What? You Haven’t Been Paid Yet?

Volume CIX, No. 3March, 2009

Karen Fisher

The Concert Department has been receiving a distressing number of calls from musicians who have not been paid for various jobs worked in the past year. None of these jobs were filed under a Local 802 union contract.

What can the union do in these situations? If there’s no union contract, there are some measures we can take, but you may have to take the employer to small claims court. (Harvey Mars, counsel for Local 802, is available to members for legal advice. Contact him at 212-765-4300 or

Musicians often assume that their job has been filed with the union. This assumption can be based on a number of things, including the venue, who else is on the job, and past practice. Don’t assume the job is union. If there is any doubt, give us a call. When you accept work that is not covered by a union contract, you not only risk not getting paid at all, but your health and pension contributions are zero.

Here is a sampling of some common problems and misconceptions:

  • “I thought the job was union because we played in a union hall.” There is no such thing as a “union hall.” Although we vigorously defend standards for engagements that take place in major venues such as Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, there are employers that try to fly under the radar. Anytime you get called for a gig, call us first. We’ll tell you if the job is union. If it’s not, we can help make it union while protecting you and keeping your name out of it. And it is so much easier for us if you call us before the job, not after! It may be impossible to make a job union after the fact.
  • “I thought it was a union job because I signed a contract.” If the employer hands you something to sign, you are signing a document designed to protect the employer. If the job is really union, you don’t sign anything. A union contract is between the union and the employer — and it protects you, the musician. You cannot receive health or pension payments unless the employer has signed a union contract. The same is true for a contract you may have drawn up yourself.
  • “It was a chamber music/party/solo gig. I didn’t know the job could be done union.” Any job can be done union. We routinely cover chamber music, weddings, and even private teaching. Please call us, and we will walk you through it.
  • “I was booked to perform and the employer cancelled the night before. Not only was I not paid, but I had hired other musicians as well. We all lost the gig, plus we all had turned down other work.” Protect your rights, reputation, and bank account. Call us before you commit everyone’s valuable time, resources, and talent, and let us handle the contract. At the very least, get the payment up front. If the employer doesn’t have the money now, he or she probably won’t have it after the gig.

The temptation can be great to take any and every job in these financially difficult times. The temptation for employers to circumvent the union and ignore contractual obligations, cheat you out of benefit payments, and even violate employment law is just as great. We must all remain vigilant to make sure that work is filed and paid correctly.

Anytime you get called for a classical job, contact me at (212) 245-4802, ext. 176 or


There is a new concert hall in the New York Times building that has been renting space to musicians for concerts and recitals. It’s called the TimesCenter and it’s at 242 West 41st Street. Musicians are being asked to pay to play and are being charged all rental costs (stagehands, ushers, etc.). In return, performers are being promised a cut of the box office receipts and some free publicity. We have received several complaints that the promised payment has not been forthcoming, calls to the “presenters” have not been returned, and a personal visit to the premises resulted in a security guard directing all inquiries to the Web site (

While it is exciting that there is a new venue in town with a potentially high profile, it is necessary for us to ensure that our rights are protected and that musicians receive fair treatment. Before you contemplate a performance in this venue, please contact me at (212) 245-4802, ext. 176 or