Read the Fine Print

(and know your rights!)

Volume CVII, No. 4April, 2007

Karen Fisher

Not long ago, “Frontline” ran a program about the problem of credit card debt in this country and how many Americans have become swamped in debt over a very short period of time. One of the many issues the program addressed was the fact that almost no one reads or understands the legal agreements sent out by credit card companies. Who has the time or expertise to decipher all that fine print? We all have more immediate and interesting things to do.

With any luck, you won’t end up drowning in debt just because that orchestra concert you played two months ago still hasn’t sent your check. If you were counting on that check to pay your rent however, the impact on your life is going to be very real indeed.

As professional musicians, we not only have the universal concerns of family, health and income. We also have the added problems of erratic work schedules, students, practicing, instrument problems and a host of other issues.

Often, the dirty details of money and working conditions are left to orchestra committees and management to handle.

We may feel that we are not business savvy or have the time to deal with issues that we think will not immediately have an impact on us.

If we are subbing and not on the primary hiring list, we may feel especially helpless when problems arise.

We also (hopefully!) love to play and may believe that we have to put up with terrible conditions so we will get called the next time.

It is usually when something bad happens — a paycheck doesn’t show, health and pension benefits were not credited, or disagreements occur — that we refer to the union contract, which is technically called a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

How often have you asked: “Is there a fairer way to handle this?” ” Do I get doubling?” “Cartage?” “Isn’t it time for our break now?”

Often, the answer lies right in your CBA. Other times the answer is not so clear-cut.

Either way, it is important to know that you have access to this document, and it is there to protect you, the musician.

Take the time to read the contracts in the groups with which you perform before problems come up. You can protect yourself and your job much more efficiently when you are aware of what is acceptable and what is not. Knowing your rights when it comes to legal issues — whether that happens to be your credit card, your apartment lease or your rights on the job — can in many cases prevent nasty things from happening. It is much more effective to be educated and proactive rather than to find yourself in the middle of an argument or, worse, a prolonged battle for your job.

Most CBA’s are based on a basic model with small changes to accommodate each group’s unique needs. They all are written in plain English and provide salary, health, pension and work condition guarantees.

All CBA’s are on file at the Local 802 office and many can be found on the Local 802 Web site. Knowing your rights is half the battle in securing those rights and letting you get back to the business of making music.

And, of course, if you have a question or if you think you have a grievance, call Local 802 at (212) 245-4802 and ask to speak to the department closest related to your gig: classical, Broadway, club dates, recording, jazz, teaching, music prep or MPF.

Karen Fisher is the new concert rep; she can be reached at (212) 245-4802, ext. 174 or She’ll be introduced in Allegro at a later date.