What to do if you’re asked to play for free

Volume 123, No. 6June, 2023

A recent unfortunate incident between the Broadway Theatre League and pit musicians arose due to poor communication and some misinformation.

It began when a Broadway contractor contacted musicians in the “Sweeney Todd” orchestra individually, asking them to perform without pay for a promotional event on West 46th Street.

This request runs afoul of the contract and labor law:

Wages for musicians hired by the Broadway League are codified in a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiated with Local 802. When an employer (whether a contractor or a conductor) contacts musicians, asking them to work outside the agreement, they not only violate the CBA, but the National Labor Relations Act as well. This is a serious offense that may result in the union filing an unfair labor practice with the NLRB.

For this event, stagehands were paid and sound equipment rented. Actors, who have promotional appearances written into their CBA, were compensated differently. Only musicians were asked to donate their services.

The event was also captured and streamed, which requires another payment under an AFM contract.

Donating services for jobs that fall under an existing union contract undermine area standards, for both the musicians involved and their colleagues.

The 802 Theatre Department learned of the event only two days before the performance. Principal Theatre Representative Theresa Couture immediately notified the League that they had committed a labor law violation and that musicians, hired for any service (including auditions), per our CBA, are to be paid for a 2.5 hour minimum call. This prompted an email to musicians from the League, disingenuously referring to the performance as a “community event,” comparing it to previous, more modest performances and referring somewhat naively to 802’s “membership rules.” The issue, of course, is not rules, but the CBA between Local 802 and the Broadway League.

Local 802 and the League have subsequently reached an agreement that will bring future events of this type under contract.

What you should do when asked by an employer to donate your services:

  1. Accept the offer if possible and immediately contact 802 President Tino Gagliardi, Theresa Couture, and the Local 802 Hotline. You will remain anonymous, avoiding retribution by the employer (this protection from exploitation is one major function of a union).
  2. The sooner the better. This event had been planned for two months. Because the League didn’t inform the union, action was not taken until the last minute, creating conflict and confusion on the part of some musicians.

It’s important that members be proactive in helping their representatives to protect them. Notify the union immediately when asked to violate a contract or if you have questions.

Local 802 is strongest when we are all vigilant and involved.