The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CVIII, No. 3March, 2008

The Musicians’ Voice is an open forum for discussion about the state of union affairs. The letters published here do not necessarily express the views of Local 802. Letters must be 300 words or less. Send them to Allegro, c/o Local 802, 322 West 48th Street, New York, NY 10036, or e-mail Mikael Elsila, the editor, at


To the Editor:

At the AFM convention last June, a resolution was passed by the delegates — a resolution authored and introduced by our own Bill Dennison, endorsing H.R. 676, which would create one public insurance institution, to provide health care for every citizen of the United States.

This system of insuring health care, known as “single-payer,” has endured the scrutiny and study of countless task forces and study groups and built the consensus that single-payer is by far the best solution to the deepening national health care insurance crisis.

It is disappointing, therefore, to have read Julia Smith’s article on the AFL-CIO’s new healthcare campaign in the January issue of Allegro and found no mention of H.R. 676.

Granted, the AFL-CIO’s strategy is to build a unified position that would include some unions that endorse 676 and some who don’t.

But musicians deserve to know that their national union endorsed this plan and Allegro certainly has a responsibility to educate its members as to what H.R. 676 would mean if it were passed into law.

Musicians are particularly vulnerable in the current health care mess and most, unless they can obtain insurance through a day job, find it impossible to find insurance that is affordable and comprehensive.

If H.R. 676 were to become law, it would eliminate the need to negotiate concessions or neglect other important issues at the bargaining table in order to continually attempt to “save” the Local 802 plan.

Local 802 members deserve to hear about H.R. 676 from their union. And Local 802 has a responsibility not only to educate its members on the bill, but to campaign for its passage.

John O’Connor


It appears that the author is not subscribed to 802 Notes, a periodic e-mail newsletter that the administration recently instituted for enhancing communication with members.

In the January issue of 802 Notes, the featured piece was a link to the AFL-CIO National Health Care Campaign. The goals of the campaign are to secure legislation that does the following:

  • Controls rising and irrational costs
  • Provides comprehensive, high quality health care to all
  • Gives every family the opportunity and the responsibility for preventive care
  • Preserves the right to choose and use your own doctor
  • Asks our government to play a strong role in restoring balance to the system — curbing greed and incompetence and ensuring more fairness and efficiency
  • Lowers employer costs and, in return, asks them to pay their fair share, along with government and individuals
  • Builds on what is best about American health care while drawing from what works in other countries.

These goals are the measure for every health care bill. Whether the eventual political achievement becomes passage of H.R. 646, or legislation bearing another number, it is important to explain and campaign for these principles.

By implying that “concessions” at the bargaining table were made to “save” the 802 plan, the writer does a disservice to informed discussion. Upon settlement, the 2007 Broadway negotiations immediately added 5.25 percent to the cost of each employee; the additional increases in health and wages over the term of the three-year agreement add another 7.3 percent for a total of over 12.5 percent over three years. These increases were obtained without any concessions by the bargaining unit. While it would be nice to take the economic value of a contract settlement entirely in wages and not be concerned about the status of the healthcare being provided, it would also be short-sighted. That is a luxury that few, if any, unions can afford today.

Any member can subscribe to 802 Notes by sending an e-mail to


To the Editor:

The Landolfi administration has adopted a political agenda focused on the need for a national health plan, ending the Iraq war, and — in a gross misuse of Allegro — over-publicizing the forthcoming national elections.

While these aims, best left to larger organizations, are commendable, the union’s principal reason for existing — negotiating good contracts and protecting musicians working under them — seems to be on the back burner.

If Landolfi’s “new paradigm” involves appeasement of management with no regard for central issues in musicians’ workplaces — stagnant wages, lack of “back-end” provisions, job security and a healthy work environment — then the paradigm isn’t even worth two cents.

Meanwhile, ICSOM and the RMA — major player conferences representing full-time musicians — get short shrift from this administration.

The last ICSOM conference passed a resolution that substitutes earn wages equal with regular orchestra members. However, Landolfi broke a long-standing precedent by privately negotiating a diversion of N.Y. Philharmonic substitutes’ wage increases into 802’s new unproven health plan, thereby reducing their wages below basic Philharmonic rates.

After sending a video games proposal to the AFM, undercutting the RMA’s own proposal that exacerbated the rift between the RMA and the AFM, 802’s AFM convention delegation proceeded to vote for a work dues on musicians’ special payments (royalty) funds — a slap in the face to L.A., Nashville and N.Y.’s recording musicians.

Unlike film unions WGA, DGA and SAG that fight for a share in new use revenue streams for members, 802 continues to negotiate “one-off” Broadway and Off Broadway show and other area recording agreements with no provisions for special payments credits, jeopardizing current national recording agreement standards.

Evidently, 802 chooses to ignore the historical lack of benevolence from producers who’ve made profits while declining to offer us a share.

–Michael Comins
The writer is a founding member of the RMA
and the union’s Coordinating Advisory Committee.


The writer is sadly misinformed. Furthermore, much of his criticism is unsupported by any specifics, whether concerning this administration’s supposed appeasement of various managements or lack of attention to ICSOM or RMA.

As to the few specifics contained in his letter:

Local 802 did not support for the dues package which was passed by the AFM convention. Its delegation advocated unsuccessfully for the AFM to forgo dues on back-end payments for the sake of healing the divisions between the AFM and RMA. When a package containing those payments was nonetheless forwarded to the floor for a vote, Local 802 voted against it.

In regard to pay parity in ICSOM ensembles, regardless of any resolution made by the last ICSOM conference, the Philharmonic is not the first or only AFM orchestra to pay substitutes less than regular members of the orchestra, although it may be unique in the fact that this is a temporary measure which will expire before the end of this contract. Furthermore, substitutes in some ICSOM orchestras also do not receive any health benefits. The new wage and benefit provisions for extra musicians in the Philharmonic immediately doubled health benefit contributions and brought wages back to parity with regulars in the last year of the contract. These results were welcomed by those substitutes who called the union to comment. Moreover, by declaring this administration’s focus on national issues such as healthcare excessive, Mr. Comins is not only being inconsistent but does not acknowledge that, as long as we remain the only industrialized nation without a national health care plan, the cost of health insurance will remain an impediment to higher wages, whether on Broadway, at the Philharmonic or elsewhere.

The video game music proposal, which the author cites as an element in the rift between the AFM and RMA, suggesting that it is the responsibility of this administration, was developed by the Local 802 Recording Musicians Committee during the Lennon administration. Mr. Comins was and remains a member of that committee and voted to recommend the video games proposal to the AFM at the time it was submitted to the AFM. Furthermore, the Broadway industrial agreement and Off Broadway recording agreements, which the author decries as unacceptable, were first developed and used by the two previous administrations, of which he was a vocal supporter.

Unfortunately, Mr. Comins is selective in the application of his standards and the focus of his criticism, particularly in regard to the final two complaints in his letter; this leads any thoughtful reader to the inevitable conclusion that his dissatisfaction is more related to the identity of the persons making decisions than to the decisions themselves. While constructive criticism and reasoned debate are always valuable to this and every union, a selective standard only fosters division within our organization to no useful end.


[Note: the following letter is the latest in an exchange between a group of members who reacted to an article in the November issue of Allegro, entitled “Hear My Voice,” about a music mission to the West Bank. Since publishing that story, Allegro has received letters in every subsequent issue. The Allegro editorial board acknowledges that readers may be getting fatigued by this exchange and also wants to prevent an endless debate in this column on one topic. At the same time, we are loath to cut off debate. Therefore, at its Jan. 29 meeting, the Allegro editorial board passed a provisional policy: when members appear to be debating each other in the letters column, there will be a limit: each member may write one letter and one rebuttal. The policy is meant to apply to situations where individual members appear to be debating each other on a single topic in this column. The policy is not meant to censor members, and certainly members may write multiple letters to Allegro as always. The idea is to prevent a one-on-one debate where one letter is answered tit-for-tat by another, ad infinitum.]

To the Editor:

With apologies, it is necessary to refute last month’s letters. Here are the facts:

  • 1973 was the only war initiated by Arabs. Israel could have avoided it by returning the Sinai to Egypt. After its near defeat, it did.
  • “In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.” — Menachem Begin.
  • Arab armies attacked in 1948 after Israel was already at war with the Palestinians for several months.
  • The “peace process” has been completely disingenuous. Israel wants a permanent ongoing process for appearances, not peace. This includes Taba.
  • The name Palestine pre-dates the British.
  • The U.N. did not establish Israel. It approved a partition plan, and in doing so violated the terms of its own charter, because the plan violated the wishes of a majority population.
  • Jews were not denied the right to pray at holy sites prior to 1948. This occurred between 1948 and 1967 in areas occupied by Jordan.
  • Stating that Arabs teach their children a “Neo-Nazi/segregationist image” is hateful propaganda. It is particularly absurd as Zionism itself is by its very nature segregationist.
  • The story that Arabs were ordered by their leaders to evacuate to make room for invading armies is a myth. In fact, after the massacre of Arab civilians by Jewish terrorists at Deir Yassin, when many fled in panic, Arab leaders gave orders by radio broadcast to stay put, and for those who had fled to return.
  • Palestinian refugees generally wish to return to Palestine. Those in Jordan have citizenship.
  • Finally, answering Zelnik’s question: Where did the 9/11 hijackers come from? Answer: not Palestine.

–Rich Siegel


To the Editor:

In the last Allegro, the recent contract settlements for two productions caught my eye: the 36-hour rehearsal week scale for “Wanda’s World” and the developmental workshop contract for “Ivory Joe Cole” for 35 hours per week.

For side musicians, the rate for the former is about $16.20 per hour. For the latter, about $14.71 per hour.

I shudder to think what the pay scales would have been without union representation.

–Mark Shuman


Mark is right. It would have been worse without a union agreement, and it is no small thing that 16 musicians in both shows — plus conductors and music prep personnel — have the full protection of a union contract, including benefits. (Too many Off Off Broadway and small developmental projects go on without the union.) “Wanda’s World” is a 90-minute children’s show that takes place in a theatre with 99 seats or less and thus is considered Off Off Broadway. But the producers agreed to pay the full amount that musicians normally earn for larger Off Broadway theatres of 100 to 199 seats under contracts with the Association of Not-for-Profit Theatre Companies. Regarding “Ivory Joe Cole,” the union seldom hears about backers’ developmental projects such as this. In many of these projects, actors work for “points” rather than wages and benefits so that they can become members of Actors’ Equity.