The Musicians’ Voice is an open forum for discussion about the state of union affairs. The letters here do not necessarily express the views of Local 802. E-mail letters to Allegro@Local802afm.org or write to Allegro, Local 802, 322 West 48th Street, New York, NY 10036. Letters must be no more than 300 words.
CONCERNS ABOUT THE HEALTH PLAN CHANGES
As a single-engagement performer, and member of Local 802 for the last 30 years, I have relied on Plan A coverage for the greater part of my adult life. For many years I took a chance by opting not to carry hospitalization. I got lucky. Eventually I found a hospital-only plan through Empire Blue Cross for $164 a month, which worked nicely with Plan A.
But, in recent years, as many of us have watched the amount of union work in the single-engagement field dwindle, it has become increasingly difficult to meet the necessary amount of employer-paid contributions: $1,400 in a six-month period. At a meeting at the Local 802 club room on April 16, it was announced that the necessary amount of contributions for Plan A coverage will be increasing to $2,000 for the same six-month period. Needless to say, there were a lot of disgruntled musicians at this meeting. Broadway musicians complained that their monthly premiums had doubled…certainly understandable. But what about union members who don’t have a steady, weekly gig? What do we get? The new Plan B offers a nice dental and vision package. That’s something. You can also choose to opt out of 802’s health plan altogether. The problem, though, is that the $30 that is deferred from every gig you do would then be going into a fund that is no longer paying for any of your own benefits.
The union says they will maintain the right to make additional changes, or even to drop the plan altogether.
The next time you decide not to treat yourself to dinner, think how handy that extra 30 bucks from your last paycheck would have been.
Local 802 health fund trustee Martha Hyde replies: Probably most of us can identify with Jeff Lubin’s situation. Single-engagement players, freelance orchestra musicians and Broadway subs are all feeling the downturn in work. And many folks relied on the reasonably priced Blue Cross hospital policy that is no longer available. Every time the eligibility threshold is raised, people lose coverage. The trustees are painfully aware of this and that is why it has not been done in seven years. I’d like to point out that the Plan A with the $2,000 requirement is not the same as the old one. New Plan A covers hospital costs, preventive care with no co-pays and patient out-of-pocket expenses for medical services are capped yearly at $6,350 for an individual and $12,700 for a family. This sent the price tag for new Plan A soaring to $10,000 per member per year, more than the new eligibility and premiums combined. But raising the eligibility even higher seemed too radical and disruptive this year. Though it was costly, the trustees felt it was important to ensure that both levels of coverage were minimum value under current law. Old Plan A capped coverage at $50,000 a year. Anyone who has had major surgery knows that is inadequate. I’d also like to point out that employer contributions are not deferred wages; they are not withheld from salaries like taxes or work dues. When Local 802 bargains with an employer it negotiates wages for each musician and payments to the health and pension funds. The payments to the funds belong to the funds, not to the musicians. Out of that income, the Musicians’ Health Fund pays for medical services directly to the providers. Because of the structure of the fund (many employers and almost no full-time workers), some qualify for benefits based on the amount of work they did and some fall short. Moreover, coverage for a small (thank goodness) minority of very sick people is possible because most folks do not need the full value of their coverage, even if they do qualify. Although this may explain what is going on, it does not make finding the extra money for coverage any easier, nor does it help produce more work for musicians. There are many people in Jeff’s position.
REMEMBERING ABE OSSER
Let me share some reminiscences about my late father, Abe (“Glenn”) Osser [see article in this issue]. I went to many of his recording sessions, and when it came to jingles, my father had good reason to be proud of his arranging and conducting. I remember a recording engineer commenting that he had never seen so many “hits” (i.e. musical events synchronized with visual events) in 28 seconds, and yet it came out sounding very natural, with all the complexity hidden from the listener. The resulting rhythms might be difficult to play, but he always seemed to have good musicians for these sessions. Solving a technical problem and making music at the same time: that’s what he enjoyed about the jingle business.
Of all the arrangements he made over a 70-year career, “Meet the Mets,” played on every Mets broadcast, certainly got the most air play. As a Mets fan, he must have heard it thousands of times. He would often talk about what a good band he assembled for that recording; he could name nearly all of the musicians 50 years later.
When he arranged for singers, there was a subtle sophistication to his harmony – he didn’t seek to transform the original song so much as to enhance it. But the sound was unique. One singer, who was moving from opera into the American Songbook repertory, commissioned some arrangements from my dad, and asked that he be liberal with “Abe Chords.” Another singer said, “You don’t learn that kind of harmony in a conservatory.”
As a conductor he taught that the three most important things were: be thoroughly prepared, never fake it, and take care of your musicians. And the musicians always seemed to enjoy working with him as much as he enjoyed working with them.
Abe (“Glenn”) Osser died on April 29. Abe was my cousin Manny Gantz’s best friend and neighbor and I knew him all my life. He was not only a virtuoso arranger and an early hero of mine but one of the nicest people I’ve ever known, and was always kind and encouraging to a young would-be arranger. Abe was the fastest writer I’ve ever seen. He could dash off a score on the train from his home in Harrison and have it finished by the time the train pulled into Grand Central, and it would be GOOD, too!
About 1944 Abe was hired by Paul Whiteman as arranger and conductor of Whiteman’s ABC radio show. Whiteman, who during this perod was in charge of music for ABC, would merely host the show, and Abe would conduct the orchestra. Abe thought that this would be a good time for him to inaugurate his new stage name, Glenn Osser, and asked Whiteman to give him billing under that name. At the premiere broadcast, Whiteman announced to the nationwide audience “…and now I’d like to introduce our new musical director, GLENN OSSER! Take a bow, Abe!”
But my favorite anecdote about Abe concerns the time he was asked by Dick Hyman to cover for him on a revival of a Gershwin musical. When Abe showed up at rehearsal the conductor looked him up and down suspiciously and asked, “Tell me…how much research have you done in 1930s musicals?” “RESEARCH?” cried Abe, “I was THERE!”
Even in his 90s Abe was still enthusiastic about music and remained a constant student, listener and concertgoer. He was a giant; one of the greats. Catch his “Stardust” on YouTube.
The Seattle Symphony withdrew from the AFM and has solicited work scoring films on a non-union basis. Now, they have been invited to participate in Spring for Music at what is surely the most prestigious concert hall in the U.S., Carnegie Hall. In effect, they are being rewarded for strike-breaking work. A lot of people put careers on the line so that we can have residuals, pensions, health insurance, etc. I doubt if anything can be done at this late date but this is adding insult to injury and it should not be allowed to happen again.