Tell Your Friends: Go Union!

Financial Vice President's Report

Volume 114, No. 2February, 2014

Tom Olcott


THE BENEFITS OF THE UNION: Musicians in the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players just won new wages and benefits in their new contract. Photo: Walter Karling

THE BENEFITS OF THE UNION: Musicians in the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players just won new wages and benefits in their new contract. Photo: Walter Karling

I am constantly reminded that Local 802 represents an amazingly diverse array of performers. A list (that is way too short!) includes:

  • Elite headliner recording musicians
  • Commercial and TV performers
  • Broadway musicians (including musicians who double as actors)
  • Concert artists
  • The world’s finest orchestral musicians
  • Early music specialists
  • Freelancers who cover every conceivable performing context and venue and style
  • Club date cats who can play any tune in any key and can still make the tune their own
  • An amazing array of distinguished jazz artists, many of whom are fighting for their rights through our Justice for Jazz Artists campaign
  • A huge population of music teachers
  • …and many more

Given this huge pool of talent and the enormous potential that we all have for working together, it’s a good time to think clearly about what the future of Local 802 should look like. First, let’s review the basics:

  1. Union workers make more money than nonunion workers;
  2. The law guarantees the right of workers to form unions and negotiate contracts. This right is under constant attack, but it’s still the law of the land.
  3. Musicians are workers!

Add all three of those together and you get a recipe for some positive change. Here’s an example.

Some years ago, the Florida West Coast Symphony, based in Sarasota, was a nonunion orchestra. Its members wanted union representation. Management wished otherwise. After some contention, the orchestra members held an election, won their union, and succeeded in becoming a union ensemble. Reluctant management had to acknowledge the results. Voila! A union orchestra with a union contract!

Members of nonunion orchestras here in New York City can do the same thing. It’s not an easy proposition, but it’s worth the fight. We know how to fight that fight.

In New York City, thanks to Local 802, musicians who play under a union contract are:

  • Paid a fair wage
  • Eligible for health insurance, pension, extra money for doubling and carting large instruments, parking reimbursements, protection against unauthorized recording – and much more
  • Covered by union representation, including the attentions of a full-time staff
  • Free to use all of the resources of the Local 802 building, including its rehearsal halls, credit union, and – most valuably – a full-time counseling and social work program run by the Actors’ Fund

Musicians need to take a look at what union membership, affiliation and unified strength can do for you over time. Our deep connections have proven to be more powerful than any employer’s attack. Why? Because we stick together, we support each other, and we refuse to be intimidated by threats presented by those who are ignorant of the art they ostensibly seek to preserve.

For younger musicians who feel that their nonunion world serves them “well enough,” I strongly suggest that a unionized future would be more constructive to your prosperity than your current practice. I speak to all musicians who work in nonunion ensembles, but explicitly to the musicians who perform with the International Contemporary Ensemble, the Knights, the Salome Orchestra and the members of Distinguished Concerts International. Do you have any friends who play in these ensembles? Speak to them about the benefits of the union!

To these musicians and to all musicians who have only heard rumors or falsehoods about Local 802, I want you to know that Local 802 will never constrict your art, and will always seek to enhance your professional life so that your artistry can thrive.

But also, let’s remind ourselves that all musicians – both union and nonunion – are our colleagues and part of the same musical family. Our union is about all musicians acting together, and that is what makes us strong. Let’s stay together for 2014, and fight the necessary fights while we simultaneously make our beautiful sounds. If we do that, we will thrive. Best to all for a happy, prosperous, and successful 2014. Our doors are always open to all!

Please call us at (212) 245-4802. Ask for me or Concert Rep Karen Fisher. Introduce yourself and tell us about your music and your musical goals. We have a proven track record in helping you win the pay and benefits you deserve.


Local 802 has concluded negotiations with Mostly Mozart, New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players and Midori & Friends. In their new contracts, musicians in each ensemble have won significant gains in pay, working conditions, or benefits. (Musician ratification is pending for all of these agreements as of this writing, but the Local 802 Executive Board has approved each one.)