OPPOSED TO EMERGENCY POWERS
To the editor:
The most recent Members Newsletter includes an article entitled “Are Emergency Powers Needed?” in which the Executive Board laments the fact that, after the events of Sept. 11, it was unable to lower Broadway scale wages on its own without taking a vote.
Local 802 bylaws prohibit the Executive Board from altering or waiving any terms set forth in the local’s collective bargaining agreements without a rank-and-file ratification vote. According to this article, despite the fact that this restriction “has served a very useful purpose in maintaining high standards” and is a “valuable safeguard,” the Members Party now feels this limitation to be “a weakness in the system.”
Far from being a weakness, this bylaw serves to protect the negotiating process which is fundamental to the union’s existence. If we allow the Executive Board to determine, on its own, when and how the terms of a collective bargaining agreement should be altered, even temporarily, then there is no reason to negotiate contracts in the first place.
The article claims that “decisions were necessary within a time frame which did not permit a bargaining unit ratification.” In fact, there was ample opportunity to call for a vote. The Theatre Committee held a well-publicized meeting on that following Wednesday and the union called a meeting on Saturday of all five Broadway orchestras that were to be affected by the concessions (a 25 percent wage reduction for four weeks).
It is the union’s obligation to make the time for the ratification process. Actors’ Equity found time for a vote. There is no excuse for Local 802’s negligence in this matter. As a matter of fact, an 802 member spoke up at that Saturday meeting and expressed grave concern that Bill Moriarity had stripped us of our most basic union right and responsibility – the right to vote. He stood before the rank and file and apologized, and made a promise to us that it would never happen again. Now the Executive Board has the arrogance to suggest that we should allow them to do just that.
It should be pointed out that every elected member of the current Local 802 administration, except one, belongs to the Members Party. Therefore, it must be concluded that the Members Newsletter expresses the viewpoints of the administration.
The ideas expressed in the Members Newsletter article are extremely dangerous and should put us on high alert. When the Executive Board asks you for permission to alter the collective bargaining agreements whenever it deems necessary, without allowing you your right to vote, tell them loudly, “No, absolutely not and shame on you for asking.”
President Moriarity responds:
As the writer notes, this letter is in response to an article that appeared in the Members Newsletter regarding the absence of a provision in the Local 802 bylaws permitting any Executive Board action in cases of emergency. There has been nothing in Allegro on this subject, no Executive Board action has been taken, nor did the article represent the position of Local 802’s Board.
While the more appropriate forum for this letter, therefore, would have been the Members Newsletter, the subject has resulted in some discussion among the membership and at the Executive Board, and is published here in the hope that even more will take place. Any change in current practice requires a bylaw modification.
Should such a bylaw modification be proposed, a full and open discussion of all of the ramifications of the proposed change will be necessary. This is probably not the time for that discussion, since nothing has yet been proposed.
However, when the writer says that, in reference to the Broadway wage reductions, “there was ample opportunity to call for a vote,” I would disagree. If I had thought there was time for a ratification vote, we would have scheduled one.
The original requests for specific concessions for five shows was submitted to all the Broadway unions on Monday, Sept. 17. Over the following 48-hour period these unions met several times to craft a response. Early on the afternoon of Sept. 19, IATSE President Tom Short, in a unilateral action, directed all of the IATSE locals to take 25 percent across-the-board cuts for four weeks beginning the week of Sept. 24. After much discussion, the Actors’ Equity Executive Council approved those same cuts for its members at a meeting on the 20th and a press conference was scheduled for that afternoon announcing the concessions.
Local 802 had believed – and said – from the beginning that any action taken needed to be taken by all unions actively together. While we did not take part in the press conference, we were identified as one of the unions participating in the cuts. We participated for two reasons: (1) it was the right thing to do, given the events that had occurred and the mood of the city, and (2) not to have done so would have created a public relations disaster for us.
Equity did convene a meeting of the casts of the five shows late on the afternoon of the 20th, and, after discussion, took a vote. I do not know if the vote was done by secret ballot or whether that union considered it to be a ratification vote. Local 802 legal counsel had informed me that no such show-by-show vote, or even a vote by a group of shows, whether by secret ballot or not, could be considered a ratification vote for our purposes. That could only be done by a secret ballot vote of the 1,200-plus members eligible to ratify the Broadway contract. Normally this takes about two weeks since it requires a reasonable and timely notification to these members of such a vote. It was neither prudent nor appropriate in these very difficult circumstances to delay our response.
I did convene a meeting of all the orchestras affected by the cuts on Saturday, Sept. 21, and explained in detail the sequence of events as they had unfolded. I also explained that both I and the Executive Board were uncomfortable with the process, but felt we had little choice. I felt that most orchestra members in attendance both understood and supported the actions we had taken.
I did state that I would consult with the regular orchestras of other shows for which we received requests for wage reductions and I did so. I did not, however, take a ratification vote at the three shows that later requested concessions, nor did I promise a ratification.
Musicians from one of those shows petitioned the union for even greater cuts and thereby expressed their position on this matter. Local 802 asked the regular orchestras at the other two shows to vote on the issue, describing these votes as “consultative.”
I believe that the Executive Board acted reasonably and appropriately in a very difficult, unprecedented situation. The lack of any Executive Board emergency powers – powers that all other unions, to my knowledge, possess – can put the entire union in an uncertain and potentially damaging situation. How to avoid that in the future needs to be explored.
A VISION THAT BECAME REALITY
To The Editor:
As we pause to celebrate Local 802’s new mortgage-free ownership of its headquarters, we would be remiss if we failed to note the one man, without whom this might not have ever happened. Many people ultimately contributed to this huge endeavor, but it was Jack Gale who not only authored the bylaw which made funding possible, but promoted the idea with a passion that impressed even opponents.
Not everyone thought it was a good idea at the time. There were many highly-regarded members, including 802’s own treasurer at the time, who believed that purchasing a building was too risky. But anyone who attended that bylaw meeting will never forget Jack, armed with numbers, charts, and his trademark rapid-fire logic, who not only shared his dream with us, but also convinced a majority that the dream could become reality.
The result is that today we have our own building and a significantly stronger union. So the next time you see him, join me in saying “Thanks Jack. Thanks for your vision, hard work, and caring for the future of Local 802.”