The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CIX, No. 6June, 2009

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:

I applaud the efforts of Local 802 to organize the elusive cable television industry. However, it seems clear, reading recent articles and letters to the Allegro, that there are some very real disagreements about the “WonderPets!’ negotiation.

Local 802 is made up of many diverse and highly intelligent people with varying points of view and in light of that, there will be policy and philosophical differences.

The article titled “Giving Unions a Bad Name” (Allegro, May 2009), in my opinion, does a disservice. It mentions the influence of sinister-sounding “opposition groups” from “outside Local 802,” but does not identify these groups. Should we not know the identity of these groups so that we can all protect ourselves from them in the future? 

Furthermore, even indirectly drawing a parallel in an Allegro article between Local 802 members and corrupt Teamsters leaders, in my view, is injurious, divisive and potentially inflammatory, particularly when this article is highlighted under a letter signed by these members.

In the eyes of this Local 802 member, this does not serve to encourage musicians to join the union and does not promote unity among those who are already members.

–Martha Hyde

Local 802 replies: The writer misunderstands the intent of the article, which was to highlight the fact that insisting upon perfection in the outcome of a negotiation — particularly a first negotiation — is as damaging to the process as incompetence or corruption on the part of union officials. All three lead to fewer union contracts for workers. All three should be avoided if we want our union to be successful in representing all musicians.


To the Editor:

The slogan “Organize or Die” [President’s Report, May issue] is a very misleading one. 

Organizing work at any cost without the proper approach can kill us faster than not organizing.

Look at how much work we are capturing! But at what cost? The union as an institution will stay alive (thanks to our work dues and membership dues), but what about the livelihoods of its members?

Additionally, the lower wages will not cause the employment of more musicians. Not in orchestras. Not on Broadway. Not in recording. The same people will be hired for the same work that they have always done — only for less money.

Additionally, if it is the philosophy of this administration to “capture” work by offering low scales just to “get in the door,” it will be impossible for full-time musicians to make a living.

Do we need to pay salaries and benefits to administrators to negotiate lower wages? Any of us can do that on our own. What are we paying them to do?

And note that while we may work under contracts at much lower rates, the salaries of union officers do not change. They make the same money and get the same benefits whether we work for $200 per hour or $2 per hour. What is their incentive to fight for us? Especially the card-carrying non-musicians. Perhaps their salaries should reflect the kinds of agreements they make.

Yes, the union survives — but do we, the musicians? The “capturing” of work must be done in the right way. It involves valuing us, listening to us, and knowing how to sell us. Otherwise “Organize or Die” can easily become “Organize and Die.”

–David Finck

Local 802 replies: The writer is misinformed and unfortunately ends up making the same arguments that musicians hear far too often from management. “There is no point in organizing,” “You’ll end up lowering your wages,” “You’re just paying dues to fatten the salaries of the union bosses,” etc.

The fact is Local 802 has never and will never organize work that doesn’t result in improved wages and working conditions for those musicians who choose to organize.

Indeed, that’s the whole point and the reason why musicians sacrifice and risk their jobs to gain the protections and improvements of a union agreement.

As musicians well know, a nonunion job has no job security, tough luck if the pay is not what was promised, no protection against the ongoing exploitation of one’s product — every nonunion job is a buyout — and finally, no way to utilize the power of collective bargaining.

Fortunately, most musicians, when offered the possibility of organizing, choose that path — despite the difficult odds they confront.


To the Editor:

I have a theory about declining 802 membership that’s based on my own feelings as a member. I have no statistics to support this theory but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that a certain percentage of musicians have left the union because of Local 802’s politics.

In spite of the claims the union makes to be a non-partisan organization, there is a clear political sentiment that pervades every issue of Allegro. In fact, the sentiment very often inches toward outright hostility to any view that doesn’t totally coincide with 802’s specific political agenda.

I joined the Musicians’ Union to become a part of a community of artists, not an angry group of political activists.

Neither am I convinced that the pension fund is as vital or necessary as President Mary Landolfi claims. America is in a post-pension, post-benefit era, and anyone who is still counting on benefits, bailouts or any other government programs for security is grasping at straws

If Local 802 would truly adopt a more positive, upbeat, non-partisan approach and focus more on music and less on politics, I would personally feel much happier about being a member.

-John Thomas Oaks

Local 802 replies: The member is entitled to his political beliefs, but Local 802 has a long tradition of political activity, supporting politicians who espouse worker-friendly policies whatever their political affiliation. It is regrettable that he equates health and pension benefits with bailouts as no federal, state or local tax money support our benefit funds; the Local 802 Health Fund and the AFM-EP Fund are supported by employer contributions earned every day by members. In short, among the principal purposes of unions is to bring the security of pension and health benefits to workers; to assert that America is “in a post-pension, post benefit era” is antithetical to the very existence of unions.