Starlight Orchestras Signs With 802, Agrees to Provide Pension, Health Benefits

Local 802 Shifts Focus to Other Club Date Employers

Volume XCIX, No. 10November, 1999

Joe Eisman

Sept. 17 marked a significant step forward for the club date field, as Starlight Orchestras signed the Single Engagement Club Date Employers collective bargaining agreement with Local 802. This ended a four-month campaign to convince Starlight to live up to the professional standards the union has established in the New York single engagement club date field, which includes weddings, bar and bas mitzvahs, corporate and charity galas, and other private functions.

With Starlight joining other leading offices in New York that contribute toward musicians’ health and pension benefits, Local 802 is turning its attention to other club date offices that undercut area standards. A letter was sent to hundreds of single engagement musicians on Sept. 30, seeking their input on employers who should be pressed to begin paying pension and health benefits.

In addition to paying standard club date benefits (6.5 percent pension and $21 per-service health contributions), Starlight management has agreed to preserve musicians’ overscale. Many Starlight musicians are paid significant overscale, and had been concerned that their pay might be reduced if the company started paying benefits. Both Local 802 and the American Federation of Musicians agreed to waive all initiation fees for non-members who join the union by Oct. 22.

The company reached an amicable agreement with the union after concluding that contributing to musicians’ benefits was simply the right thing to do. Local 802 President Bill Moriarity told Allegro, “I’ve heard that Starlight is a great office to work for – and now that their musicians will be receiving benefit contributions, the work will be even more fulfilling. Starlight deserves a lot of credit for doing the right thing and agreeing to sign.”

An important component of the campaign was the hundreds of conversations that took place between 802 reps and musicians who play for club date offices, discussing the importance of receiving benefits on the job and listening to the musicians’ concerns. Local 802 has been systematically bringing single engagement musicians closer to their union – a process which will increase its strength throughout the club date field.

One musician who supported the Starlight campaign was the legendary jazz conga, bongo and tres player, Candido Camero, who now plays union club dates for Steven Scott Enterprises, and receives pension and health contributions. He told Allegro, “I’m so happy that Starlight musicians can receive benefits now. I worked all over the world in my younger years, but much of it did not pay into my pension plan. I only started receiving significant pension contributions 18 years ago, when I began doing union club dates.

“Now my pension has grown substantially,” Candido said, “but it would have been even larger had I received more pension contributions earlier. I hope that younger musicians working for club date bands can take advantage of the incredible pension plan musicians have through our union.”

Local 802 also started educating the public, especially people who do business with Starlight and other club date offices, about the difficulties musicians have affording health benefits and establishing a true pension. These hardships are exacerbated by the fact that most musicians work freelance jobs, which individually are usually not a significant enough source of employment to provide benefits. Musicians depend on their union to enable them to piece together health and pension contributions from many employers so they can end up with decent coverage.

Many clients were sympathetic to the musicians’ plight. Several major hotels expressed a growing discomfort at hosting weddings and other festivities with orchestras that do not pay benefits. Local 6 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) voiced strong feelings of solidarity with Local 802 to the managements of major unionized New York hotels.

Local 802 announced its campaign to increase power in the club date field last summer (see July/August Allegro). The campaign was a response to concerns, expressed by many musicians, about the growth of non-union club date offices, which directly compete with unionized, signatory employers who pay benefits. Since employers with cheaper labor costs have the ability to undercut more expensive union bands, this creates severe downward pressure on wages and benefits for all New York single engagement musicians.

“We hope to use the union’s success with Starlight to increase our bargaining leverage with all our signatories,” said Jim Hannen, supervisor of the Contract Enforcement Department, which oversees club date contracts. “When we renegotiate our master club date agreement in the spring of 2001, we will do so from a position of real power,” Hannen told Allegro. “If we continue to work together, we can make changes in our contract that will bring real improvements to hundreds of single engagement musicians.”

Local 802 Vice President Mary Landolfi, who oversees the New Organizing Department, noted that the campaign should send a strong message to club date employers who do not pay benefits: “We invite non-union employers to immediately talk with us about how they can live up to established professional standards,” she said. “We encourage all employers to do the right thing because we are serious about protecting standards in the club date field, which include paying musicians benefits. Local 802 has made it clear that if an employer undercuts area standards, we will do everything in our power to correct the problem.”