The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CIX, No. 5May, 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:

I attended Arts Day in Albany with a number of Local 802 members and others from the arts community. We lobbied our legislators about the proposed funding cuts to the New York State Council on the Arts. We also took the opportunity to make our case against a tax on Broadway tickets. 

I had never lobbied before and was a bit nervous. We managed to communicate with many legislators; I was surprised to find out how easy it was to make appointments. On my way to lunch I ran into Senator Daniel Squadron. He was in a rush but took the time to listen to my concerns.

Paul Molloy had briefed us on our talking points. In my meeting later in Senator Squadron’s office, I was asked what solutions we have. Ours was to raise the tax rate on the wealthiest New Yorkers. I was told that we were the only lobbyists that day who had offered a solution.

As I write this, the state is considering a budget with a higher tax rate for the wealthier, and the tax on tickets has been withdrawn. Considering that no one we spoke with was aware of the ticket tax and the effect it would have on Broadway pensions, I can only conclude that we made a difference.

Now I understand the importance of getting a message across to those who run government. I see how vital it is for each us, in whatever way we can, to get involved with the issues that affect our lives. I had a rewarding sense of doing something good. I also got an inside look at the wheels of government and how, as a group, we can help to steer them. I would recommend this trip to anyone who is concerned for our future.

Walter Usiatynski
The writer is co-chair of the Broadway Theatre Committee.


I’m writing to praise Local 802 Club Date Rep Richard Schilio for coming to my rescue when I had no one to turn to. He did so quickly and with true dedication to “his musicians.”

Payment for work I did on a song was stopped by the man who booked me, and in total despair I called Richard. In a matter of days he contacted the culprit, left me update messages, and then called me with great news: he negotiated a full return of the $2,000 owed me.

As you can imagine I was startled by his ability to resolve this huge problem so speedily, and am in awe of how generously and brilliantly he came to my defense. Richard advocated on my behalf when I had no one else. More than ever I’m proud, thankful and happy to be a member of Local 802.

Three cheers for Richard!

Gladys Carbo Flower
(a/k/a Havana Carbo)


To the Editor:

In her April report, President Landolfi commented on the bylaw resolution we submitted for the February membership meeting. This proposal would have required membership in 802 from the beginning of an election year for voting eligibility, and also made 802’s election process more transparent by requiring members’ signatures on absentee ballot requests and by making the list available for inspection before being sent to the AAA. The Executive Board voted the proposal down under its authority to rule on resolutions when a meeting does not achieve a quorum.

Landolfi states that 802’s attorney was concerned that ”the change would not survive scrutiny by the Labor Department.” It is notable that 802’s attorneys have typically supported the views of the officers who control their employment. When has the Labor Department ever objected to union verification of requests for election ballots? Our resolution was thoroughly vetted by a prominent union labor attorney before we submitted it. 

As for the administration’s “belief that no sufficient reason had been shown to justify modifying voting conditions” (which they claim would become “less convenient and more restrictive”), we believe that the safeguards proposed by the resolution were reason enough. An officer running for re-election should not have sole and unlimited discretion over the handling of absentee ballot requests nor of the information that the AAA receives from the union in running our elections. 

Absentee ballot requests should be subject to verification. During the last election, several members on 802’s list of those requesting absentee ballots told election canvassers that they had received ballots but had not requested them. Some of these members may have been mistaken, but machinery for verifying such requests would help address such concerns.

Evidently, the Landolfi administration sees no value in such safeguards in an incumbent administration’s handling of 802’s election process.

Michael Comins, Tino Gagliardi,
Jack Gale and Bill Rohdin

LOCAL 802 REPLIES: The authors offer only anonymous and anecdotal information to support the purported need for new limitations on voting eligibility. Among the signatories of this letter are members of several previous administrations, including one who served as an Executive Board member for over 20 years. In these positions of leadership, they themselves conducted numerous elections as incumbents under these very conditions and saw no need to change them. It is also worth noting that there are procedures both within Local 802 bylaws and under federal labor law which allow members to challenge the results of local elections if there is any actual evidence of foul play. It is perhaps most significant in deciding whether there were, in fact, any irregularities in the conduct of the 2006 election that would necessitate changes in the bylaws that no such appeal was brought over its results either at the AAA immediately following the election, or at the Department of Labor within the two-year statute of limitations. 

Furthermore, the authors fail to take into account that there were several portions of the bylaw resolution that were acceptable and such was noted at the meeting. For example, it was indicated by the recording vice president that having the AAA handle absentee ballots would be a good suggestion.

However, the proposal extending the voting eligibility period was unwarranted and potentially violated the LMRDA’s prohibition on unreasonable restrictions on voter eligibility. The fact that there were no legitimate reasons to extend the eligibility period as well as the fact that the current eligibility criteria were longstanding militated against the adoption of the proposal. Additionally it was undemocratic and restrictive.

Another part of the proposal was written too broadly and potentially disenfranchised musicians who on occasion worked as leaders but who were neither contractors, personnel managers or employers on any regular basis.

The fact that the proposal was vetted by a “prominent labor attorney” is irrelevant. That attorney’s fiduciary obligation and loyalty is not to Local 802, but to the individual or party who hired him. 


To the Editor:

Sometime ago, I read AFM President Tom Lee’s letter in which he stated that the IEB authorized 802”s “WonderPets!” negotiation at its 2007 meeting in Virginia. I immediately alerted the 802 Executive Board that the rather detailed minutes of that meeting contain absolutely no reference whatsoever to “WonderPets!”

President Lee’s letter was recently printed in the April Allegro with other letters and articles, all praising the “WonderPets!” agreement.

It is surely in 802’s best interests to have musicians working under AFM agreements, especially in the elusive cable industry. Getting a foot in the door with an initial agreement is a worthy goal.

Nevertheless, a significant portion of the “WonderPets!” bargaining unit has expressed dissatisfaction with the agreement and the way negotiations were handled. For them, communication problems and occasional misinformation from 802 resulted in a less than satisfying agreement.

I am not a member of the “WonderPets!” bargaining unit and don’t presume to speak for them. I do, however, feel that Allegro does a disservice by printing disproportionately positive coverage of a fraught negotiation with almost no hint of the internal complexities and controversy that occurred. Such whitewashing denies the membership an objective viewpoint, eliminates the chance to do better by learning from our mistakes and ultimately, smacks of propaganda.

In addition, printing President Lee’s letter further muddied the waters. The letter purportedly (and retroactively) “clarified” a situation with an explanation which remains unclear and unsettling. I find its appearance in Allegro both counterproductive and disrespectful to the membership.

Bud Burridge

To the Editor:

Both Mikael Elsila and Fred Barton’s “Wonder Pets!” articles in the April issue are entirely misleading to Allegro readers. Perhaps the union is more concerned with its political and P.R. success in achieving ANY agreement than actually crafting an agreement that fully serves the rank and file. 

The agreement negotiated for “WonderPets!” does not represent the wishes of the great majority of the bargaining unit in any way. Fred Barton’s lengthy article (in the space afforded him by the editorial board), states that the Local 802 “negotiating team spent countless hours with us discussing the possibilities and listening to our concerns.” All of these meetings with the bargaining unit failed to accomplish what was needed, since once negotiations began, the bargaining unit was not allowed to sit in on any negotiations nor to comment on ongoing negotiations by being present in a room next door. We were not consulted on any terms of the agreement until we were asked to ratify a first draft, which, at the time of our ratification, had not even been reviewed by the employer.

Our union administration is supposed to guide and assist the rank and file in a negotiation. Had we not been shut out and had we been allowed to participate in the negotiations, much of our discontent could have been avoided. 

The 11 names signed below are all Local 802 musicians who comprise a majority of the 17-member “Wonder Pets!” bargaining unit. The article in Allegro’s April issue, “Working Together, We Win,” grossly misrepresents the size of the bargaining unit as 45 musicians.

Richard Brice, Tom Sevkovic, Helen Campo,
David Siegel, George Flynn, Michael Starobin,
Ned Paul Ginsburg, Paul Raiman, Leo Grinhaus,
Ellen Katz Willner and Jim Mironchik

LOCAL 802 REPLIES: Allegro stands by the accuracy of its reporting on the “WonderPets!” contract. Prior to this first-ever agreement for children’s cable television programming, musicians were working for a smaller economic package, had no first-call rights and worked under terms of a complete buyout. Musicians, including each of those who signed the above letter, will now earn a larger economic package and have first-call rights. Plus, their product will at least have some protections. 

As to the issue of exclusion from the bargaining process, musicians were asked to attend but declined due to concerns about reprisal from the employer. This was not an unreasonable perception. The employer did break off negotiations and engage replacements to continue nonunion music production for the program. A great deal of effort went into reversing those actions. The reluctance of musicians to join negotiations is reflected in notes taken at the time and remembered by other members of the bargaining unit.

As to the number of musicians in the bargaining unit, the number 17 mentioned in the letter above is the number of musicians who are on the first call list for the length of this three-year agreement. The 45 musicians referred to in last month’s Allegro article refers to the total number of musicians — this 17 included — who have worked on the program preceding its unionization, and who continue to do so under the new union agreement, either on the first call list or as subs.

Finally, let’s address the issue of who we quoted in the article. We have in our records a copy of an e-mail that we sent out to 15 of the “WonderPets!” musicians on July 30, 2008. The e-mail asked musicians if they’d like to comment in Allegro about the contract. We received a handful of responses, all of which we printed in last month’s story, except for one comment that was off the record. Allegro takes pride in printing diverse points of view.

Although one can understand disappointment that all bargaining goals were not achieved in this round of negotiations, it is simply a fact that the economic package being earned by employees at “WonderPets!” is higher now — after the union contract has been achieved — than it was when these same musicians worked nonunion.

For another take on the “WonderPets!” contract, see Joel LeFevre’s column in this issue.


To the Editor:

We, the Executive Committee of the Recording Musicians Association of New York are writing to call attention to the recent AFM adoption of a revised videogame agreement.

This new agreement has been adopted while film negotiations (which began in February of this year) are still in progress. We feel that the new videogame agreement contains provisions that potentially harm our side in the film negotiations (scheduled to resume in early May).

Had the AFM IEB merely waited another month before adopting this new videogame agreement, possible risks to the ongoing negotiation of the successful in-place film agreement could have been avoided.

We wish to emphasize the role Local 802 has played in this. The original “Option 2” videogame agreement was the product of the 802 Recording Musicians Committee headed by Jay Schaffner; the new version (which contains broad combined use language) was adopted by the IEB without the committee’s prior knowledge and against its recommendation to Local 802’s administration.

In recent e-mail correspondences, several key musician members of the committee have disowned this latest version of the videogame agreement and called for its removal by the IEB; so far it does not appear as though this request will be honored.

Working musicians today know we are up against difficult circumstances between the overall economy and changes specific to our business. The changes affecting New York recording musicians include the adverse impacts of globalization, technology, and shifting consumer demographics. Challenging conditions such as these gave rise to the concept of unionization; how ironic to find that in these difficult times our union leadership seems to be acting against our interests instead of fighting for them.

Roger Blanc, Lanny Paykin, Gail Kruvand and Tino Gagliardi
The writers are the RMA-NY Executive Committee.

LOCAL 802 REPLIES: There exist at least two models upon which unions rely to respond to changes in business models and the external environment. One is to refuse to compromise standards and to allow work which does not fit into the conventional and historic business model to be done nonunion. The other is to organize new work, even if it must be done at a lesser standard than previous work, and to strive over time to bring the new contract up to the full standard. The latter is called the organizing model of unionism and is advocated by the AFL-CIO.

Local 802 has historically been unique in the AFM in seeking to organize new work. More than 20 years ago, the Glasel administration reached out to organize Off Broadway, even though it meant signing contracts which were far below the standard at Broadway theatres. Local 802 and its members have benefitted from that initiative in the form of higher standards for Off Broadway work and greater control over the theatre industry.

The AFM, at the behest of the RMA, has generally refused to organize any work that deviates from contracts which were first bargained in the 1940’s. The result is the constant diminution of recording work done under union contract to the detriment of the organization, benefit funds and, most importantly, the membership. It is only recently that the AFM has begun to understand that it must capture new forms of work or risk extinction.

The mantra of “organize or die” is a real one. If we wish to reverse the aging and decline of our membership and organization, we must organize new work. Seeking to organize new work does not equate with “working against our interests.” In fact it is quite the opposite.