), member lounges (planned for on both the first and sixth floor) and rehearsal/recording spaces (planned for the sixth floor). There was a request that we provide visuals of our plans at the Oct. 18 membership meeting and we will try to do that.

The results of our initial asbestos survey have come in and the results are both good and bad. The good news is that, on the work-floors of the building, there is less asbestos present than we expected. The bad news is that the roof contains much more asbestos than expected and will therefore cost more to remediate. In the end, we hope it will be a wash and equal to the expected costs. Other good news: the cost estimate to replace the elevator came in at only half of what we expected. Our fingers are crossed that this trend (of less than expected or as expected) will continue. In the meantime, our systems are limping through the seasons, requiring constant emergency repairs, and we are all waiting anxiously for construction to begin after the new year.

Finally, 802 lost a good friend and colleague in September. Tom Olcott, our former financial vice president, passed away on Sept. 10. Many of us in the current administration knew and worked closely with Tom. We relied on and enjoyed his lively intelligence, dry sense of humor and passion for the union. Rest in peace, Tom. See our tribute to him in this issue.