As we say hello to a new year, it’s time to reflect on our challenges and successes from 2014. I would be remiss if I didn’t start by mentioning Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner of Staten Island. The deaths of these two men – and of many other unarmed black men all over the country – need to remind us that the labor movement is also part of the movement for social justice. Let’s remember that we are artists and musicians because we are creative people. I challenge you to use your art and your imagination to make the world a better place, in whatever big – or small – way you can. Let’s work for justice and for a world where we can all co-exist in freedom.
Another loss in 2014 was the death of our own member Mary Whitaker, who was murdered by a pair of deranged thieves at her summer home near Lake Erie. Her loss still resonates with us, and we will always cherish and honor her memory. There was no gentler, kinder soul than Mary, and she will live in our hearts forever.
We also said our final goodbye last year to music legend and lifelong activist Pete Seeger, a Local 802 member since 1942, who died at the age of 94.
Moving to political accomplishments of last year, we acknowledge our deal with the Metropolitan Opera. As we all know by now, the deal was not everything either side wanted, but it was the kind of grand bargain that was necessary to avoid a strike or a lockout, which would have devastated both our musicians and our audiences. As we gain perspective from that ordeal, we are striving now to maintain a cooperative and mutually beneficial attitude with Met management, which is not an easy task considering the contentious bargaining of this past summer and the ultimate sacrifice the orchestra had to endure through reductions in compensation. As we go into the new year, we continue to bargain with the Met management. As part of the agreement, the reductions are to be implemented in two stages, with the second stage to be bargained by Feb. 1. We are exploring changes in healthcare and work rules to find an amount equal to some or all of the final reduction in cost required by the agreement.
In 2014, I represented Local 802 at a number of conferences, including the International Federation of Musicians conference in Rome, many regional AFM conferences, several meetings of the International Executive Board, and the conference of the Theatre Musicians’ Association in Dallas. Most recently, I just returned from the British Musicians’ Union in London and the International Federation of Musicians (FIM) conference on online music in Budapest. This conference was well attended by many of the constituent musician unions from around the world. The message was clear: musicians are not being compensated fairly for work that is being exploited online through both interactive media (where users can pick their own playlist) and non-interactive media (such as internet radio). The result of this important conference was a declaration from the constituent unions of FIM decrying the inadequate remuneration to performing artists for their contribution to these online services. It was agreed that a 50-50 share of online revenues with the record producers was necessary for payment that is fair and proportional to the value of our contribution (see article in this issue).
As we continue to review last year, let’s remember some hopeful news.
Local 802 made history when it led the labor contingent of the historic People’s Climate March.
We offer our thanks to City Council, which gave us a big boost when it passed a resolution in support of our jazz campaign.
We remember when the 60 musicians of the New York City Opera Orchestra performed last February with special guest Placido Domingo in a historic one-night concert at City Center. This concert celebrated the 70th anniversary of the opera and was led by former music director George Manahan. All proceeds were donated to Local 802’s Emergency Relief Fund. The story of NYCO is not over yet. In this issue, see page 12 for a story on the NYCO orchestra’s recent tour of Japan. As Allegro goes to press, there appeared to be some movement in the opera company’s bankruptcy case and the various bids to re-open the company. We’ll keep you posted. For the moment, there is a glimmer of hope that the show will go on.
To continue our reminiscences, last year we celebrated the news that the renamed Paul Taylor American Modern Dance Company will once again be performing with live music, starting with its 2015 season. After decades of performing to recorded music, the company agreed to reestablish its relationship with Local 802. We are excited about this new relationship as well as the progress of the Paul Taylor Company in its new endeavor.
Last year, Local 802 continued its sponsorship of both the Fringe and New York Musical festivals. The new musical theatre initiative is in its ninth year and is one of the very important organizing efforts in which Local 802 engages. It is an opportunity for musicians starting their careers in theatre to be introduced to the union by actual visits with Local 802 staff and Broadway Theatre Committee delegates. We also once again co-sponsored Piano in the Park last summer, which provided live music in Bryant Park for passersby to enjoy. Finally, we achieved a new agreement covering all shows of the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
In 2014, we negotiated contracts with dozens of Off Broadway theater productions as well as many classical ensembles, including the ASO, Stamford, ABT and many more. The NYC Ballet celebrated 50 years at Lincoln Center last year and we were pleased to publish NYC Ballet musicians’ reminiscences in Allegro.
Speaking of Allegro, our magazine published a lot of great content in 2014. We should remember that Allegro won first place in our circulation class in New York City and second place in the entire nation in a competition judged by the International Labor Communications Association and its NYC chapter. We interviewed many top musicians in Allegro this year, including guitar master and activist Marc Ribot, jazz bassist Rufus Reid, harpist Susan Jolles, Bronx Arts director Bill Scribner, Met principal oboist Elaine Douvas, prominent musicians Urbie Green, Spencer Bruno, Anthony McGill, Marvin Stamm, Bobby Porcelli and many others.
I wish all of us a happy and healthy New Year, and may live music continue to thrive in 2015 in New York City and all over the world.