Unity — The Key to Progress

Recording Vice-President's Report

Volume CVI, No. 9September, 2006

Bill Dennison

The last several months have been a difficult time for our union, its officers and staff. I believe we have done what is necessary to protect Local 802 from any repercussions related to the financial improprieties of President Lennon. We have been assured that the union itself is not the target of the current Department of Labor inquiry into those improprieties, so whatever conclusion they reach will not involve Local 802.

On the back page of this issue of Allegro, you will see that the Oct. 17 membership meeting agenda includes the election of a Trial Committee. If selected, that Trial Committee will review charges of financial malfeasance filed against President Lennon by myself, Financial Vice President Blumenthal and board members Maura Giannini, Mary Landolfi and Jay Schaffner.

I believe it was our obligation to the union and its members to file these charges. Each elected officer of Local 802 is a fiduciary of the union. Each has a responsibility to insure that union’s resources are used only for the benefit of our members. Should an officer become aware of the misuse of union funds and do nothing, that officer would be shirking his or her responsibility to you, the members.

When the charges are presented at the Oct. 17 membership meeting, it will then be up to the members, as it should be, to determine whether the charges deserve further action. If so, a trial committee will be elected to review the evidence and present a report at the next membership meeting.

In the meantime, the work of the union should and will go on. High on the agenda is preparation for the 2007 Broadway negotiations. Along with a number of Broadway musicians I recently attended a theatre musicians training program organized by the Broadway Theatre Committee. It represented a start in this effort and I hope more musicians will be involved in future meetings.

As one of our union’s most important contracts, the Broadway agreement deserves the attention of key officers and staff. We had spent nearly two years preparing for the very difficult 2003 negotiations and strike, but so had the League of American Theatres and Producers. The League entered those talks determined to end theatre minimums. With a several million dollar “war budget” built by assessing themselves $1 per ticket, with virtual orchestras and/or tapes ready to play at each show and with a pledge to lock us out across Broadway should any one show be struck, the producers were confident they could weather a strike and succeed in eliminating theatre minimums once and for all.

The courage of Broadway musicians to face down the League’s threats and the unprecedented support of the other unions — particularly the IATSE Local 1 stagehands and Actors Equity — forced a far different set of circumstances and a very different settlement. Instead of orchestras on the street and shows going on with mechanical music, all of Broadway was shut down. Instead of job losses and the elimination of minimums, every musician’s job was preserved and theatre minimums (though reduced) were locked in until 2013. While the settlement was not what everyone had hoped for, it was far from what the League had been certain it could gain.

So what’s the outlook for this year’s Broadway negotiations? First of all, Broadway has done well over the last decade and that economic health has continued through this last season. Except for the 2001-2002 season — impacted by the events of 9/11 — Broadway grosses have continued to set new records each year. Looking back to the early 1990, there were typically 12 to 15 musicals running through the year. In 2005 and 2006 there were from 20 to 24 musicals. More musicians are working today than 15 years ago.

So while the producers and theatre owners always cry poverty, the facts say otherwise. The ability to afford a fair contract should be a non-issue. Off the table this year are theatre minimums, always the most contentious issue. With solid preparation and a united membership I believe we can achieve a fair contract. Once again we need to build upon our solidarity with the other Broadway unions. Perhaps the days of going it alone are gone for our union as it is for many others, but with careful planning and unity among the entertainment unions, we can still prevail against the unreasonable demands of employers.

The key to progress has always been and remains our unity. That has to be our watchword going forward. The power of employers can only be trumped by the unity of those who actually do the work. While differences will surely be expressed in Local 802’s upcoming election season, the unity and therefore strength of our union depends upon those differences being expressed in an honest and factual way. Debate will be healthy. Divisiveness, innuendo and smear tactics will not serve our union’s best interests.


I had finished this column several weeks ago, but now having read the comments in this issue by Executive Board member Jack Gale, a brief response is needed. Gale continues to repeat allegations that were the basis of charges filed against Jay Schaffner and myself. The charges were false and for that reason were completely withdrawn. And if they were withdrawn by those who made them, including Gale, why would he repeat them now? Continuing to repeat a lie does not make it so. The real shame in all this is that those in leadership who so badly mishandled the negotiations at Radio City still refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. This failure to take responsibility is not very different from the rationalization required to blame me and others for Lennon charging his personal vacation on the union credit card or his cashing of union checks and pocketing the money.