It was a cold day in January two years ago when I received a call from Local 802 member Ayodele Maakheru. He was in the midst of re-negotiating a contract with an arts organization to work as a music teaching artist in a New York City public school. But the organization was demanding a 30 percent pay cut. This was unacceptable and it prompted Mr. Maakheru to take action.
Generally when people think of music in the New York City public school system, they think of full-time music teachers who are covered by a union contract, such as teachers who lead band and orchestra programs. But there is another system of music education that exists. When school principals have money in their budgets for extra arts programs, they can hire musicians to conduct short-term workshops as teaching artists. These musicians are usually hired through third-party arts organizations. The problem is that when budgets get squeezed, arts organizations often cut the wages of the musicians they send out. And to make matters worse, such organizations don’t offer union benefits. So instead of settling for a pay cut, Mr. Maakheru had a thought: what if musicians had their own organization that could supply music to schools? After some great collaborative legwork, the Council for Living Music (a nonprofit founded by Local 802) achieved “vendor status” with the NYC Department of Education as well as the City of New York. This means that the Council for Living Music is now authorized to negotiate work orders with school principals who are looking to hire teaching artists. Such work orders can contain provisions for guaranteed wages as well as union health and pension benefits.
Consequently, we were able to negotiate a work order on behalf of Mr. Maakheru that included a wage increase plus benefits. Currently we can negotiate these kinds of work orders on a case-by-case basis, although in the near future we hope to open this up on a larger scale. For the moment, if you are a musician who works in the schools as a teaching artist, call my desk at (212) 245-4802, ext. 146 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll let you know how we can help you. Stay tuned for more.