Speaking Out

Views from the Board

Volume CVI, No. 6June, 2006

Maura Giannini

While we all appreciate the commitment of members who serve on the Executive Board, I regret that Mary Whitaker’s short tenure was such a negative experience for her. However, my own experience in 13 years as a board member has been positive, until recently.

Over the years some issues have deeply divided the board. In the past, we have sought to reach consensus through discussion and reasoned consideration of each other’s opinions, working toward a solution that would benefit all the union’s members and the union itself while recognizing board members’ legitimate concerns for their constituencies. Regrettably, the president’s majority on the board has abandoned these principles.

The filing of charges against board members Bill Dennison and Jay Schaffner by President Lennon and seven other board members — including Mary Whitaker — contravenes both these principles and what Whitaker called her “fundamental philosophy.”

The issues raised in those charges were never brought to the board for discussion. The charges were filed as a result of “clandestine” meetings held solely among the members who signed the charges and without the formative and moderating discussion of the entire board.

The actions of this board majority in stripping Bill Dennison of his supervisory duties and permitting the president to take whatever disciplinary actions he felt appropriate to member Jay Schaffner prior to any hearing on the charges hardly honors the “principle of union solidarity” nor for that matter due process.

It is difficult to understand how the board majority and the administration could have been so out of touch with reality as to be surprised that members were outraged by these actions and the consequent disruption of services and that the charged officers would have sought to defend their reputations and livelihoods as career union employees.

The widespread, thoughtful and overwhelmingly negative reaction of members is what caused retraction of the charges.

A more inclusive and less self-serving leadership would have discouraged these divisive actions and brought the underlying issues to the board for discussion and resolution.

Abuse of the union credit card is a matter of importance to both members and the union. There would never have been a good time for the president’s conduct to come to light. Whenever disclosed, it would have cost the members significant sums to rectify and embarrassed the union both before the labor community and employers. The recommendations of the Cary report, which called for no expenses to be reimbursed without appropriate documentation, should be strictly adhered to.

Yet, after accepting the recommendations of the Cary report, the next week the board majority approved expenses for the President in excess of $4,000 without prior approval or documentation. The union is now working to establish a financial policy and guidelines for its implementation that will be devoid of politics and the potential for corruption.

The union is not a “house on fire,” but there are serious problems. We are currently without several key staff members, including:

  • An assistant to the president, who would head the Theatre Department, coordinate the implementation of a consistent policy and facilitate interdepartmental coordination;
  • An in-house director of public relations to develop and implement our public relations goals;
  • A Broadway theatre rep to concentrate on servicing the contract and members’ needs;
  • A director of organizing to plan and implement the organizing goals of the union and facilitate related activities.

These are important positions necessary to our goals. Until recently, they had been held by experienced personnel.

The goal of concerned musicians within the local is not to “win,” but to improve our union, better serve its members and increase our credibility in the larger labor community within which we function.

Comparing the disaster of the recent Radio City negotiations with the 2003 Broadway strike and settlement is a good example of how our internal difficulties and our lack of cooperation with the labor community can adversely affect the outcome of our contracts. More than two years before the 2003 Broadway negotiations, knowing that the employers would be extremely aggressive, we mounted a public relations campaign shaping our message around a clearly defensible issue. We sought and received support from our brother unions and used that support to its greatest advantage.

While both the process and the result were difficult and disappointing, nonetheless — with the support of the public, the labor community, the dedicated union staff and our members — we extracted a contract under which members continue to work with job security, pension and health benefits intact and no loss in earnings.

Clearly concerned musicians must wonder if the current leadership will fare as well in the 2007 Broadway negotiations.

Maura Giannini is an elected member of Local 802’s Executive Board.