The Latest Attack on Labor

Labor Matters

Volume CVII, No. 1January, 2007

Leonard Leibowitz

Click for full cartoon.
Cartoon by Tom Keough, courtesy

The attack on working people and their unions continues unabated. New Supreme Court and NLRB decisions may have a direct impact on Local 802 members. Principal players from all symphony, opera and ballet orchestras are at risk of being excluded from their bargaining units. In the club date field, leaders and subleaders would likewise be at risk, as would Broadway conductors, and possibly some members of Broadway orchestras.

Why? In a new group of decisions by the Supreme Court known collectively as “Kentucky River,” the court has changed the longstanding definition of a supervisor. That could affect thousands, including social workers, paramedics, nurses – and musicians. These workers could be barred from union representation, since “supervisors” don’t have that right.

It is too soon to make any meaningful predictions of how the NLRB and the courts will apply the Kentucky River guidelines. However, orchestras or other bargaining units with principal players should try to add job descriptions to their agreements which minimize the kinds of authority or activities that could lead to a finding of supervisory status. Local 802 will gradually be assisting ensembles in accomplishing this task if it becomes necessary.

Even so, writing new job descriptions for principal players will not necessarily provide complete protection. The actual authority and behavior of these employees must also change. Right now, some principal players hire their own substitutes – and most principal players assign parts to others. These activities might be a problem under the new guidelines.

We will continue to monitor the NLRB and the courts and report any significant news. And we must still hope that Congress will act to reverse – or at least substantially limit – the Kentucky River decisions.

There is some hope. Obviously, no employer is required to apply for a unit clarification and kick principal players out of the bargaining unit. Thus, it does not necessarily mean that anything will automatically change.

So at this point, it’s not a fight yet, but we are looking at early warning signs. It’s time to arm ourselves with the facts.

To that end, members who are interested in learning more about this situation can find a much longer version of this article, which includes many more legal details, please see article “Kentucky River.”