The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CI, No. 6June, 2001


To the Editor:

I am a 30-year member of Local 802, currently residing in Cleveland, Ohio, where I am also a member of Local 4. Local 4 is struggling as a result of loss of membership to do any organizing at all – a vicious circle. I was therefore heartened to read in April’s Allegro about 802’s vigorous, ongoing organizing, along with its leafleting of shows that use recorded music or reduced orchestras.

I would like to propose that 802 take action on a closely-related front: the problem of theatrical shows that use sound reinforcement to compensate for using token numbers of musicians, to fill a venue with sound. The problem is basic, since the entire subject of electronic substitutes for musicians pivots about a single issue as a practical fulcrum: sound quality.

In Cleveland, some of the most prestigious theatrical venues amplify sound to such poor effect that the live musicians who do participate sound ghastly. The use of electronics to entirely replace musicians sounds no worse. In this situation, “reinforced” live musicians provide public evidence that music is more symbol than reality.

I am suggesting that 802 actively oppose this practice of demeaning live music by bad electronic reinforcement. Clearly, inferior sound amplification forces the public to pay top dollar for as little music as possible, thus withholding the reality of our work from those who pay for access to it. I believe that our relative silence on this matter harms our public relations, as well as diminishing the remaining markets for live music. And our public silence in allowing employers to reduce the numbers of musicians who work under union contracts by relying on bad-sounding electronics to fill rooms with sound makes our union appear to the public to collude with employers in what music markets still exist.

One difficulty we will confront involves the fact that, once a venue is brought under union contract, we need that employer to trust us to act cooperatively. If we complain publicly and noisily about bad sound, we may seem to be biting the hand that feeds us. However, I believe we can prevail in a campaign for venues where the presence of live musicians delivers quality contact with music to our listeners. Our economic “bottom line” would be that it costs so much to install, maintain and adjust sophisticated electronic sound reinforcement that an employer could pay for a lot of live musicians instead, for the same or even less cost.

Today, there is no consistent advocate for public access to real music. If we do not take up that advocacy ourselves I think that we make the problem worse through default. By speaking out, we might eventually change the complexion of the music business in our favor, in employers’ favor (over the long run), and definitely in the public’s favor. This campaign could shift definition of “the market” to our court for the first time in decades.

–Joe Quittner


To the Editor:

Musicians who have asked our union for help with sexual harassment problems are familiar with Local 802’s narrowly legalistic policy as described in the latest Members Newsletter: “it is the employer that has the legal obligation to provide a workplace free of sexual harassment” and in cases of member-to-member harassment “the duty of fair representation precludes the Union from actually taking sides.”

Members who would like to see our union deal with this difficult issue in a broader and more helpful way should read “The 9 to 5 Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment.” This widely praised book (available for $15 by calling 414-274-0925) outlines ways in which other unions have created programs to deal with member-to-member harassment that go far beyond simply expecting employers to fulfill their legal obligations.

Articles on this subject can be found in the spring issue of Counterpoint Notes at

–Evan Johnson

President Moriarity responds:

Local 802 has had a policy on sexual harassment in effect since 1994 that has been consistently applied. Since this is a developing area of the law we regularly ask legal counsel to review the policy. Lois Carter Schlissel of the law firm Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, P.C., informed me several months ago that the original policy needed to be updated and, under her guidance, we have modified it. The current policy, as modified, will be the subject of next month’s President’s Report in Allegro.