The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CVII, No. 4April, 2007

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:

The writers of the story “An Ill Wind That Blew No Good” in the February Allegro missed an opportunity to report the positive side of the situation in question, and colored their remarks with a bias that was needlessly inflammatory. As such, the piece read more like an editorial than an article. What should have been emphasized was the professional handling of the situation and positive progress toward a solution.

When I was told via e-mail an article was being planned for Allegro, and asked for details by union reps regarding smoke conditions at our show, my reply urged caution, suggesting that it would be best to write an article after the matter had been settled. The problem is still being studied as I write this.

I received no reply to that response, or a second written four days later.

This correspondence took place subsequent to a meeting where the “Wicked” producers’ representatives stated their case for the smoke and listened to our concerns against it.

At that meeting, “Wicked” management was attentive to all complaints registered. At least 60 members of the “Wicked” company attended, as well as representatives from Equity, Local 1 and 802.

As a result of the meeting, the producers announced that the use of glycol-based smoke would be suspended until the matter could be reviewed.

“Wicked” management also issued a written apology for not notifying the unions prior to the change in smoke, and emphasized that any future plans would be discussed in advance.

The “Wicked” orchestra enjoys a healthy relationship with our entire company, management included. The tone of that article was embarrassing and insulting.

As we approach negotiations with the League, we need take the utmost care to ensure that our professional dealings are reported accurately in order to maintain our credibility.

Dale Kirkland
The writer is the contractor for the “Wicked” orchestra.


To the Editor:

I’ve been a member since 1974 as a pianist and club date leader. In addition, I served as a councilman in Closter, NJ. During my three years of service, the council was empowered with the responsibility of creating and overseeing a $12 million municipal budget. One of the challenges was to gear the budget to potential shortfalls of revenue that loomed in the present as well as the near and distant future.

How is it that 802’s health administrator and trustees could not see that rising costs would cause the bottom to fall out of our plan? They should be removed from office.

President Landolfi defends them by stating that the fund was given inaccurate information from the actuary. Why couldn’t these professionals have discussed the crisis with other unions who have similar plans to see how they coped — instead of depending upon one source?

Health costs have been skyrocketing for years. Why couldn’t 802 make gradual adjustments over years instead of a sudden draconian emasculation of our plan?

Here’s just one example: before the new changes, we were paying $30 for a three-month supply of a medication my wife takes. Now the same supply will cost us over $400.

President Landolfi also says that improvements to the plan would mean higher contributions. I have worked in the public and private sectors and know of no other situation where the individual is paying so much more for so much less coverage.

This plan is so watered down and cost prohibitive. Sometimes I wonder if my membership is just supporting a few Broadway and symphony musicians. The club date field for all intents and purposes is a dead issue for most musicians over 50. This debacle in health benefits is another indignity on top of the loss of work.

Joel Zelnik

Local 802 responds:

We thank Joel Zelnik for his letter. All of us should be similarly outraged by the problems we face in obtaining even a minimal level of health care coverage in this country today. It is a national disgrace!

802’s Health Benefits Plan has struggled for years to provide a meaningful level of benefits for our members within the context of the multi-faceted and part-time employment that is typical for musicians.

In 2003 our plan faced funding problems. At that time benefits were cut and employer contributions were raised. The deficits however, continued.

In 2004 the fund became self-insured: instead of paying sharply-rising insurance premiums designed to insure a profit for the insurance companies, the fund paid its own benefits. For the latter part of 2004 and into 2005, this seemed to stop the red ink.

In late 2005 and early 2006 the deficits were back. In part this was caused by a sharp rise in claims — but the higher level of usage continued, partially due to an aging participant population.

By the summer of 2006, it was clear than dramatic changes were needed.

The rising overall costs were accelerated by an enormous increase in drug costs. (The pharmaceutical industry wastes billions of dollars in advertising that in the end comes out of our health fund and your pocket.)

There are no easy answers. Each of our coming contract negotiations will have to focus on health care. Our employers have to contribute more. And, there will be no way to avoid some participant premiums.

The bad new is that the problem of affordable health care will continue to get worse. The good news is there is a solution — single payer national health care. Over the next few years we have to elect candidates to national office who are pledged to national health care. If they’re not — they do not deserve our support.


To the Editor :

Richard Sortomme, in his February letter responding to Joel LeFevre’s January story “The New War on Workers,” asks that his money not be used for “the dissemination of flagrantly biased commentary,” and that 802 issue an apology for having published it. As members for four decades, please exclude us from such an apology.

Warnings of McCarthyism and racism should be judged on evidence, not dismissed as being divisive. Arguments stand or fall on their own merits, not on how many people agree with them or consider them “extreme.”

Mr. LeFevre’s piece is neither far-fetched nor a minority viewpoint. Surely Mr. Sortomme is aware that even Americans of conservative political and social persuasions are voicing such fears?

The system of laws and checks of power as framed by the Constitution has been corrupted to a degree unimaginable before the current administration. This began in January 2001, not September 2001. Suspension of habeas corpus and such high-profile legislation as the Patriot Act are the most obvious, though it is what is happening unofficially and undeclared that is more insidious.

Ours is a government operating outside the laws of the nation and the international community, a government that even mainstream observers, upon examining the evidence, concede was no more elected in 2004 than it was in 2000.

The damage done to our country by the flag-wavers in the White House — not to mention the damage done to other nations — will be with us for decades.

Strip away the veneer of title, and it is the people now running the nation who are “extreme” — indeed, criminal.

We are very happy to have Allegro use our hard-earned money to be a forum for all members’ views, even those who — like Mr. Sortomme — wish to decide whose views are publishable.

Nancy Elan and Thomas Suarez


To the Editor:

On Feb. 24 I flew Continental Airlines to Houston. I am a Platinum Elite member and have flown Continental for years but this latest flight was a nightmare.

I carry my saxophone in a small hard case that measures 24 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches. I always fly first class. When I boarded, the baggage compartment above my seat was already full. (I don’t know why, since I pre-boarded.) But — no problem — I found space in the compartment opposite to my seat.

There was not enough room in economy for all of those passengers’ huge wheeled bags so the gate attendant came back on board and started pulling luggage out of the first class bins, including my horn. She was extremely rough and I told her to be careful because it was my living. She yelled at me that musical instruments are not luggage and practically threw it in the galley area, jamming it upside down in the closet.

My fellow passengers were shocked as was I. For the past 20-plus years, no one has ever said my instrument was not baggage.

I wrote to Continental, asking them to explain this bizarre event. I received a couple of unimpressive replies, one of which included this choice line: a musical instrument is not regular baggage but simply a “personal entertainment item.”

Would anyone tell Yo-Yo Ma that his cello was merely a “personal entertainment item”? I think not.

According to the FAA, you are allowed to carry on a musical instrument over and above the normal carry-on allotment.

The rules are all over the place and must be standardized. Professional musicians must be allowed to carry on their instruments.

Phil Woods


To the Editor:

I recently mailed in my dues payment for the first quarter of the year 2007. It seems that I made an unforgivable mistake in sending only $51.50 instead of $52.

But instead of a phone call or a note in the mail informing me of my error, I received a membership card in the mail with the words “Not Valid” printed on it.

Could you explain to me why my union would send me — a member in good standing — a card proclaiming itself to be unusable by me, all because I came up short 50 cents — not 50 dollars or five dollars but 50 cents?

For the record, I want it known that this kind of treatment handed out to a member who has maintained good status in this union for years is beyond ridiculous: it is completely asinine. A member making a 50-cent error shouldn’t be lumped together with someone who tries to get away without paying his full dues. The thing to do in this case would have been to add 50 cents to my next quarter payment and send me a valid card now.

I will be 80 this year. I stopped playing on an regular basis several years back, but I have maintained membership in this union to show my support of fellow musicians. I felt this was the right thing to do.

If the leadership of this union feels it is the right thing to do to send out “invalid” membership cards, then I made a big mistake voting for them in this past election.

Please take the time to explain to me the thinking involved here since I could not obtain a sensible explanation when I called the union office.

Garnet Morris

Local 802 responds:

After receiving Morris’s letter, the Membership Department immediately sent him a valid membership card and an apology.