If you are a single engagement musician, please do your part and help us organize! See below (“Why a Separate Scale?”) for more information.
Can organizing and religion mix? In Brooklyn, they often do. As principal business rep in Long Island, I help organize musicians who play in Orthodox Jewish weddings.
Most musicians who play single engagements in New York know that there is a thriving Jewish wedding scene in New York — especially in Brooklyn. And at these kinds of weddings, the bride, groom and guests want a specific type of music — not typical club date music.
Therefore, the Jewish single engagement scene is a distinct part of the club date industry. It’s actually so different that Local 802 has a separate agreement covering Jewish single engagements. (See sidebar.)
In the 1990’s the Jewish single engagement field was dominated by two large employers — Neshoma and Neginah, along with a few smaller offices. Neshoma and Neginah provided about 95 percent of the work in the field. Since then, a number of changes have taken place that have reduced the amount of work for musicians.
The most devastating change was the advent of the one-man band, which resulted from a religious edict.
There have been a number of edicts or decrees (in Hebrew, “takanas”) that various Orthodox rabbis — mainly in Williamsburg and other neighborhoods in Brooklyn — have issued since 1992, which limit the number of musicians who can perform at a wedding.
Why did these rabbis do this?
Some rabbis felt that weddings were getting so lavish that they were bankrupting families.
So these rabbis issued decrees that said wedding bands should contain no more than five musicians. A one-person band is considered ideal. This made it cheaper for families to pay for weddings. It also limited peer pressure in the community of having to throw bigger and more expensive weddings, with bigger and bigger bands.
These decrees are formal and have been published in Orthodox newspapers in Brooklyn. Various rabbis have signed onto them and refuse to officiate weddings where these edicts are broken. Some musicians are upset about the edicts, claiming that they have cost them work and that they have been applied unevenly.
The years after these edicts were difficult ones for musicians. Work started to diminish, but the two large employers held on and continued to provide work.
RISE OF THE SMALL BANDS
Over the past few years a number of smaller, nonunion Jewish single engagement offices entered the field, providing a limited amount of work, without benefits, and competing with responsible employers.
A few years ago, Ari Green, owner of BaRock Orchestras, approached Local 802 to become a signatory to the single engagement agreement.
Ari explained that he wanted to provide his clients with the best musicians available and that in the past musicians would turn down jobs because they needed to work for employers who provided union health and pension benefits.
So, to get the best musicians, he realized that he would have to provide benefits. Ari told me that it was a relatively affordable way to ensure that his musicians would have health and pension coverage.
He also thought it was the ethical thing to do. So he became a signatory.
Local 802 has continued to organize in this field and most recently added Nafshenu to the growing list of signatories.
A NEW CONTENDER
Then, in December we received several calls from musicians working for the Shloime Dachs Orchestra. They told us he was an up-and-comer who was booking a fair amount of work. Several prominent musicians in the field were contacted to find out more about Shloime Dachs. It turned out all were offered work by Dachs and supported our efforts to have Dachs become a signatory. Musicians spoke with him about their need to have health and pension benefits, and I called Dachs myself.
Fellow Long Island rep Frank DeFilippi and I visited one of Dachs’s engagements in Brooklyn. The musicians were happy to see the Local 802 reps and a conversation with Dachs ensued. Frank and I explained that musicians working in the Jewish single engagement field needed and expected health and pension benefits. By the end of the discussion, Dachs agreed that his musicians deserved union health and pension benefits — and because of the musicians’ strong support, he agreed to sign a recognition agreement on the spot.
One meeting has already taken place to work out an agreement and another has been set as Allegro goes to press. We are optimistic an agreement will be reached soon.
Over the past few months musicians have told us that there are an increasing number of smaller offices doing 10-20 jobs a year each — totaling about 300 jobs a year. Musicians have also told us — and we agree — that this represents a threat to union wage and benefit standards in the field.
With the help of the dedicated musicians performing this work we will continue to try to provide a level playing field for all employers by organizing every nonunion employer and making pension and health benefits a reality for all musicians.
WHY A SEPARATE SCALE?
It may seem strange that Local 802 has a separate contract that basically just covers Jewish weddings. But there are reasons.
Many observant Jews — even many secular Jews — don’t get married from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown (the Sabbath). Therefore, Sunday is the big wedding day in this field.
As a contrast, in our standard club date contract, Saturday night scale is the premium payday. But in the Jewish contract, it’s Sunday.
Since many musicians work in both fields, the union tries to maintain a close relationship between the “secular” club date contact and the Jewish single engagement contract.
The Jewish single engagement contract expires on July 31. Local 802’s Long Island office is getting ready to negotiate the new agreement. Call the Long Island office for more information or to give input.
And if you work for a club date agency — Jewish or otherwise — that isn’t paying pension or health benefits, make a confidential call to the Long Island office or the Organizing Department. Help make your job pay the benefits you deserve.
Finally, the union would like to organize other ethnic fields, each of which has its own culture and customs. For instance, the Latin and Greek music fields remain largely unorganized. If you play in one of these fields, call the Organizing Department or Long Island office and ask about how to help win benefits in your band.
Local 802’s Long Island office can be reached at (516) 576-9436. Peter Voccola is the principal business rep, and he is joined by Long Island rep Frank DeFilippi.