The union makes us strong!

Notes from the field

Volume 119, No. 11December, 2019

Leo Gertner

RALLYING TOGETHER: Musicians and union activists recently rallied for the rights of musicians to earn fair pay and benefits when their work is streamed.

A union is not some faraway, stand-alone entity – it is the sum of its members and the qualities, interests and commitment to collective power they bring to it. That is why I am honored to join Local 802, a union of some of the most creative, interesting and passionate people in New York and beyond. I bring my own background as a former grievance representative and lawyer for a union in the building services industry, where members fought hard to win union recognition and respect on the job. As the new director of field services, I am excited to work with both our talented staff and members to ensure our union fights as hard as it can to ensure that the work of musicians – no matter who they are or where they come from – is respected and justly compensated. Together, we can make sure that happens.

I am also thrilled that the department I head brings together a wonderful team of union representatives under a slightly new umbrella. Many of the functions the representatives performed before remain the same: answering member questions about contracts and other issues, investigating contract violations, training stewards, providing support to bargaining and member committees, and doing research to bring union standards to more jobs. But by bringing together the representatives from different music departments – including Theatre, Concert, Jazz and Recording – we hope to organize our resources in a way that makes the union more accessible to its members and nimble in responding to what is going on in the music world.

One crucial way I hope the field services department can help strengthen our union is by redoubling our efforts to provide member education on labor issues. Our musicians are incredibly smart and knowledgeable and so many have incredible knowledge and experience fighting for better standards. But as a union, we must ensure that all our members understand their rights under the law and our agreements, and what’s at stake in our negotiations. Members should feel equipped to deal with the many workplace issues that can arise, from not being paid on time to confronting unsafe working conditions. Knowledge is the best protection we have against abuse and the erosion of important standards.

Another way that we hope the department of field services can contribute to the union is to create a clearer channel for members to raise problems and issues they are having, whether it involves pay, benefits, membership, discipline, safety, bargaining, referral to services for musicians, or any other matter. We hope to establish a member-intake system that allows members to report issues via web, phone or walk-in, which will then be assigned to a representative who will be in contact with the member. We want to ensure we respond to member inquiries and issues in a timely manner and do our best to resolve any problems. While we do operate under certain constraints and it is impossible to solve every problem, the union should be as accessible and responsive to 802’s members as possible.

There is a great deal of work ahead of me and even more to learn about musicians and your craft. But I am committed to helping this union fight hard for you because I believe all workers deserve respect and dignity. Only by standing together can we improve conditions for ourselves. Please feel free to come introduce yourself to me if you are in the building. Once again, I am honored to join Local 802 and serve its membership.