Radio City Redux
Volume CVIII, No. 7/8July, 2008
I write this column in the aftermath of our June 11 membership meeting, at which charges were read against an officer. It is clear, at least in my opinion, that we are still dealing with the fallout of the Radio City negotiations of 2005 and it now appears that the conflict within the membership over those events remains far from resolved.
It is incredible to me that anyone in this union would believe that I would fail to defend a member regardless of his or her political affiliation within the union or that we would fail to act if an audition were tainted. However, some seem to believe just that.
In order to answer these serious allegations — and to clarify things for some members who have expressed dismay that they didn’t have any background on the situation at the membership meeting — I offer the following information. I hope it will convince most fair-minded people that this administration has done its best to represent and defend everyone at Radio City since it has taken office.
First, it is necessary to go back to the RCMH negotiations of 2005.
As many members know, those negotiations ended in a strike. Ultimately, the union was forced to make painful concessions in order to get back to work, including losing long-standing job security provisions for musicians in the pool, beginning in 2007.
Almost immediately upon receiving the written contract, it became apparent that the provisions about loss of tenure could be interpreted to mean that the entire tenured orchestra could lose their jobs immediately in 2007 rather than gradually over the term of the contract and beyond.
This was a much worse outcome than was understood by the bargaining unit at the time the 2005 contract was ratified — so serious, in fact, that Bill Dennison and I met with the RCMH orchestra almost immediately after the 2006 Local 802 election to communicate that we would defend the members of the orchestra against that eventuality to the best of our ability.
During the summer of 2007, discussions about a television broadcast of the new RCMH Spectacular gave the administration an opportunity to make clear to RCMH that we would aggressively resist any attempt to eliminate the entire pool in 2007.
Working with our new attorney Danny Engelstein and committee members Tom Olcott and Andy Rodgers, we were ultimately able to get the contract reworded.
The new job security provisions allowed 25 percent of pool members to be released in each year, giving musicians at RCMH the conditions they thought they ratified in 2005.
Still, some people lost their jobs in 2007. John Babich was one.
After the hire list was posted in August 2007, it was my task to inform those who had been left off the hire list that they would not be offered a position and that they had a choice between taking an audition to re-gain a job, or immediately taking the severance package outlined in the contract.
A number of those eliminated asked about the issue of discrimination, whether on the basis of age or union activity. I explained to each that, given that there was no pattern in the hiring and firing (i.e. other older musicians and committee members were on the hire list), we would need clear evidence of such discrimination — and even then, a charge was extremely unlikely to be upheld.
That did not mean, however, that nothing was done to try to regain employment for anyone.
Because there were people on the hire list who wanted to leave, the administration attempted to gain the agreement of management to substitute at least one or two musicians who had been left off the hire list, including John Babich, for an equal number of musicians who were on the hire list but who wanted to retire. Management refused.
Following that attempt, the administration, based upon its investigation, advised John that there was no likelihood that he could regain his job by filing an unfair labor practice charge against Radio City at the NLRB. He was told by Local 802 attorney Harvey Mars that such an action would possibly risk his severance.
In investigating, the current committee members were able to offer no evidence that would support a charge of anti-union animus against RCMH in regard to his dismissal.
Babich disagreed and charged Local 802 at the NLRB with abdicating its duty of fair representation, as well as charging RCMH with anti-union animus.
Those charges, as well as the amended charges that were filed after the auditions, were dismissed and an appeal was denied.
Local 802 is now trying to obtain the same contractual severance package for John as it did for the other musicians who were terminated last summer. At this point it is not known how hard that will be or if we will prevail, but we are making the effort and will continue to do so.
Now let’s address the auditions held in 2007.
One provision of both the original and the reworded RCMH contract was that members who were removed from the pool could audition to regain their positions through “open performance interviews.” John Babich participated in such an “audition.”
It is significant to deciding whether the union should or could have filed a grievance about the conduct of the auditions that neither in 2005, when the provisions to permit Radio City to remove people from the pool and require them to re-audition to get their jobs back, nor in 2007, when the new administration was able to get the contract reworded to better protect those remaining in the pool, were any proposals made by the committee or the union about the conditions of the open performance interviews.
This left management free to hold the auditions in any manner it wished.
Nonetheless, at the suggestion of the committee in 2007, I was able to get the agreement of management to maximize the anonymity of the auditions by holding them in a carpeted room and putting up a screen.
The union also sent reps to each audition to sit with management and observe.
There was no evidence that the identities of musicians were revealed by anyone, including the sound person, during the performance interviews or at any other time prior to a decision being made as to which person to hire.
The union reps observed no improper communication with the adjudicators, and reported no improprieties.
Given the fact that we had no rights to dictate anything about the conditions of the “open performance interviews,” I believed then, and I continue to believe now, that we did everything possible to assure that everyone auditioning at RCMH had a fair hearing and a chance to obtain a job. Local 802 could not have done more.
It might be satisfying to some for Local 802 to have filed charges against RCMH, even with the knowledge that they would be thrown out, but one needs to consider the following: management now has the right to eliminate a certain number of people from the pool each year and reduce the size of the orchestra.
Thus far, it has not exercised that right to its fullest extent.
Should we motivate the management to eliminate the maximum number of people this year by filing a charge that we know has no possibility of being sustained?
If evidence was there in regard to John or others, Local 802 would take the risk, but without sufficient evidence, filing a charge would be irresponsible.
Should we have “cried foul” over the auditions in 2007, even though our reps said there was no evidence of foul play?
To do so would probably have crippled our ability to obtain screened auditions and union observers in coming years.
In all situations, the union must assess the risks versus the rewards in deciding how to proceed. Nowhere is that more important than at Radio City, where the remaining musicians are so vulnerable.
One final point. We are at a critical point in the history of Local 802. We are under assault from the effects of technology, the anti-union bias of labor law and the changing musical tastes of the public. We cannot fight the forces that would defeat us from the outside if we continue to fight among ourselves.
If we are not willing to put aside our differences and stop the effort to put a negative spin on every decision and every action of the union, we will destroy Local 802 more effectively than any employer has been able to do.
I hope that the membership will decide instead to unite and fight our external enemies together.
MIXED BAG FOR BROADWAY
Broadway’s shows played for longer in the 2007-2008 season than last year, according to the Web site of the League. Broadway had 1,560 “playing weeks” in 2007-2008, compared to 1,509 in 2006-2007. The League defines “playing weeks” as the total of how many weeks each show performs in a given year. According to the League’s Web site, playing weeks are the best measure of Broadway’s productivity.
In other numbers, there were 36 new shows in 2007-2008, compared with 35 last year. But gross was down by about $1 million for the season, and sales were down by about 40,000 tickets, almost entirely due to the stagehands’ strike.
In September 2007, President Landolfi created the Limited Pressing Committee to assess the policy which Local 802 had formerly followed in allowing Off Broadway and LORT shows to be recorded under the terms of the Limited Pressing Agreement instead of the Sound Recording Labor Agreement. Because of concerns among the membership that this practice would undermine the recording of Broadway shows at full SRLA rates, President Landolfi charged the committee with studying the problem and bringing forth recommendations to the Executive Board. The committee has issued a full report and the Executive Board has voted to accept it. The report is printed in its entirety in this issue.