Sometimes you have to name names. In this article, I plan on revealing the names of several ensembles to whom we’ve reached out, but who have so far have ignored us. We think that both the musicians and the managers of these ensembles have a lot to gain by contacting us.
First, some background. As you know, the Local 802 Concert Department is responsible for helping all of the union’s classical musicians.
This includes musicians who play in our major freelance ensembles, like the American Symphony Orchestra and the New York Pops, as well as dozens of smaller groups.
We also cover musicians who perform with the Mostly Mozart Festival and the American Ballet Theatre. We administer more than 200 contracts in a typical year, ranging from long-term agreements to one-night-only shows. Each musician who performs regularly under our union contracts has benefited from the local’s efforts on their behalf, an effort that has spanned at least five decades. Musicians deserve fair pay and benefits on every job, no matter how large or small.
Local 802’s relationship with orchestra managers and employers is always respectful, even when things get contentious. All parties understand that our goals are mutual. We know that the conductors, boards and managers of ensembles care about artistic values and the well-being of musicians, just like we do.
Unfortunately, Local 802 is also confronted by a number of ensembles that seem to have no union consciousness at all. While we always attempt to engage these groups and the musicians that perform with them, a number of existing ensembles have resisted the benefit of entering into union contracts.
The Concert Department has invited participation, opened our doors, and reminded all of these groups that their musicians can achieve significant lifetime professional gains. These benefits are not in conflict with any musician’s notion of a viable artistic life. Our argument is always that Local 802 offers the best of both worlds to musicians: a life that respects artistry but also recognizes the need for long-term, economic security.
Despite that extremely valid pitch, we have received no positive response from the following ensembles:
The International Contemporary Ensemble
Distinguished Concerts International New York
The Shen Yun Ensembles
…and any number of other groups with perhaps lower profiles.
Each musician who works in these and other similarly-situated groups needs to take a hard look at their current employment and realize that union benefits are the better option for them over a long musical career.
I do not wish to isolate the above groups as egregious exploiters of musicians. My best understanding is that most of the musicians are relatively well paid, though probably not at the level of current Local 802 standards.
I do, however, believe that these groups are populated by hard-working and magnificently talented musicians, and that those musicians can gain significant lifetime benefits by opting for union agreements. And I can give assurances that a potential Local 802 agreement will not undermine the existence, vitality and artistic integrity of the sponsoring organizations.
I firmly believe that employers will also benefit from these sorts of agreements. Employers need to carefully analyze their benefits from a relationship with Local 802, rather than dismiss such a relationship on the basis of mere ideological disagreement with the notion of unions.
This union supports performers and their long-term economic survival. Local 802 does not attempt to dismantle or disable ensembles. On the contrary, we invite employers to work with us in order to protect the professional lives of musicians and preserve the integrity of their art.
Local 802 is reaching out to you. Please call me at (212) 245-4802, ext. 105 and see how these principles can work for everyone’s benefit. We promise to work for all of you, whether you’re in a traditional ensemble with a manager or employer, or whether you call yourself a collaborative ensemble. We invite all to communicate with the union. We are here to help you to create an arrangement that benefits all musical performers, providing a flexible and secure artistic life. Your future is in your hands.