Stand Together

Financial Vice President's Report

Volume 118, No. 9September, 2018

Tom Olcott

Tom Olcott is the financial vice president of Local 802, and the supervisor of the union’s concert department.

Contract negotiations and standing up for the arts are part of a larger struggle for our nation’s soul

What do we stand for, as musicians, union members and citizens of the world? That’s the big question I want to tackle, but before that, some business to attend to. As you know, the Local 802 Concert Department has a continuing responsibility to re-negotiate collective bargaining agreements as they expire. This September, we have many. While the following is not a complete list, here’s what’s on the table: St. Luke’s Orchestra; New York Pops; American Symphony; American Composers Orchestra; American Classical Orchestra; Riverside Symphony; Bronx Arts Ensemble; Queens Symphony; Opera Orchestra of New York; New Jersey Festival Orchestra…and the list goes on. As musicians’ summer schedules and management hiatuses of various sorts interact, the Concert Department has a pretty complex set of committee consultations and proposal formulations on our plate. I’d like to suggest a few ways to go forward under those time and logistics constraints. I don’t intend to be a scold, but these are things we all need to consider very seriously.

  1. If you are an elected committee member, please be attentive to your e-mail inbox. We all need to consult prior to management meetings and we need to state our availability as soon as possible. These meetings are crucial. Are they convenient? No. Please expand your availability to meet your stated responsibilities. It will aid us all when the scheduling parameters are clear to all. Thanks for that in advance.
  2. If you are an orchestra or ensemble member or a consistently performing substitute, you must report to your orchestra committee any perceived abuses regarding compensation, inequality of treatment, or any other sort of discrimination. If you think that reporting will fall on deaf ears or you’re not sure that your anonymity will be respected, please contact the Concert Department at (212) 245-4802. Also, if there is no identifiable committee or institutional representation, then please contact the Concert Department with your concerns. For age and gender discrimination issues and the protocols of such reporting, I strongly recommend that you take a look at Concert Department Representative Karen Fisher’s article on page 12. She eloquently describes the problem and points in several directions as to remediation. It is very worthwhile reading for musicians feeling that heat. The default position is that members who feel that they’ve suffered discrimination can always call us at the Concert Department. We will help direct your concerns to your most effective advocate.

Now, to the big picture. Without detailing the fine points of the immediate “headwinds” facing our community in terms of funding – whether from institutional, governmental, private or foundation sources – please note that the climate supporting our survival is less than robust, to say the least. As a counter to those anti-union and anti-worker prevailing winds, we all need to be better arts advocates. We must strive to act in a political environment that is hostile to workers, to art, and to creativity, and which is driven by a disarmingly proud ignorance of what really makes America great. We all must assert the power of our art and our work, whether at the bargaining table, at our local City Council, or at any gathering. We must proclaim the high social value of music and all art. Every time we do that, in whatever available forum, we will advance our cause. We need to remind the world that amazing artists deserve the right to fair compensation. We must highlight that as musicians and union members, we celebrate all backgrounds and the diverse places where we came from. If we uphold these visions, we will enhance our community’s influence over public policy. And we will potentially grow a politically effective membership.

I implore all members to take responsibility for the care and feeding of their own contracts, for persuading other professional music colleagues not working under a Local 802 contract to form one, and to proudly represent themselves to the larger community and assert that artists comprise a big part of the world that we all seek to preserve and enhance. Local 802 can serve as a beacon to all such endeavors across our communities. If all members commit to that imperative, we can combat the divisive forces in our lives by simply, but forcefully, asserting our strong support, advocacy and love of artistic expression. As the principal representative of musicians in New York, Local 802 can do no less and we ask our members to help us fight that fight. Our art, our artistic lives, our families, and our livelihoods all lie in the balance. Oh, and our nation too! Stay strong and keep fighting.