Yes, They Play ‘Stairway to Heaven’

Organizing the annual Led Zeppelin tribute concert on Long Island

Volume CIX, No. 10October, 2009

Led Zeppelin tribute at Brookhaven Amphitheater.
Brent Havens (center) conducting “The Music of Led Zeppelin,” an annual show in Long Island. The concert had threatened to go nonunion this year.

How does the union turn a nonunion gig into a union one? The answer begins with a call from you.

The Concert Department received such a call in early August about a performance of the music of Led Zeppelin, backed by an orchestra.

It was scheduled to take place on Aug. 29 at the Brookhaven Amphitheater in Suffolk County, Long Island.

One of the musicians on the gig knew that the rate being offered for this nonunion gig was below scale: a flat fee of $300 and no benefits for a rehearsal and concert.

This musician asked us, could we help?

We already knew that each year the town of Brookhaven presents this same concert.

And each year, 45 members of the Long Island Philharmonic play the job along with a rock band supplied by Windborne Productions, a Virginia production company.

It is traditionally a union job: all musicians are paid scale wages and benefits under a Local 802 agreement.

This year, however, there was a problem.

James Faith, the general manager of the Brookhaven Amphitheater, could not come to an agreement with the Long Island Philharmonic.

Faith claimed that his budget had been cut and the town and producers could not afford the orchestra.

But rather than speak to Local 802 to discuss the issue, the producers decided to cut expenses and go nonunion.

And they didn’t tell the town what they were doing.

Once the union learned what was going on, we immediately sprang into action.

Jay Blumenthal, financial vice president and supervisor of the Concert Department, made a call to Stephen Belth, executive director of the Long Island Philharmonic, to discuss the situation.

Peter Voccola, senior Long Island rep, contacted Jim Faith.

Karen Fisher, senior concert rep, began calling musicians who were likely to be offered the job.

Political Director Paul Molloy, coincidentally a Brookhaven resident and an active member of the Brookhaven Democratic Committee, began a dialogue with town officials.

Next, the issue was brought to the Local 802 Executive Board. We strategized about possible actions we could take if the employer refused to bargain with us.

Two weeks before the performance, Molloy, Fisher and Voccola met with Jim Faith in Port Jefferson. Although Faith insisted that the amount being offered to musicians was all the town budget would allow, he did sign a recognition agreement, which compelled him to bargain with Local 802.


Molloy continued to work quietly behind the scenes with Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko, Deputy Supervisor John Leonard and Chief of Staff Lori Baldassare. Calls to IATSE Local 1 led to pledges of help from Long Island stagehands if needed.

Meanwhile, while attending the ICSOM conference in Norfolk, Virginia, Blumenthal coincidentally heard someone announce that “Music of Led Zeppelin” T-shirts were being provided free to the conference by Windborne Productions.

Blumenthal announced to everyone that the concert was being hired nonunion and Local 802 was attempting to turn it into a union gig.

A collective gasp was heard from the delegates. They knew that if the Brookhaven gig went nonunion, it would likely have ramifications for their locals if this concert was to come to a venue in their jurisdiction.

A week before the gig, concert rep Fisher, who had been attempting to schedule a negotiation with Faith, received a call from him.

Faith told Fisher he couldn’t get any more money and that he was no longer involved in the hiring process. He advocated that Local 802 “let it go for this year.”

A staff meeting was called to discuss the issue and to let everyone know that they might be needed on Aug. 29. All reps became involved in calling musicians to keep them informed of the situation.

Later, Paul Molloy attended a rally for Democratic candidates for Brookhaven Town Council.

While there he brought Town Supervisor Mark Lesko up to date on Faith’s refusal to honor the recognition agreement as well as the producers’ refusal to talk about an agreement. Lesko asked that we fax him the agreement on Monday morning.


Meanwhile, President Mary Landolfi had gotten in touch with John Lindberg, the president of AFM Local 125 (Norfolk, Virginia).

Lindberg had useful connections: he had once been a teacher of Brent Havens, who was the conductor of the Led Zeppelin concert and a founder of Windborne Productions.

Lindberg called Havens to express his concern about what was going on. He then handed the phone over to Jay Blumenthal, who informed Havens that the problem needed to be addressed immediately. Havens, surprised by the turn of events, said he would look into it.

Later in the morning, Blumenthal and 802 counsel Harvey Mars faxed a letter to Brent Havens and Jim Faith threatening legal action if musicians were not paid as employees on a W-2 as required by New York state law.

The letter was copied to Mark Lesko and the entire Brookhaven Town Council.

Blumenthal and Mars also filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

Around 2 p.m., Blumenthal received a phone call from Jim Faith agreeing to meet with Karen Fisher and Peter Voccola.

Finally, three days before the gig, it all came together.

Miraculously, all the money that Faith claimed didn’t exist suddenly emerged.

The deal was closed.

The result? The wage and benefits package negotiated by the parties jumped more than 69 percent above the flat fee originally offered!


The moral of the story is very simple. Success in organizing requires teamwork.

This campaign started with a phone call from a musician who trusted Local 802.

Also crucial to this effort were strong political alliances and relationships with other unions, employers and contractors.

Times are hard. Musicians sometimes feel that they have to take any gig they can in order to survive.

But if you get a call for a low-paying, nonunion performance, please call us. Let us do our job: give us the chance to make the gig union.

When musicians agree to play for less and less, it becomes a race to the bottom. In the long run, wages go down and it’s harder to get them back up.

Get to know your 802 reps and stay in touch with them. Keep them informed, and when you get a job offer that doesn’t sound right, tell them.

One never knows the outcome of any negotiation in advance. However, we have excellent resources and decades of combined experience to ensure the best possible outcome for our members.

The only way Local 802 can put that power to work for you is when we hear from you.

When you get called for a nonunion gig, call the Local 802 Hotline at (212) 245-4802, ext. 260.

The musicians who played on the Led Zeppelin concert are glad that the union was called.