How Local 802 spreads the message of union benefits to younger musicians – and how you can do it, too!
The labor movement’s persistent message to its members – and to a wider national audience, to those who might listen – is “Organize or Die!” Helping workers form unions is our basic mission, and we at Local 802 emphatically subscribe to that philosophy. The union has rolled out a number of well-publicized organizing campaigns, such as the Live Music Initiative, Justice for Jazz Artists and other various initiatives. The results of our efforts vary widely – some work, some do not. But the underlying union principles remain steadfast:
- Musicians have more leverage when they are united than when they seek individual solutions.
- When musicians act together as a group to improve their working conditions, most employers seek to marginalize such efforts.
- If musicians unite to support their own interests, we stand a good chance of enhancing every musician’s collective employment environment. In other words, if you win better pay and benefits in your own ensemble, this can raise the standards for other musicians across the city.
Longtime Local 802 members know that our unity, over many decades, has produced a set of scales and benefits that recognize and honor our musicians’ skills. Those gains are the envy of the national freelance classical musician world. Our rates recognize the enormous and incontrovertible skill of our musicians. Our employers concur – they pay our rates! In our domain of the labor movement, Local 802 has set the standard.
Nonetheless, one of our biggest organizational challenges is to convince younger musicians that the brief history described above is, in fact, their current reality.
Our goal – for all of us who know younger musicians – is to memorize and internalize the union’s talking points and convey them to others. Post them on your Facebook discussions and Twitter messages. Say them out loud when you meet a musician. Be proud of the union’s accomplishments and tell younger musicians that they can enjoy the same. Know what to say.
Here are three talking points. I’m sure you can come up with many more.
- Collective action will result in higher pay and benefits. Nonunion jobs in New York City can pay zero (which, of course, means losing money) or as little as $25. Union jobs offer a guaranteed paycheck.
- The union means job security. One example is the concept of first-call lists and rosters, and the right to sub out your chair. Another example is grievance procedures, where disputes are handled in a systematic way and you’re not at the mercy of your conductor. (If you miss that high “G” one night, it doesn’t mean you can be fired the next day – if you have a union contract.)
- Union benefits are transferable. You can earn pension credits when you play in various union ensembles – and they all add up in your same account. With enough pension credit, you can retire with dignity. Likewise, you can earn health insurance credits by playing in union ensembles.
As younger musicians attempt to enter a difficult and highly competitive career, the advantages of union membership and participation should be a major part of a professional musician’s life planning.
The Concert Department is always willing and eager to discuss these issues with anyone – new members, new groups and established groups – and we are also continually presenting the union vision to younger musicians in a variety of educational environments. Here’s a sampler of recent outreach events:
- At Juilliard, we give seminars that include a brief history of the labor movement, developments in the national symphonic world and freelance employment opportunities in NYC.
- The organization called Inside Broadway (where Local 802 serves on the board) sponsors a program called “Creating the Magic.” An excerpt of a Broadway show is produced for a packed house of invited schoolkids. Afterwards, there is a talkback with show musicians and producers. Those events also include a presentation by President Tino Gagliardi, Recording Vice President John O’Connor and myself. We tell students about the high skills and backgrounds of Broadway musicians. We also describe how unionized actors, musicians, stagehands, set designers and others all cooperate efficiently and competently to put on a show. Even for a veteran such as myself, these shows are terrific displays of a Broadway show’s nuts and bolts. It’s totally fascinating.
- Each year at Local 802, NYU sponsors an event called the Broadway Percussion Summit. High school percussionists visit NYC and learn what it takes to be a Broadway percussionist. Tino and I speak to the kids and they spend a great week seeing Broadway shows and learning from Broadway musicians. This is always a treat.
- Our senior concert rep, Karen Fisher, has made presentations to various seminars and classes at NYU for many years, coordinating with various Local 802 members on the NYU faculty.
- As you read these words, Local 802 contract administrator Bettina Covo and I just finished a visit to the New York Youth Symphony. We talked about professional prospects for high school students and early college students.
- Finally, each year the Broadway department hosts a “Meet and Greet” event for NYC musicians who are just entering the world of musical theatre and who play in the various new musical festivals (like the Fringe). This evening is a terrific way to network. The next event is scheduled for fall.
Local 802 is always open to conversations with younger musicians. We will continue to do the outreach programs described above, and we are open to any other suggestions as to how to reach out to prospective new members. Please send us your ideas. We will all benefit from those suggestions. Let’s make sure this union will find the new members that will ensure that we thrive into the future. Contact me at (212) 245-4802, ext. 105 or Tolcott@Local802afm.org.