The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CIX, No. 7/8July, 2009

The Musicians’ Voice is an open forum for discussion about the state of union affairs. The letters 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

Listen up, YouTube – we’re professionals!

I just wanted to say a few words about two items in the last issue of Allegro.

First, let me address President Landolfi’s beautiful letter to the New York Times about the “YouTube Symphony.” The Times’s story played right into the minds of people who feel we’re not supposed to make a living in music. I’ve been a member of the AFM since I was 18 and a member of Local 802 since I was 26. I’m 71 now and am still making a living by playing, writing and teaching music. I have had this conversation so many times with other musicians: them saying, “Oh, I just want to play – I don’t care how much I get paid”; me saying, “If you want to keep playing, you better care about how much you’re getting paid!”

Next, I want to say something about the question of the month. One member wrote that you should not be allowed to vote in Local 802 affairs unless you earn above some predetermined level. So when you join the union as a young, aspiring, hopeful musician, are you supposed to wait until you reach this level before you become a full-fledged member?

Another member wrote that those musicians who never earn enough to become vested but pay into the pension fund anyway help keep the fund healthy so that the person who is fortunate enough to have a lot of work can get a large pension. He’s right, and that’s the way it should work.

I think anyone should be allowed to join Local 802, and all members should have the right to vote in union affairs, regardless of how much they earn in the music business. (Money isn’t everything: we pick and choose the types of music we play for many reasons.)

– Vince Prudente

“Wonder Pets!” revisited

In Allegro’s May issue, Joel Lefevre’s article illustrates the misguided assumptions that Local 802 holds which led them to deceive the “Wonder Pets!” bargaining unit they were supposed to be representing. Lefevre states that some in our bargaining unit believed we should go from being paid cash to “full scale with residuals.” None of us ever held or took this position. What we wanted when we signed organizing cards was “fair representation” by the union.

On Aug. 28, 2008, the bargaining unit was asked by 802 to ratify a 12-page first draft Memorandum of Agreement, which had incredibly not even been reviewed by the employer. The bargaining unit was told at the ratification meeting, and this was confirmed in a subsequent e-mail, that if there were any major changes of terms in the final CBA from what we had ratified, those changes would have to be brought back to the bargaining unit for a re-vote. This re-vote never happened.

Among the changes and renegotiated terms made after our “ratification” were: removal of the very clause giving musicians the right to ratify (thereby leaving only the International Executive Board to approve the CBA), the renegotiation of a $40 health payment down to $35 and altering the number of musicians afforded the right of first refusal. The union still can’t sort out their own doubletalk on this issue. In Allegro’s April issue they say the first call list is 18 but in a response to our letter to the editor in the May issue they concur with our assertion that the first call list is 17.

I welcome the administration’s explanations as to why the bargaining unit was denied the right to vote on the final agreement, since 802’s assurance of a ratification vote is clearly documented.

– Paul Raiman

THE ADMINISTRATION REPLIES: This writer has consistently expressed opposition to the terms of the “Wonder Pets!” agreement. He now asserts that the union is guilty of a sleight of hand in writing the final agreement with different terms than were contained in the memorandum of agreement.

The contention that the draft memorandum whose terms incorporated and modified the terms of the television film agreement do not conform to the final agreement is false. The final agreement is a faithful rendering of the terms of the memorandum. It is a merger of two documents into one stand-alone agreement. It was prepared by union counsel Harvey Mars, Recording Supervisor Jay Schaffner and Organizing Director Joel Lefevre and was further reviewed by AFM counsel, the AFM’s electronic media supervisor and counsel for the employer. (Also contrary to the writer’s assertion, the original MOA was indeed reviewed and approved by the employer.)

Final agreements generally do not contain membership ratification language while memorandums of understanding do contain such language. Unfortunately the AFM membership does not have a lot of experience with making first agreements from organizing efforts. The welfare rate changed at the insistence of the RMA that no group of musicians (in this case, music prep musicians) could exempt themselves from a welfare contribution. This change drives the cost of the contract upward, a net gain for us. Finally, the number of musicians referred on the first call list has varied over time due to resignations and hiring.

Wasted pages

Should membership be open to all?” These wasted pages in the last issue of Allegro tell us nothing.

Of course almost everyone wrote back in favor. No one could argue that a union needs members. The real question is: should you have to be a musician to be in the musicians’ union?

That is our problem here. You can join the union without being qualified to work under any of the contracts that exist. Just give ‘em your money. Join the library, Costco, and the AFM all on the same day. That doesn’t make us stronger. It makes us weaker. It means that having a union card is meaningless. In fact you could be a musician-hater, a politician, or a dry cleaner; you could be anything but a musician and still join up. Later, you can even become an officer! And this administration seems to think that once you have joined, you need to be counted as equal to everyone else who actually is qualified to work under the contracts.

Perhaps one of our executives could explain to us how this works. And for which members is our administration organizing work? The qualified or unqualified? Trumpet player or dry cleaner? And in what way?

President Landolfi seems to think that we need to capture work at all cost. But the capturing seems to simply result in lower wages for the musicians. What is good about that?

We pay a steady salary, pension contributions and health plan to Landolfi, Dennison, Schaffner, Tom Lee and the rest of our employees so that they can tell us that we should take less money. Do we need to pay people to negotiate lower fees for us? We can do that for free.

– David Finck

THE ADMINISTRATION REPLIES: This is a “straw man” argument, in which a position is distorted so that it can be more easily discredited. This administration has never advocated that work be organized at any cost; it has advanced the idea that musicians are better represented if the union organizes the maximum amount of work possible. Maintaining union density in the marketplace enables a union to win good contracts; conversely, failing to organize leads to an inability to interfere with production and less leverage in bargaining. When a union’s contract demands receive no response from management or when concessions are demanded in long-established contract terms, it is often the result of loss of union density. This is a problem currently facing the union movement as a whole, including the AFM. Attempting to bring more work under union contract to correct this problem does not reflect a desire to undermine standards; it is a concerted effort to protect them. This administration will continue to pursue solutions to this dilemma because it believes that it is in the best interests of our present and future membership.

Likewise, the administration has never advocated that a union card be as easily available as a library card. It has, like other administrations going back to the Glasel administration, encouraged staff to join Local 802 to build solidarity between the staff and membership. This is in keeping with AFM bylaws that allow workers in music related fields to join. It is regrettable that some of the very people who elevated Jay Schaffner and Bill Dennison to elected office now seek to destroy them. That these individuals continue to be retained in office by wide vote margins indicates that the membership as a whole still correctly value their contributions to Local 802.

Is Local 802 too political?

In Support of Marriage Equality” (Allegro, June 2009) strains to explain why an article about marriage equality is appearing in a professional musician union’s newspaper. It argues, “When unions and social movements … join forces, their collective power increases …”

What? I know of no data, logic or common sense that supports this conclusion. I am tired of seeing Allegro used as a soapbox to promote issues other than those which have to do with the needs and interests of professional musicians. I don’t pay dues to Local 802 so that its administration can take sides in complex sociopolitical debates.

Our administration should forge relationships with other unions and public officials with whom we share like views of the music business, but it should not promote its own social philosophy with 802’s resources.

Devoting resources to non-musical social issues is a slippery slope, as the topics are endless: abortion, socialized medicine, gun control, wealth distribution, nuclear power, affirmative action, bailouts, taxation, and the death penalty. Could we ever all agree? Or does our administration think it knows what is right and dares to speak for all of us?

The International Executive Board did not make a 2008 national presidential endorsement. According to AFM President Tom Lee, “Surveys have shown that union members do not wish to be told for whom to vote.” The administration of Local 802 should show similar respect to its members. It doesn’t have the right to speak for all members on issues that do not impact musicians or the music business. Furthermore, such issues create divisions and distract the administration from its primary tasks.

Enough already! If the pages of Allegro can’t be filled with news relevant to the music business, then make it shorter and save the membership some money.

– Bob Haley

I’m not sure about the pension fund, but in every other respect I’m in total agreement with John Thomas Oaks’s letter about Local 802’s politics that appeared in the last issue.

Local 802 clearly has a left-of-center political agenda that goes way beyond any necessary scope of what should be  its most important focus – improving working conditions for its musicians.

I feel the same kind of tension from many issues of Allegro that Mr. Oaks does – something I happily don’t feel from the AFM’s newspaper, the International Musician.

For example, in the same June issue there were two articles in support of gay marriage.

I’m an issue-by-issue person, and it so happens that I’m sympathetic to this issue myself, while respecting other views. But I don’t need to get lectured on it from Allegro. I wouldn’t like it anymore if 802 had a right-wing or even centrist (if that even exists anymore) viewpoint that it was shoving down our throats.

Anyone capable of reading Allegro is capable of reading other periodicals, and forming independent opinions on non-musical issues.

It may be true, as 802 said in its response to Mr. Oaks’s letter, that 802 has a long tradition of political activity. But to paraphrase Toscanini, tradition is often but an accumulation of yesterday’s mistakes.

– Raphael Klayman

THE ADMINISTRATION REPLIES: Although it disturbs some members, this administration continues to believe that we must be more politically involved to serve the interests of musicians and improve their working conditions. Do we want performance rights? Then we must have political allies. Do we want to stop diverting wage increases to support health care? Again, the solution is legislative. Although the AFM has traditionally had a more neutral posture, it has begun to become more politically active as it seeks legislative solutions to the problems of its members. It is unfortunate that this appears to give our political priorities a leftward tilt, but at present at least, the most worker-friendly positions seem to come from the left side of the aisle. As to the issue of the administration’s support for gay marriage, this issue – although politically charged – is a fundamental civil rights issue for many Local 802 members. In considering it, the board believed that our organization should be at the forefront of this fight for the sake of those very members, even if it is controversial for others.