The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CVII, No. 5May, 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:

I have been a member for 49 years and have never written to 802 or Allegro but I find I must express my feelings about how I was recently treated.

As I often hear, unions are losing members. Why? I feel this is happening not only for big reasons but also for small, nonsensical reasons such as in the following story.

Like a good member, I recently sent in my dues payment for the first quarter.

It turns out I was short 50 cents.

I wasn’t aware of the new dues schedule because I hadn’t received that issue of Allegro in the mail.

Then I received my Local 802 union card, which stated, “This card is invalid.”

This invalid card is about as much use to me as a snow shovel in July!

Instead of sending out invalid cards, the Membership Department could do any of the following three things:

1. Send letters like this: “Dear member: In your recent dues payment to us, you were short a negligible amount. Unfortunately, we cannot send you a valid union card until you pay the balance due. We apologize for this.”

2. Or, when members are short a negligible amount, send them a valid union card anyway and add the negligible amount due to the next quarter’s dues.

3. At the very least, make sure that you periodically print in Allegro the latest dues schedules.

The bottom line is that I also belong to AFM Local 38-398 (Westchester) and — guess what? I think I might have a found a way to save about $208 this year.

–John Pearson


To the Editor:

Local 802’s response to my letter in last month’s Allegro passes the proverbial buck. When I was a councilman, our governing body explored shared services with other municipalities. Why couldn’t the officers and trustees of the health plan do the same in 2003 when — according to their response — the problem began?

I propose two solutions.

One: merge our health benefits plan with a larger union to get more clout and save our members money.

The second solution: Merge this union into a similar union. Maybe it’s time.

All of us in the club date field have supported 802 with our dues over the decades, and the income from it was one of the pillars of support. You obviously don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that the participant population gets older. Why didn’t you plan for it during the good times?

It’s easy to slough off political slogans: blame the pharmaceutical companies or hope for national healthcare.

Legislation will take years, even if we can beat the drug, insurance and health company lobbies.

It is quite evident that now that there is no club date business for most musicians over 50.

Drastic medicine is needed, and by merging this union with a stronger one, the members may be able to get the health care benefits they’ve paid for and supported over the decades.

It’s time to give a hard look to why I and many others like me should support a few Broadway and symphony musicians, while the incompetence of our officers and trustees makes them respond with sweeping generalities.

–Joel Zelnik


To the Editor:

I am writing this letter in response to Allegro’s thought-provoking “question of the month” (see pages 12-13), which asks for our thoughts on the decline in membership in Local 802.

Having been a member in good standing since 1963, I myself am considering dropping my membership.


Because I feel — sadly — that my union no longer works on my behalf.

I have been attempting to get my rightful residual payments for my recorded performances on the original “Blues Brothers” film soundtrack for almost two decades

Despite my name being printed on all product relating to this film, the union has done jack to assist me.

The former president of 802 never once responded to an e-mail.

Also, AFM President Tom Lee wrote “my people are working on it.” A year later, I think he can’t find his people.

I am fed up.

Having preached the benefits of joining the AFM to students, at clinics and at seminars, I cannot do this any more, as this puts my credibility at stake.

I am not the only 802 member who feels let down.

Really a shame.

–Elliott Randall


To the Editor:

As former members of military bands, we take issue with several assertions made by Steve Jones in his article “Is the Military Good for Jazz?” published in the April Allegro.

Military bands recruit some of the finest young musicians in the country for good reasons — full time, salaried work, great benefits and job security.

Mr. Jones asks, “What does playing in a military band do to musicians?”

It creates excellent, mature performers by providing plenty of practice time, a wide variety of performance experiences and musical training.

Most offensive and outrageous is Mr. Jones’ position that military musicians are “scabs.”

It is unfortunate that Mr. Jones believes he lost a gig, but the gig was never his to lose. Military bands are not permitted to appear in festivals or venues where they could shut other groups out of performing.

The reality is that Mr. Jones has many more employment opportunities in D.C. than he would have in other cities, as band personnel rarely freelance.

Military bands exist as part of the ceremonial and public relations departments for their respective branches of service. Mr. Jones’ assertion that they “inspire the troops to go fight harder” is simply ludicrous. The bands perform for presidential, White House and ceremonial functions, and act as good will ambassadors for our country by touring and appearing at events of national significance.

We much prefer our tax dollars applied towards musical instruments than towards another $2,000 toilet seat in the Pentagon. The U.S. government directs a miniscule percentage of its budget towards the arts.

Without the bands, we would have several hundred more musicians out of work and that would mean even more competition for people like Mr. Jones.

–Karen Fisher and Chris MacDonnell
Fisher is a former member of the U.S. Coast Guard Band;
MacDonnell is a former member of the U.S. Marine Band.


To the Editor:

I would like to thank Local 802 for the front-page article about our strike in last month’s Allegro. Our members appreciate your support.

I raised my three children while working at the Bach-Conn-Selmer plant here in Elkhart. All three played Bach instruments. I have always been amazed how a flat piece of brass could develop into a beautiful instrument.

The company used to promote from within, turning plant workers into company officials. This worked well, because it often meant that everyone was on the same page.

When Selmer bought Conn, things changed. Supervisors were replaced by people without any musical industry knowledge. They went as far as hiring a president who came from a wheelbarrow company. The owners don’t care about anything but profit.

Our strike has lasted over a year now. Some of our members have become scabs while others have gone on to new jobs. There are still 166 members pulling picket duty.

Our members could definitely use your financial support. Any donations made to UAW Region 3 (mentioned in last month’s Allegro) or to our local are appreciated. Our address is at the end of this letter. Donations are split equally among members still doing picket time.

However, last month’s Allegro also refers to a group called “Food 4 Strikers.” As in any situation, there are always a few that have their own agenda. I feel that “Food 4 Strikers” is one of them. What started out as a great idea has now turned into something that has a lot of our members skeptical. A lot of our members would like to know what happened with all of the money that has been donated to them. We have yet to get an answer to that question.

–Connie Sanders
The writer is financial secretary of UAW Local 364, the union that represents striking brass makers at the Vincent Bach plant in Elkhart, Indiana. The local’s address is P.O. Box 2823, Elkhart, IN 46515.