Although the holiday season is upon us, the atmosphere is distinctly un-jolly. The stock market continues its gyrations, unemployment has begun to skyrocket and the call for a bailout for various segments of the economy continues. One can easily understand why economics is called the dismal science.
As we all know, when recession hits, our industry suffers early, suffers more and suffers longer.
All of the news that has recently come to the union confirms this — nonprofits are cutting budgets and a number of Broadway shows which we normally would have expected to run into the new year have already announced early January closings.
Aside from the personal toll that this will take on those who are lucky enough to hold a position as well as those who depend upon subbing, the union, too, will be in the position of tightening its belt.
In this context, it’s a small comfort, but I can report that the officers, working with our controller, Ira Goldman, have been able to craft a 2009 budget which is projected to be in the black.
This is no small accomplishment since we are, at the same time, paying a portion of the cost of a completely new computer system.
For several years, both during the tenure of the last two presidents and continuing into the first year of this administration, Local 802 attempted to develop new software to take the place of the COBOL system which was created for us over twenty years ago.
Starting with cuts made to the 802 health fund in early 2007 and culminating with the creation of the new A+ levels after the Broadway negotiations, it became apparent that the old system was inadequate to execute the tasks required and would never be updated in time.
As a result, the executive board authorized the administration to hire an outside consultant to develop a proposal to send to outside software vendors for the health plan; this project was later extended to include the search for a software provider for the entire union.
Thus far, the entire project has gone much more smoothly than anticipated; we now hope to have the new health plan system in place by next spring and the union software ready for testing before the end of next year.
The membership owes a debt of gratitude to a number of employees and consultants for this accomplishment — Don Moore for pointing us in the right direction; Jennifer Cronin, Joe Rodriguez and Al Cardillo for nursing the old system along while the new one is being developed; and Sandra Alayo for bringing an experienced hand to the implementation of the process.
While most members may only become aware of this improvement because health benefits calculations will be more efficient and accurate, a comprehensive new union system should streamline the processing of payrolls at the union and help us to keep personnel costs under control.
The price of the new system can be amortized over five years, so we can reduce the impact on the budget in any one year, but it will make budgeting more challenging in the immediate future.
In the long run, however, it should delay the necessity for dues increases for a number of years.
That is, however, only one bright spot in an otherwise dismal landscape.
Given that the government now states that we have been in recession for a full year and the economic picture shows no signs of improvement, it may be some time before we see a return to normal levels of employment.
What should we do during the interim? Let me close by outlining a few suggestions.
- Lobby like crazy. The arts always get pushed to the side when hard times hit, but the entertainment industry is one of the largest economic engines in New York State. Call Paul Molloy (212-245-4802, ext. 176) today and plan to lobby in Albany on Feb. 3 for arts funding and on March 31 at Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. or for arts education funding with MENYC on March 9 in Albany. It will be harder to achieve a post-production tax credit in this environment, but we have to continue to try.
- Give to the less fortunate. The Emergency Relief Fund was created to help musicians in times of need. The demand for that help will increase as long as the downturn in the economy continues. If you are lucky enough to be working, try to help your less fortunate brothers and sisters by donating today. Call Robert Bander at (212) 245-4802, ext. 187 for details.
- Become a participant in your union rather than an observer. A union works best when it is an activist network, not a service organization. Join Local 802 Power Boosters and help us make our union more visible in the progressive community. That will pay dividends when we need allies in the future. Board members Ethan Fein and Maxine Roach will be happy to talk to you about the group.