Three Things the Union Cannot Ignore

Financial Vice President's Report

Volume 117, No. 1February, 2017

Tom Olcott

Tom Olcott is the financial vice president of Local 802 and the supervisor of the union’s concert department

My last two Allegro columns dealt with national political issues that will need our constant attention throughout the next few years. The union will continue to foster supportive conversations and interactions to talk about these issues. Those kinds of discussions took place at the Local 802 membership meeting of Dec. 2, 2016, which was a wonderful beginning. We need to maintain these conversations and keep them alive and vital. People need to talk to each other and seek common solutions. Local 802 is dedicated to providing forums where these kinds of conversations can continue to happen. We will help our members stay politically active and aware on a variety of local, state and national issues. (And, as always, you can make a contribution to our political action fund, TEMPO 802, when you pay your membership dues or anytime online at

While our heads have been turned by the curious, bizarre and possibly alarming national politics, Local 802 members cannot ignore other trends that disrupt and roil our business. I see the following three issues as particularly important in the way they affect musicians who are under my watch and responsibility.

  1. Small nonprofit boards of directors seem to have a vanishingly small influence on potential donors. The boards seem to be unaware of what it takes to raise money in that world. How can we, the performing musicians whose performance is the actual sellable product, influence the boards’ behavior? Do we want to enhance musicians’ influence? Or do we negotiate as we have done in the past? Let’s also analyze what there is to be done about employers who cry poverty and inability to raise funds, and then use that weakness as their strength while they seek to undermine musician compensation. That is a complex dance, but it is happening all the time in my office, every day.
  2. There is clear age discrimination disrupting the concert world. We all see that trend daily. As obvious as it is to musicians, the legal burdens of proof are exceedingly difficult to meet. Our questions become: How do we combat that trend? Can we find other ways to address the issue of aging in our business? How can maturing musicians retain respect and income and continue to make their vital contributions to our art? (Allegro covered this topic in our February 2013 issue, which included some very personal accounts of age discrimination. You can read it in the February 2013 Allegro archive.
  3. While we try to combat discrimination toward older musicians, at the same time how does Local 802 simultaneously attract hugely competent younger musicians and convince them of the benefits of union membership and the greater good of professional unity? I have asked this question in prior columns, especially in relation to chamber musicians and small chamber orchestras. We maintain an open-door policy toward any younger musician seeking a union solution to the predicaments of professional life. Local 802 is dedicated to finding ways to include musicians; we have no interest in excluding anyone. Let’s talk about your situation so we can share potential solutions. I can assure you that I don’t bite, nor do my exemplary staff members Karen Fisher and Marisa Friedman. We are here to listen to you and help your situation, not dismiss it. Local 802 is your resource and we urge you to take advantage of it. Please visit us on the fourth floor of 322 West 48th Street or call us at (212) 245-4802 and ask for the Concert Department.