When Should Local 802 Get Political?

Volume 111, No. 5May, 2011

Martha Hyde

Members and staff protested the Iraq occupation in 2007; Local 802 was a supporter of U.S. Labor Against the War. Should the union take official positions on outside conflicts?
Photo: Walter Karling

As I write this, I am 50,000 feet in the air on the way to San Antonio for a conference on health care reform. Getting this much physical distance from the ground helps me gain perspective.

Last year, I was asked to serve with my colleagues, Pat Dougherty and Tom Olcott, on a committee of the Local 802 Executive Board that deals with political endorsements. Tom eloquently weighed in on this subject in the December 2010 issue of Allegro.

The most obvious reason a labor union would want to have a political presence is to affect legislation in a way that is beneficial to its members. But I see a distinction between pursuing a political agenda I might personally support and pursuing one in the name of Local 802.

Local 802 comprises musicians of diverse political views. We may individually disagree passionately about education reform, health care reform, war, housing or gun control, among other issues. But there are interests which tend to bind us together.

We are musicians, artists with intellectual property, entrepreneurs, workers with multiple employers and members of a labor union.

Thus, when we decide to get involved in politics and endorsements, it makes sense to me to start first at the city and state level in the following areas: arts funding, arts in education, support for non-profit theatres, employee misclassification and lack of protection for employees of multiple employers.

Local 802 had an official presence at the “We Are One” rally on April 9 to demonstrate for workers’ rights. Supporting the labor movement is natural, but where should the union drew the line on what causes we march for?
Photo: Lauren Draper

On the federal level, perhaps copyright law and carry-on allowances for instruments should be a focus.

Stepping back a little, it might make sense to support politicians who support labor causes, but when you step back even that much, you begin to encounter more differences of opinion among our members.

Furthermore, there are causes that some feel Local 802 has no place in, while others may feel those same causes are civil or humans rights issues that we must weigh in on.

This is a delicate balancing act that raises more questions for me than it provides answers.

For instance, the Executive Board recently voted unanimously to condemn Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s actions to curtail collective bargaining rights of public sector workers in his state. While on the one hand, Wisconsin is far away from Local 802, on the other hand, collective bargaining is at the heart of what unions do and we are a union.

There are other issues which are less clear. There is a consensus that we must better fund education but we have many members who are drowning in high property taxes. Access to health care is considered a basic need but there is a concern about runaway costs and a lack of consensus on how much health care is enough.

As my colleagues and I try to figure out where to draw lines in sands that seem ever shifting, I think it will behoove us to employ one of the most basic musical skills: listening.

Martha Hyde is a multi-woodwind player who performs on Broadway. She’s an elected member of the Local 802 Executive Board.