Why musicians should care about the labor movement in NYC

Volume 117, No. 7July, 2017

Marvin Moschel

Why should musicians care about the larger labor movement in New York City? Because what happens to other unions often has a deep effect on our own. As the Local 802 delegate to the New York City Labor Council, I want to share some insights I’ve recently learned.


Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez recently reminded us that this year’s Labor Day Parade on Saturday, Sept. 9 is extremely important. He pointed out that there has been a Labor Day Parade in New York City almost every year for the last 130 years. These days many workers either have no union or are threatened with losing their unions. Union membership is at its lowest point in many years and it is important for this city, which has a higher percentage of union members than any other city in the U.S., to show that the labor movement is an important factor in the economy. He stressed this parade gets national media coverage. It takes person-to-person organizing to make the parade a success. Traditionally, Local 802 provides music for the parade.  Stay posted for details, but save the date.


So-called “right-to-work” laws are on the rise in many states. In fact, there is a bill pending in Congress to pass a national right-to-work law, but luckily it is bottled up there. If such a law ever passed, it would severely damage whatever remains of unions in much of the country. In states where there are right-to-work laws, union membership has dropped greatly and unions often do not have enough money to organize,  handle grievances or negotiate good contracts. Right-to-work laws mean that workers can enjoy the wages, benefits and protections of a union contract without having to join or pay dues.

The latest state to pass a right-to work law is Missouri. However, the labor movement there is getting petitions signed to put a referendum on the ballot to nullify the law. Missouri’s labor movement is asking for help in this campaign and our NYC Central Labor Council will arrange for travel to Missouri. Volunteers are needed to collect signatures. Organizers have 25 percent of the signatures necessary for the referendum ballot, but 20,000 more are needed. The National Right-to-Work Committee, an anti-union, conservative group, is planning to spend a great deal of money in Missouri as they have done elsewhere.

But right-to-work laws are being considered in states closer to home. We’re worried about Pennsylvania, where a gubernatorial election will take place next year. Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf is a pro-labor Democrat and he will undoubtedly be challenged. The Pennsylvania House and Senate are both Republican, but with an important difference. The Pennsylvania Senate has enough Republicans to override Gov. Wolf’s vetoes; the House does not (by a slim margin). Any right-to-work legislation would undoubtedly be vetoed by Gov. Wolf, but the only firewall would be the Pennsylvania House by about a dozen votes.  It is the belief of union leaders in New York that the major goal of the National Right-to-Work Committee is ultimately to destroy or weaken unions here in New York City and then also in California, the only other state where unions are strong.


We cannot be complacent. We need to mobilize people for legislative campaigns and for strengthening the labor movement throughout the city and state. The best way to do this is to create internal organizing campaigns centered around worksite issues. The use of technology and social media is important for successful internal organizing. One union in NYC uses a texting technology to send mass texts to its members. This has amplified attendance at rallies and other events.


Unions are leading the campaign to vote no on a state constitutional convention. As reported in Allegro last month, a constitutional convention would open up a can of worms and subject our state constitution to manipulation by big business. At stake are workplace protections, environmental safety and pensions, all of which are enshrined in the current New York constitution. The state AFL-CIO has developed a state-wide campaign which involves social media, TV and newspaper ads.


After 15 years away, the Grammys are returning to New York City on Jan. 28, 2018. The award show is worth almost $200 million in commerce and means more work for entertainment professionals like musicians. We thank the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, headed by Julie Menin, for their efforts in making this happen.

 Marvin Moschel is the Local 802 delegate to the New York City Central Labor Council and an elected member of the union’s Trial Board.