The Musicians’ Voice is an open forum for discussion about the state of union affairs. The views expressed here do not 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 email@example.com.
ON SOLIDARITY AND RADIO CITY
To the Editor:
Bill Dennison makes several important points in his February Allegro column concerning Radio City Music Hall, reminding me of the valuable common sense and practicality he displayed when he was directly involved in past RCMH negotiations.
We’re in a brave new musical world on many fronts, none of them positive for us, and I couldn’t agree more that we must learn every possible lesson from our failures before entering future negotiations. Every event that took place in those long months must be examined for missed opportunities and to determine more effective responses in the future.
In addition, I applaud Bill’s call for solidarity among unions. I would add that our own solidarity is equally important. This solidarity would preclude Local 802 executive officers publicly siding with management during difficult negotiations. In my opinion, internal dissent is valuable and necessary behind closed doors. To management and the public, however, we must present total solidarity.
Then there was the misguided letter in the “Musicians’ Voice” column from the same issue. This unfortunate correspondent, for reasons totally unclear to me, continues to rant, in letters, e-mails and now Allegro, about events that never occurred. This sideshow has become a distraction from, in Dennison’s words, “drawing the right lessons from the RCMH negotiations.” For any constructive union dialogue to take place, we must let go of fictional scenarios and political agendas and deal with the real issue: how to convince a corporate entity that doesn’t understand or value our skills, that we create a viable product. I don’t hold much hope for our future as musicians until we are united in that fight.
The writer is a member of the Radio City Music Hall orchestra committee.
CREDIT CARD COMMENTS
To the Editor:
As a member of the Executive Board, I cannot shirk what I believe is my responsibility to comment upon the issue of personal credit card use by President Lennon.
President Lennon has stated that, absent credit problems, he “would never have relied upon the union credit card … [for personal expenses].” Common sense requires that the union credit card only be used for business purposes; credit problems, even if common to musicians, do not create an exemption. That President Lennon did not consult the executive board in advance of taking these actions compounds their severity. I therefore agree with Mr. Cary’s characterization of Lennon’s actions as “misconduct.”
I am also disturbed by the response of some on the board to these issues. Some blame has been inappropriately directed toward other officers, an example of “blame the messenger,” in my opinion. In carrying out the report’s recommendations, charges for which no receipt was available have been retroactively approved by the majority of the board. I respectfully disagree with this decision. A policy has been adopted which will once again allow officers to carry a Local 802 credit card. After further discussion, the board has now agreed to review this policy and I am advocating that we discontinue providing cards for individual officers and refuse to reimburse expenses when an original receipt is not provided. I believe anything less leaves the union vulnerable to further problems in the future.
I believe that the members of this union should be able to rely on the leadership to adhere to the highest ethical standards. These events have damaged our reputation and caused considerable expense to the union. The membership should demand that the steps taken now assure that there will be no repeat of these problems in any administration.
To the Editor:
There is a poll elsewhere in this issue asking members’ opinions about “music and decency.” [See “Beat on the Street”]
Regarding David Lennon’s “Full Disclosure” article in last month’s Allegro, some questions about decency that have been heard around town are:
- Should a union officer who knowingly used his local’s credit card for personal use, have the decency to resign from office to protect that local from further embarrassment and legal expense?
- Should a local’s Executive Board demand the resignation of that officer to protect the integrity of that local and its membership?
- What will employers in current or future negotiations think about a union that has even the slightest hint of corruption (real or not)?
- Should that officer pay the $16,000 (to date) in legal expenses to investigate his “inappropriate behavior,” or does the Executive Board feel that we should pay via our dues?
- Should a union officer have the intelligence, integrity, and common sense to know that union credit cards must not be used for personal expenses?
- Should an officer whose annual income exceeds $120,000 charge over $10,000 (or for that matter, any amount) in personal expenses to a union credit card? Should a union local become anyone’s personal bank account?
- The standard business practice for accounting requires valid business-related receipts in order to receive reimbursement. Should union credit cards be eliminated and business expenses limited to this practice of receipts to protect against possible fraud?
- Should an Executive Board only approve expenses that have proper receipts and are legitimately business related?
- Is this the time for an Executive Board to have the decency to file formal charges against an officer?
To the Editor:
I am disappointed and troubled by the actions of David Lennon as president of Local 802. First, there was the Radio City Music Hall negotiation debacle, which he led. Then, Lennon’s firing and then re-hiring of Jay Schaffner and Bill Dennison, two of the best officers a union president could ever have. Now, the disclosure that Lennon misused union credit for personal expenses over a period of several years.
Lennon does not inspire confidence. I think he is incapable of representing the best interests of union members. As 802 president, he abuses the privileges associated with his office, creates confusion and malfeasance, and casts doubt on the union overall as a responsible labor organization through his actions.
What next? I say, fire him before it gets worse, and elect a new president who is worthy of the office. 802 members deserve honest, intelligent and energetic leadership to further musicians’ interests within and outside of the New York City community. It seems Lennon has been preoccupied with putting out fires ever since he’s been in office. How can he accomplish anything under this black cloud of his own making?
To the Editor:
In his March president’s report, David Lennon partially justifies his actions by stating that “there was no rule against personal use of the card” and that “[he] did not violate any established policies regarding credit card use.” Both statements are inaccurate.
The policy was brought to his attention when he used the card for personal expenses during his employment as assistant director. Local 802’s controller reported to me that Lennon had used his card for personal expenses and I directed that he be told to stop. Several months later I was informed that Lennon had again misused the card and he was again warned to stop. Lennon now states that he has no recollection of these events; nevertheless, they happened.
Larry Cary’s report, in the same issue of Allegro, is correct in stating that there was no written Local 802 policy pertaining to this matter. No written policy was necessary since such credit card use is prohibited by law. Legal counsel had informed me that personal use of a union’s credit card is a breach of an official’s fiduciary duty under Section 501 of the LMRDA and that, further, if monies are not repaid promptly, it becomes a violation of Section 503, which restricts loans from a union to an official. If the amount exceeds $2,000, as in this case, the parties could be subject to criminal penalties. To illustrate the seriousness of this, in 1999 the secretary-treasurer of the AFM resigned directly as a result of personal use of his union credit card (although in a much lesser amount than here).
President Lennon’s transparent attempts to sidestep full responsibility for his actions is disappointing but, unfortunately, no longer surprising.
The writer was president of Local 802 from 1993 to 2003.
OUT OF THE LOOP
To the Editor:
For more than a year I’ve been on tour, far out of any information loop. So, when David Lennon’s front-page article appeared in January, with indications of major infighting at the highest levels of 802, I couldn’t read between the lines clearly enough to understand what exactly had happened. The lack of hard information was very frustrating.
Then, February’s articles by President Lennon and Recording Vice President Dennison — both encouraging debate, discussion and “moving on” — again included little actual information regarding the root issue under discussion. John Arbo’s impassioned plea for peace was apparently written on the false assumption that readers would know the pertinent facts and each side’s main points of argument. Finally, John Glasel’s letter specified one issue: the unsigned letter of apology to Radio City Music Hall.
Hoping to learn more, I called to request a transcript of the Feb. 14 membership meeting per the published instructions. I was told it was not finished but I would receive it when it was ready. That was on March 15, a full month after the meeting. Weeks later, it has not arrived.
In this age of information, that transcript should long since have been completed and posted in the secure members’ section of 802’s Web site. Immediate communication is the whole point of having a site.
To the editor and everyone involved in this conflict: I and many other members still don’t fully understand what has occurred. We can’t yet be part of the debate, discussion and “moving on” you encourage without clear and complete information, not vague generalities. One lesson to be learned is that the local must use its mechanism for immediate and secure communication when major issues — especially difficult conflicts — arise. Allegro, though an excellent newsletter in many ways, can’t fulfill that function.
To the Editor:
In his article, “Musicians of the World, Unite!” in the March issue, Jay Schaffner’s description of the problems facing musicians is very complete. However, his solution of taxation or tariffs has never worked in the real world for any length of time. Examine the history of the United States in regards to protectionism and tariffs. Musicians need to provide a better product and become the masters of the technologies, not become better at coming up with yet another set of unsuccessful rules.
The writer is a member of Local 10-208 (Chicago)
JAY SCHAFFNER RESPONDS: I would tend to agree that protectionism and “buy American” campaigns have generally failed. But in my article, I was not going in that direction. What I was suggesting was a tax on corporate profits, regardless of the country of origin of the actual recording product. It’s an idea, not a full suggestion, and obviously needs a lot of input and refinement. And I totally agree that “musicians need to provide a better product and become the masters of the technologies.”