Local 802 has come far since 1982. The goals of the reform movement in the 1960’s finally came to fruition in that year with the adoption of the bylaw permitting working musicians to serve on the local’s boards. In that year’s election all 22 officers of the Arons administration were replaced by reform candidates and, for the first time, the Executive and Trial boards were comprised of active musicians.
I joined the Executive Board in 1989 and for the first time had an opportunity to experience Local 802 from the inside. During the past 18 years I have served with three dynamic presidents and many dedicated board members.
In 2003 I decided to run for office for the last time. This term has been particularly difficult for me. There have always been disagreements and policy conflicts, of course, but in my nearly two decades on the Executive Board, I have never seen such efforts to undermine union negotiators and committees and to manipulate board meetings for political purposes.
During the past two-and-a-half years, internal union solidarity and cooperation appear to have been sacrificed to animosity and divisiveness.
In 2004, Local 802 suffered extremely harmful publicity in the form of a feature article by Michael Riedel in the New York Post (entitled “Death Be Not Proud”) accusing the union of demanding overtime payments to musicians when a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” was delayed by the tragic death of a prominent audience member.
This accusation was false and the whole debacle could have been prevented if 802’s recording vice president (who had handled the original matter) had simply reported the situation to President Lennon in time for him to respond to press inquiries.
The idea that 802 officers are totally independent and have no obligation to inform, consult or cooperate with other officers is a new and extremely dangerous one.
Even more alarming was the intrusion into the critical Radio City situation by officers (who were not involved with the negotiations) expressing their support for management’s demand for the infamous “we lied” letter.
These incredible actions undermined the Radio City orchestra and its elected committee (who were vehemently opposed to signing the letter). The devastating impact of these two officers conveying their support of management’s position through a close confidant of the employer (in the presence of an orchestra member at the actual picketing site) irreparably weakened the negotiating team’s bargaining position at the mediation which followed.
The efforts of a small contingent of Executive Board members to require President Lennon to sign the letter dictated by Cablevision CEO James Dolan (claiming the union had lied to the public) and to publish the letter in the New York Times at 802’s expense were reckless indeed.
Fortunately the majority of the Executive Board realized that the cost to Local 802’s credibility (not to mention the $100,000-plus cost to the union for publication of the letter) would be unacceptable even if management didn’t renege on their offer as they had done on so many other occasions.
In July, President Lennon visited Broadway pits to discuss the upcoming Broadway negotiations and encourage members’ participation in the Broadway Community Initiative. Important as it is to involve theatre musicians in these activities, Lennon’s political opponents actually published a list of questions on other, more political subjects which they suggested theatre musicians ask when Lennon visited their theatres. The theatre visits stayed on topic but apparently some of us are determined to inject politics into union business even at the risk of subverting the union’s focus on preparing for negotiations.
To my knowledge, this sort of harmful maneuvering within an 802 administration has not happened in the past nor have the pages of Allegro contained such harsh letters of criticism of an 802 president (several of which were submitted by past presidents.) It is commendable that Lennon has not opposed the publication of such letters and has not exercised his prerogative to respond to them in the paper. But, even in an election year, such use of the union’s journal demonstrates a lowering of the level of internal civility which ill becomes this union.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve on the board over these past years. As my tenure comes to an end, I am concerned that 802 and live music continue to face many external challenges and this kind of internal subversion threatens our effectiveness as a union.
Hopefully, the upcoming election campaign can be focused on ideas, priorities and visions for the future of Local 802 rather than on personal enmity and political maneuvering. Whoever is elected in December, I hope our officers will work together for the good of our union and put an end to the ultimately suicidal divisiveness of the past two years.
Jack Gale is an elected member of the Local 802 Executive Board.