Staying on Top of Health Care

Music & Politics

Volume CVII, No. 6June, 2007

Julia Smith

Local 802 has officially joined the chorus of diverse voices calling for universal health care. On March 9, Local 802 President Mary Landolfi testified to the State Assembly committees on health, labor and insurance about the effects of the health care crisis on our union and musicians in general.

She spoke of the particular challenge musicians face trying to secure health insurance, the difficulties the Local 802 health plan has experienced and how that has affected 802 members, and the urgent need for universal single payer health insurance.

In her words, “Musicians need what everyone else needs: health care that is affordable, and that is accessible. As cultural workers, and members of a growing population of workers whose employment doesn’t fit the traditional model, musicians need health insurance that is not tied to a single employer…. We urge the state to enact the reforms necessary to ensure that all New Yorkers have affordable health insurance coverage.”

If you’re interested in reading President Landolfi’s full testimony, it is now posted with this issue here.

President Landolfi’s comments were echoed by those of Equity’s Eastern Regional Vice President Arne Gunderson and a representative from IATSE Local 1, who also testified to the need for universal health care.

In addition to our efforts to advocate for health care reform at the state level, we are participating in a national campaign to make universal health care a priority for Congress.

On Feb. 27, the Executive Board voted to introduce a resolution at the AFM national convention in June, calling on the AFM to endorse the National Health Insurance Act, H.R. 676. We will continue to advocate for universal health care at the state and federal level.


The misclassification of professional musicians as independent contractors rather than employees is a serious obstacle to our attempts to elevate standards within the industry by bringing more work under union contract.

When employers misclassify musicians as independent contractors or force them to work “off the books,” they deny musicians their collective bargaining rights and the protections they are afforded through unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation insurance.

Particularly because misclassification is so prevalent in the club date field and President Landolfi has made organizing the club date field a priority of her administration, we’ve begun to take action to address this issue.

The first step we took was to meet with members of the new senior staff at the Department of Labor. On April 12, Recording Vice President Bill Dennison, Business Rep Pete Voccola and I met with the new deputy counsel at the state Labor Department and three managers from the unemployment insurance division and the auditing division.

We explained to them that the work of musicians is sometimes seasonal, often casual and almost always uncertain and that as a result, the majority of musicians are under-employed and understandably reticent to openly confront employers about misclassification.

The Labor Department staff described the way they review and rule on specific complaints and on the administration of unemployment benefits.

They described their process for making determinations of proper classification and gave us a 19-page document entitled, “Guidelines for Determining Worker Status: Performing Artists,” which outlines the departmental guidelines and the law and relevant case law that have shaped them.

(I have a copy of these guidelines: any member who wants a copy, please let me know.)

In particular, they mentioned that Internet sites or newspaper ads advertising musicians’ services informs their rulings, but is not determinative.

They informed us that they welcome anonymous complaints, although they are better equipped to make fair rulings when they receive significant information from the employee.

They also let us know that Gov. Spitzer may convene a “1099 task force” to examine existing policy and shape future state policy on this issue.

Although he plans to create an interagency task force, the deputy counsel promised to keep us informed of this development and to solicit our input when possible.