Teachers Win a Union and a Contract

Solidarity, Forever!

Volume CIV, No. 9September, 2004

Karen Bogardus with Karen Beluso

The Children’s Orchestra Society is now the eighth group of teaching artists to win a contract with Local 802. Here is the story of the formation of a union, told from a teacher’s point of view.

Last fall during a faculty meeting, amid routine discussions of school business, violin teacher Sheila Reinhold stood up and asked that we consider unionizing the Children’s Orchestra Society (COS).

Sheila had heard about other teaching artists successfully organizing with 802. The rest of the faculty were stunned to hear the question raised openly in front of management.

Although we didn’t have the highest salaries in town, we were far from the lowest. We were reimbursed for travel expenses and were paid for faculty meetings and for listening to student auditions, something faculty in other schools have to fight for. We considered ourselves fortunate to work at a family-run music school whose administration treated us well.

We realized, though, that a union contract could improve our situation.

Most of the COS faculty are freelance musicians, the majority without health insurance, and little or no pension. A union contract would enable us to enjoy the benefits most employees take for granted.


Several factors helped make our union campaign a success.

First of all, the faculty support for unionizing was overwhelming. Nearly every faculty member signed an open petition for union representation.

Beyond that, COS’s executive director, Dr. Yeou-Cheng Ma, an accomplished violinist as well as a practicing pediatrician, was firmly committed to finding a way to obtain health insurance for the entire faculty.

And for years, in conversations with Dr. Ma, Sheila had been advocating for union representation and the importance of starting a pension plan early in one’s career.

Our 17-member faculty elected Sheila, Tim McCarthy and me to the committee. I had some experience serving on an orchestra committee in Mexico, but this was the first time I negotiated a union contract in the United States.

We surveyed the faculty, created a proposal based on the priorities of the teaching artists, and presented that proposal to COS. The negotiations proceeded quickly and smoothly; throughout the process COS displayed an attitude of cooperation and expressed genuine concern for its faculty’s welfare.

Dr. Pat Hewitt, director of operations at COS, was management’s representative at the bargaining table. She had worked with unions in previous jobs and saw the value of union representation for its employees.

For this story, I asked Dr. Hewitt how she felt about a union contract for COS faculty.

She told me, “I think having COS enter into a collective bargaining agreement with Local 802 will strengthen the organization and help provide the additional structure needed for the day when Dr. Ma and [Artistic Director] Michael Dadap pass the baton to a new generation of leadership for COS.”

She continued, “Our board and administration are committed to trying to provide the best working conditions for our faculty. Collaborating with Local 802 is one of the ways we can ensure a positive environment where an appreciated faculty can teach children the language of music for many years to come.”


COS is truly a family affair: it was founded in 1962 by Ma’s father, and as recently as 20 years ago, it rehearsed in Dr. Ma’s and Michael Dadap’s home, with a handful of members.

Now, it has developed into a school offering private instruction in all orchestral instruments, as well as a comprehensive program of musicianship and chamber music.

The faculty and the administration are proud of the supportive environment we create for children to learn through music. As a school, we create performing opportunities and provide role models for our students through master classes and performances with eminent musicians; and we involve the community through performances for civic and cultural groups.

Our union contract is truly proof that the faculty and the administration share the same important goal: the success of our students.

As my fellow committee member and French horn teacher Tim McCarthy puts it, “Having a contract with health and pension benefits means I can worry about the future less and focus more on teaching and making music.”

As a faculty, we hope to inspire other teaching artists and schools to improve conditions for the work that we do. If we believe that our work is important, we have to be willing to push for positive change.

I’ll end this story with Sheila’s words on this subject; I think she speaks for all of us at COS: “Teaching…deepens our understanding of our craft and art. Union recognition not only confers the obvious financial and security benefits, but also gives vital recognition to both ourselves and the public of the part that teaching plays in our total musical lives. Without our teaching, the music of the present would be diminished and the music of the future non-existent.”

Karen Bogardus teaches flute, chamber music, and musicianship at COS. Karen Beluso is the director of musicianship and piano faculty at COS. They also perform together as a group called “Karen B2.”


Contract Highlights

Minimum rate per class or hour lesson


Raise in first year of contract

2.5 percent for those who did not already receive at least 2.5 percent by virtue of the increase in the minimum

Raises in second and third years of contract

3.5 percent

Payment and health contributions for meetings and auditions?


Employer-paid health contributions

$5 per class or hour lesson in year 1; $6 in years two and three

Employer-paid pension contributions

6 percent year one; 8 percent in years two and three

Hiring policy

Current teachers must be offered new students before new teachers are hired


Grievances settled by neutral labor arbitrator; artistic disputes settled by a panel of two music educators from outside COS, plus the labor arbitrator