Rally Demands a Voice for Teachers At Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center

Volume CII, No. 7/8July, 2002

Summer Smith

Faculty of the Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center and Local 802 staged a gala rally on May 29 to protest the anti-union campaign management is waging to prevent its teaching artists from gaining union representation. The rally took place across from the Pierre Hotel, where the EKCC was holding its annual gala fundraiser. Protesters attired in concert black sipped sparkling juice from champagne flutes while a trio of EKCC faculty performed, and supporters wore ribbons with the message “A Voice for Teachers.”

In March the EKCC’s executive director refused to recognize union cards the teachers had signed, seeking representation by Local 802 (see June Allegro). The union filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board, a series of hearings took place, and both sides submitted briefs to the Board. Throughout this process faculty have been subjected to anti-union letters from management and meetings with supervisors, in an effort to dissuade them from organizing.

Among more than 200 supporters at the rally were members and representatives of HERE Local 6, UAW Local 2110, AFTRA New York, Writers Guild of America East, Actors Equity, NABET-CWA Local 16, TWU Local 100, the New York City Central Labor Council and the AFL-CIO. NYS Senator Eric Schneiderman and Assembly member Scott Stringer addressed the demonstrators, and City Council member Gale Brewer also attended the rally.

Perhaps the strongest message of the evening was spoken by EKCC flute teacher Valerie Holmes. “As educators, we devote ourselves to preparing these young people for a successful future,” Holmes said. “Through music, we give them a voice to express themselves. We teach them perseverance and discipline, skills that will benefit them their whole lives, whatever they may choose to do.

“As we prepare them for the future, we need to be looking toward our own future as well, even to the day when we will retire,” Holmes said. “For us, that means securing a decent wage, and securities like health insurance and pension.”

The rally ended with a powerful rendition of “Solidarity Forever” led by EKCC voice teacher Catherine Aks and her daughter, Miriam Kushel.

City Council Speaker Gifford Miller sent a letter to the EKCC’s executive director after the rally, urging the Center “to recognize the teachers’ decision to unionize and to begin bargaining with these teachers in good faith.”

Local 802’s petition at the Labor Board seeks the right to represent all regular faculty at the EKCC. Management proposed changes that would exclude nearly half the faculty from voting in a union election. The Board’s ruling on who will be eligible to vote is expected soon. 802 proposed that both sides agree beforehand not to appeal the Board’s ruling, but management has refused.

For the history of the campaign, click here, or contact the Organizing Department for more information.