When does our union issue a DO NOT WORK order?

Recording Vice President's Report

Volume 118, No. 1January, 2018

One of the most difficult and complex decisions made by your Local 802 officers and Executive Board is the issuance of a Do Not Work order, usually directed at a specific engagement and its employer. This order is not made indiscriminately. It is a last resort when negotiations break down with the employer, or when the employer refuses to negotiate at all. All of us –  802’s officers included – want work to go on and musicians to get paid. We know that members have bills and that good opportunities are not abundant.

When no resolution is to be had in negotiations and an engagement is on the horizon, Local 802 notifies all its members of the circumstances via e-mail blasts, social media and – if enough lead time permits – by advance publication in Allegro. In some cases, there is enough time to notify members that there may be a problem with an engagement, with instructions to call the office and let us know if you have been contacted to perform. That advance word gives members a chance to evaluate the job offer and make contingency plans. In cases where negotiations have broken down just prior to the engagement, an emergency e-mail blast is sent to inform members that a decision has been made to withhold our services. The disruption that may follow is a necessary part of demonstrating to the employer the strength of our solidarity. Clearly, there is a potential sacrifice on the part of our members, all in the name of maintaining our bargaining power and ensuring a fair deal. That sacrifice is never taken for granted when dealing with a problem employer.

The Do Not Work order from the local may be accompanied by a request to the AFM that the employer be placed on the AFM’s Unfair List. This results in a notice being published in the International Musician magazine, informing all union members of the problem at hand. Often, that Unfair status brings action and resolution. Sometimes not.

Our union’s expectation is that, per our bylaws, members will refrain from accepting engagements that are not covered under a union agreement. The Do Not Work notice to the membership usually results in us standing together to demand area standard wages, health and pension payments and regulated working conditions. Another protection we seek in all agreements relates to the possible capture and commercial exploitation of location recordings, some of which may happen without our members’ awareness. Employers may show up with waivers to release the rights of your recorded performance without compensation. Sometimes cash buyouts are offered. There is much at stake here, often in terms of future money being left on the table. Standing together in this case means holding onto our creative rights – our intellectual property – that we may willingly exchange for fair wages with re-use and new use payments for the recorded product.

The decision to issue a Do Not Work order becomes much more complicated in situations where side musicians have longstanding work relationships with an employer. Consider the case of an artist and his or her band members or a composer and trusted ensemble members. This may pose tremendous conflicts of interest and loyalty. As union members, we are bound to observe our 802 and AFM bylaws and the contract terms which maintain equality, consistency and reliability when and where we work. As music makers, however, we thrive on work experiences that we truly enjoy, that enrich our professional standing, broaden our networks and, let’s face it, put food on the table. The more high-satisfaction elements a job provides, the harder it may be to know how to value the bond with our union – even when that bond has had significant career-long benefits. Those of us who work under Broadway, recording, concert, touring and club date agreements know that the level playing field of a contract provides predictability and relieves the stress of individuals bargaining for wages based on an employer’s perception of one’s value to the job. Equal pay for equal work is not just a hack slogan – it’s a core principle of the labor movement that changed the world of work and gave birth to the middle class. No small thing.

Ultimately, the cooperation of members in observing a Do Not Work order maintains our strength in a music business that so often devalues our contributions. I believe that our union still serves as the defender of fair wages and fair treatment on the job. Sometimes we need to act together for our mutual preservation. When you see a notice that an engagement is not covered by an agreement or that the negotiations have ceased to progress, resulting in a Do Not Work order, please know that this has been carefully assessed. As always, in the event you are impacted by this order, please reach out to me for more information. We are in this struggle together. The effect of our solidarity can be powerful.

Andy Schwartz served as Local 802’s recording vice president of Local 802 and the supervisor of the union’s activities in organizing, electronic media, club dates, hotels, nightclubs, jazz and Latin.