Why this is a landmark deal

Recording Vice President's Report

Volume 111, No. 11November, 2011

John O'Connor

Our new agreement with the Winter Jazzfest is a landmark. This is the first jazz festival under a union contract since the Charlie Parker Festival in Thompson Square, which was a one-day festival with two or three acts. The Winter Jazzfest is much larger: it covers dozens of bands over two days at several venues in the West Village and other downtown locations.

Another significant difference is that Local 802 got the Charlie Parker Festival under contract using a “top down” method – we approached the employer ourselves. In contrast, the Winter Jazzfest agreement came about through a grassroots campaign organized by the musicians themselves.

A steering committee of ten or so artists joined with Local 802 leadership to negotiate an innovative contract that guarantees minimum scale wages that are a significant increase for many musicians.

This agreement is also a landmark because it affects a community of musicians that Local 802 has not previously served. Many of these musicians – who play jazz and experimental jazz – are not members of Local 802. To most of these musicians, Local 802 has meant a union that represents Broadway and symphonic musicians and has shown little relevance to them. The Winter Jazzfest agreement represents a toe-hold in a vast world of musicianship that Local 802 needs to connect with. This is a great beginning.

The new contract also contains recording language that protects musicians against the unauthorized use of captured material (audio recordings, video, web streaming, etc.) One of the producers of the Winter Jazzfest – the company called Search and Restore – has been archiving music throughout many venues in New York City without any union recording agreements. Now musicians will enjoy recording protection – but only at the Winter Jazzfest. However, we hope to expand this protection to other clubs.

Beyond the Winter Jazzfest, the campaign to organize jazz clubs in New York City continues.

We are launching plans to apply pressure to the major clubs that have thus far not responded to musicians’ pleas to pay pension contributions.

We have concluded that the best way to rectify this injustice is through collective bargaining. The Winter Jazzfest agreement helps break the ice and shows that such bargaining can be accomplished with the right leverage and with grassroots support.

It also shows that the union is flexible. We can help musicians win justice without breaking the bank of the employer.

But who is the employer anyway? We have heard over and over that the clubs don’t want to bargain with Local 802 because they don’t want to be seen as the employer. That may or may not be true.

It’s simple: musicians want fairness, protection and retirement security, regardless of who the employer is. How we accomplish these objectives will be borne out at the bargaining table. But we have to get in the same room with the clubs to begin that process. So far the clubs have refused to do this, although as we go to press one major jazz club has agreed to meet with us.

The argument of who is the employer never came up in negotiations with the Winter Jazzfest. We walked away from the bargaining table with an agreement that both parties could live with and be proud of. This shows that there is a way to make collective bargaining work for jazz musicians and other freelance artists working the nightclub scene. The “employer question” does not have to be a stumbling block.

Thanks to the Winter Jazzfest agreement, musicians will go home with more money in their pockets and the security of knowing that their product and their intellectual property will not be ripped off. All because Local 802 made connections with musicians it doesn’t ordinarily make connections with. This is a trend we are determined to continue.