The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CIX, No. 1January, 2009

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: 

While an accurate summary of the 2005 Radio City negotiations might provide some perspective to Local 802 members, such a summary would not have much to do with the charges brought against Jay Schaffner by John Babich (see “Radio City Redux,” Allegro, July/August 2008). 

However, President Landolfi misinterprets some events from that time and we feel a response is warranted: 

  1. As stated repeatedly by the participants since 2005, the last proposal from Radio City was not in fact “status-quo,” but included provisions for unlimited media use of recordings of the Christmas Show, as well as more latitude with orchestra overtime. Neither provision had been agreed to by 802 negotiators, and, without concessions, would not be accepted in any reasonable negotiation. 
  2. In addition, management’s wage proposals were substantially below standard cost-of-living increases. Again, with nothing in return, this was unacceptable. 
  3. Radio City had, in previous negotiations, also proposed two orchestras, elimination of the pool, recorded music, etc. These were standard openings, ultimately shot down once negotiations got serious. Accepting regressive proposals like these from an enterprise making record profits, weeks before the first rehearsal was not common in 2005. 
  4. When it became apparent that “auditions” were to be a part of a new agreement, the committee did, in fact, propose numerous versions of the ICSOM audition guidelines. All were rejected by management. 

As we have maintained from the beginning, actual negotiation was minimal throughout the many months of discussion. The chaos of that battle reflects the complexity of events both at the table and within Local 802. 

Considering that corporate union-busting is increasingly common, we needn’t waste our time interpreting the 2005 debacle solely in terms of accusations and political agendas. Instead, we should distill real facts and use them to prepare ourselves to meet future challenges. 

Tom Olcott, Bud Burridge, Sue Lorentsen, Rich Raffio and Andy Rodgers
The writers are the Radio City Orchestra Committee. 

Local 802 President Mary Landolfi replies: There is no disagreement that management should and could easily have afforded to finance a better contract for members of the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra in 2005. A union contract, however, will not achieve fairness for employees unless and until the union can bring sufficient leverage to bear against management. 

The writers seem to be unaware that, in a sworn affidavit to the NLRB, then-Local 802 Counsel Leonard Liebowitz stated that he had proposed a two-year rollover of the then existing contract with 2 percent wage increases in each year, an additional 1 percent in pension and a 150 percent premium for the organists in an off-the-record discussion with Jerry Kauff, management’s counsel, in early October 2005. Kauff agreed to all of these conditions except for the organist premium, which he proposed to increase from 25 percent to 35 percent. Accepting the response of management would have left the job security and premium shows of the regular members of the pool intact. (It would also have included the increase from two to three minutes’ use of recorded product for promotional purposes and the greater latitude in overtime which are outlined in #1 and which had tentatively been accepted by the union early in negotiations.) 

If we wish to prepare ourselves for future challenges, we must ask hard questions. What was the plan to pressure management when members of the orchestra did not report to the first rehearsal of the 2005 season? Did that plan factor in the idea that management would try to replace the orchestra with taped music, which Radio City was using on the road and also a circumstance which Local 802 had faced at a prior strike at the NYC Ballet? Why was our public campaign based on pay cuts when management had privately agreed to a raise and a contract extension? Were the committee and orchestra informed of Liebowitz’ offer and management’s response? If not, why not? Unless we identify warning signals that were missed during these negotiations, we may be doomed to suffer similar disastrous results in the future.