Want to make more money on your gig?

Musicians increase their paychecks with a call to the union

Volume 113, No. 10November, 2013

Karen Fisher

To say that the past year has been brutal for orchestral musicians is a bit of an understatement. As you have certainly read by now, musicians in the U.S. and overseas have been beleaguered by unprecedented attacks from their managements. We are still watching in dismay and anger as our brothers and sisters in the Minnesota Orchestra endure one of the longest lockouts in symphonic history. Here at home, the slow, painful demise of the New York City Opera was devastating and demoralizing to our entire community.

Scattered amid this turmoil, however, there is good news here. Broadway is thriving, as are many of our major freelance orchestras. Contracts continue to be signed and wonderful artistic endeavors carry on from Lincoln Center to small concert venues throughout the city. The energy and relentless creativity of our members continues to flourish despite politics or bad management. There are still audiences. There is still money to be made.

Thanks to a few of those savvy Local 802 members, the musicians in two orchestras now have more money in their pockets and benefit plans this month.

In September, a number of Local 802 musicians were contacted to perform a concert of Chinese music in Alice Tully Hall. The original hiring notice called for four hours of rehearsal, a dress rehearsal, and a concert. The employer offered $250 cash for everything.

Knowing that the concert was in a major venue and that the offered compensation was far below union scale, a member of Local 802 contacted our office. We got in touch with the contractor, who met with us on behalf of the employer. When we informed him of the actual cost to hire this orchestra in Lincoln Center, it looked like the concert might be cancelled. The employer claimed that they didn’t have the budget to pay scale wages and benefits. Further complicating matters, there was a language barrier. The presenters were Chinese, and although their English was certainly better than our Chinese, we feared something might get lost in translation during negotiations. Luckily, the contractor was able to convey our concerns and the employer realized that the prestige of performing at Lincoln Center was worth the cost.

Because we learned about the concert with some time to spare, the presenter was able to come up with scale wages and benefits for the entire 44-piece orchestra. The health and pension checks were actually submitted to our office before the concert date.

With the help of a contractor who did some shuttle diplomacy, we were able to get this job under a Local 802 contract. More than anything, though, the orchestra owes its gratitude to the anonymous musician who told us about the engagement in a timely manner. Having a few weeks from the time we heard about the job (which was not on the Lincoln Center calendar) to the actual time of the concert, we were able to put everything in place.

Separately, a casual remark online exposed an unauthorized radio broadcast by the American Classical Orchestra. Once we knew about it, it didn’t take long to compile the details and confirm facts. Again, a whole orchestra benefited thanks to the astute ear and actions of one member. I’m happy to report that all of the musicians heard on that broadcast will now be paid.

The next time you wonder if your gig is or should be union, please give us a call. We will do everything we can to get you properly compensated. One person – you – can make the difference.

Karen Fisher is the union’s senior concert rep. Call her at (212) 245-4802, ext. 174. To report a non-union job, you can also call the union’s anonymous hotline at (212) 245-4802, ext. 260.