Written by Bill Rohdin.
The Associated Musicians of Greater New York, American Federation of Musicians Local 802, is the largest local union of professional musicians in the world, comprised of instrumentalists, vocalists, copyists, arrangers, conductors, librarians, proofreaders, editors, teachers and coaches.
Together, we unite to fight for the common interests of all musicians by advancing industry standards that dignify our labor and honor and enrich our art. We seek to organize a community of all musicians and aspiring musicians, and we reach out to all who share our interests and our passion. We are committed to upholding the integrity of live musical performance and to advancing the vital role of music in education, and in the economic, cultural and social life of our community and beyond. We advocate for economic and social justice for musicians and for society as a whole.
Today the AFM represents approximately 220 locals throughout the United States and Canada, representing over 80,000 musicians. But to understand where Local 802 came from we need to go back about six decades before its birth in 1921.
The Formative Years – The Musical Mutual Protective Union
In 1860 an organization called the Musical Mutual Protective Union (MMPU) was formed in New York City. Though it was born from a social club of musicians of German decent called the AschenbroadelVerein, the MMPU was the first organization of musicians in New York that functioned as more than just a social group.and began to seek better wages and working conditions for its members. Today, the MMPU is generally recognized as the first true musicians’ labor union in the United States.
In 1871 the musicians union in Philadelphia took the initiative to form a national musicians union, calling together various musicians organizations from around the country, in order to deal with matters of common interest, especially the competition from traveling musicians and road shows. The result was the formation of the National Musical Association (NMA). Although the NMA held several national conventions, its activities were limited and it never numbered more than 17 locals. It lasted about a decade.
In 1886, after an earlier failed attempt to create a national musicians union called the National Musical Association, a new national organization called the National League of Musicians (NLM) was formed by delegates from seven cities—Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Chicago, Boston, Milwaukee, Detroit, and New York (the MMPU). This new national organization grew to include about 100 locals.
Meanwhile, that same year, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) came into existence with Samuel Gompers as President. The AFL, in an effort to grow in size, strength and influence, tried to bring unions (both local and national) under its umbrella from every industry, including the music industry. The AFL repeatedly asked the NLM to join its ranks but the NLM continually declined to do so. Although some NLM musicians, recognizing the concept of strength in numbers, wanted to affiliate with the AFL, a slight majority of NLM members felt that musicians, being artists, did not belong in a union that was made up primarily of non-arts workers. 10 years later, after again failing to bring the NLM into the AFL, Gompers created the American federation of Musicians (AFM) and shortly there-after many of the NLM’s local unions switched affiliation to the AFM. By 1902, the National League of Musicians only had three affiliates, one of which was the MMPU.
Eventually, in 1903, the MMPU amalgamated with Local 41, the official AFM local in New York City at the time, together creating Local 310 after receiving the assurance from the AFM that they would be given a high level of local autonomy. This was a vital stipulation for the MMPU, as they had originally been chartered under New York State law, not the AFMs, and therefore enjoyed a higher level of independence than most AFM local unions enjoyed.
1903 – 1921: The strike ban and the birth of Local 802
At the outset of World War I, AFM President Joseph N. Weber, in the spirit of national unity, declared a national wage freeze and vowed not to take the AFM out on strike during the war. The strike ban remained in effect even after the war ended in 1918.
A dispute in 1921 between Local 310 and New York City’s theater owners over wages pitted Local 310 and the AFM, which had reached an agreement with the theater owners about wages being charged, against each other.(Note: Back in those days wages were not negotiated but were set by the union at membership meetings called “price list” meetings.) Considering the AFM intervention in a local dispute inappropriate, the independent-minded Local 310 musicians ignored Weber’s ban, and went on strike against the New York Theaters.
Outraged that a local would disregard the AFM, Weber called on musicians around the country to come to New York, work in the theaters, and break the strike. However, Local 310 refused to honor the “transfer cards” for musicians coming in from other areas. This was the final straw and prompted the AFM to expel Local 310.
Shortly thereafter on August 27, 1921, our local, Local 802, was chartered. (Note: The MMPU sued the AFM claiming that the expulsion of Local 310 was the result of an illegal conspiracy. This suit wasn’t settled until 1928 when the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that the AFM had not violated any of its bylaws by expelling Local 310 and therefore Local 802 was the only duly authorized and proper AFM local in NYC.)
The Early Years: The “Two Dollar Union,” Governing Structure and Early Leadership
After Local 802 was officially chartered and duly authorized, and to ensure that the conflicts that had arisen between Local 310 and the Federation did not recur, President Weber appointed a group of trustees to run the new Local 802 and made the admission fee $2.00 to attract the strike-breakers. This attracted a great many musicians in the city, and resulted in Local 802’s moniker as the “Two Dollar Union.”
The original trustee administration consisted of a Governing Board made up of a Chairman (Ed Canavan), a Secretary (M.S. Rauch), a Treasurer (George Schroeder) and six other board members. There was also a Trial Board of nine members. Local 802 retained this “trusteeship” structure until the end of 1936, though Weber slowly began to allow increased autonomy. Ultimately, Local 802 was granted full local autonomy in 1937.
In 1928 the AFM decided to increase the size of the Governing Board of Local 802 by three members (making twelve altogether). These three new positions would be elected annually by the local’s membership. Soon this became four, then five, and then six Governing board members who would be elected.
Congressional investigations into racketeering in the labor movement and continuing pleas from the local’s membership prompted Weber to permit the local to elect all of its officers, with the exception of Governing Board Chairman, in 1934. This election, which for the first time included the new office of Vice-President, saw the turnover of every seat in the administration except that of the appointed Governing Board Chairman (although the position was now renamed President) which continued to be an AFM appointed position for the years 1935 and 1936.
Finally in December of 1936, Local 802 held its first full administration election for the term of 1937-38 (after 1936 the term of office became two years and remained so until 1995). The 1936 election saw Jacob (Jack) Rosenberg elected to be the Local’s first President, alongside Richard McCann (Vice-President), Samuel Suber (Executive Board) and Max L. Arons (Trial Board Chairman), all of whom ran on the “Blue Ticket” and who would later become Presidents of the local. The Trial Board continued to be called the Trial Board but the Governing Board now was called the Executive Board.
After WWII an opposition party arose known as the “Unity Ticket.” It was successful in electing several board members including Al Manuti (Executive Board 1945) who would also become a future 802 President.
Rosenberg was elected to serve until his death on July 31, 1946. Vice-President Richard McCann was appointed to finish Rosenberg’s final term, and subsequently was elected to a term as president on his own right. McCann was followed in 1948 by Samuel Suber, who served two terms from 1949-1952. Al Manuti, who was elected to the Executive Board in 1945 as part of the “Unity Ticket,” became the fourth elected President in 1953 as part of the new “Musicians Party,” serving in that position until his passing on September 11, 1965.
At the time of Manuti’s death, Max L. Arons, having risen through the administration from the Trial Board (1935) to the Executive Board (1947) was now Secretary (1959). Al Knopf, Vice-President at the time, fully expected to be appointed President, but Arons was able to garner enough support on the Executive Board to leapfrog over Knopf. The board appointed Arons President on September 30, 1965 to finish out Manuti’s seventh term. Knopf appealed to the AFM’s International Executive Board (IEB) to have him appointed President but the IEB upheld the local’s decision to appoint Arons. Knopf continued as Vice-President through the end of 1982.
Arons was subsequently elected eight times, serving as President for over seventeen years, making his Presidency the longest in the local’s history before or since (except for one term, 1945-46, when he lost a bid for the Presidency to Rosenberg, Arons was part of every Local 802 administration from 1937 through 1982).
During the Manuti and Arons administrations the membership became increasingly unhappy with the level of service and representation they were getting from their union. Many full time working musicians felt that the union’s leaders were primarily concerned with keeping their jobs rather than with serving the professional musician, using the voting power of the large block of “part-timers” and “inactives” to maintain control of the union and remain in office.
Member dissatisfaction in the early 1960s led to the emergence of a reform group, “The Musicians’ Voice,” which began publishing monthly newsletters and was led by Murray Rothstein and future President John Glasel. Though “The Musicians’ Voice” failed to capture leadership positions, the increased pressure led to institution of important reforms between 1966 and 1980. These reforms included requiring contracts to be ratified by working musicians, rather than merely approved by the administration, the founding of a credit union, the creation of an emergency relief fund, and the establishment of a rank-and-file committee system.
Rothstein would later run for president twice, first against Manuti in the1964 election and then against Arons in 1966. His ticket, made up of musicians who were part of The Musicians Voice group, was called the Coalition for Lawful, Efficient Administration NOW (CLEAN) slate. Although he was not successful in unseating either of the incumbents he ran against, he did get a sizable number of votes, largely from the working musicians in New York. This prompted the Arons administration to institute “mail ballot” elections, whereby the overwhelming majority of the membership (now at its all time peak of 35,000), most of whom were the part timers and inactives, could be counted on to vote for those whose names they recognized from the local’s monthly journal (Allegro).
A stronger formal opposition to Local 802’s leadership emerged in 1980, formed by classical, club date and recording musicians and members of The Musicians’ Voice, in particular John Glasel. The new political party called itself the “Members Party,” an acronym for Make Every Musician Benefit from Efficient Responsible Service.
A new era: Musician Representation, John Glasel, and Local 802 today
Up to this time, the Board had been a full-time, full-salaried position at the union. Although the President did not have the authority to kick someone off the board, the President was often in a position to influence who could or could not run for election on the Board, and subsequently provided the President with substantial influence over the Executive Board Members who relied upon the job and salary.
In June of 1982 the new “Members Party” group successfully passed a bylaw making the Executive and Trial Boards part-time boards going forward. The Arons administration tried to overturn this new part-time-board bylaw but was unsuccessful in the effort, opening the way for highly respected performing musicians to run for Executive Board positions and simultaneously continue their performing careers. With increased sway in the governance of the union, the working musicians of New York City elected John Glasel the union’s sixth President.
Glasel served as President for five two-year terms (1983-1992) and is generally recognized for bringing true democracy to Local 802. While the administrations of Manuti and Arons faced constant accusations of bad faith management by union officials, complaints of sweetheart deals with employers, looking the other way when musicians were paid under scale and suspicions of outright fraud and corruption, the Glasel administration’s transparency and governance practices turned a page in Local 802 history.
After completely sweeping the Arons administration out of office, the Glasel administration created a department of public relations and legislative affairs. At the same time, organizing campaigns to help jazz musicians were stepped up, becoming one of the major activities of the local to this day. Additionally, the Glasel administration was the first to include women—Lucille Dixon on the Executive Board and Roberta Hankin on the Trial Board.
The new part-time Board of performing musicians was now talking to and playing alongside the members. Two-way communication between officers of the Union and the rank & file increased dramatically spurring a heightened participation by the membership in the Union’s affairs.
William (Bill) Moriarity followed Glasel, becoming the seventh elected President serving for eleven years (1993-2003). During his term, in 1999, the local’s website made its debut to rave reviews from Local 802 musicians and others outside the union, and members were provided access to a computer lab.
The Moriarity administration made two significant changes to Local 802 governance: the creation of the office of Controller, and the extension of officer terms from two to three years, and changing the offices from Secretary and Treasurer to Recording and Financial Vice-President, respectively. In order to create the Controller position, Mr. Moriarity eliminated the office of Vice-President, leaving just three top officers instead of four, to administer the day-to-day affairs of the local. This proved to be an astute move as it was our first controller, John Bogert, who suggested to the Board in 2002 that the local had sufficient funds to pay off the mortgage on its 48th street headquarters building thereby saving thousands of dollars in mortgage interest payments. Today, Local 802 is one of the few locals in the AFM that owns its own building.
Moriarity was followed by two one-term Presidents—David Lennon (2004-2006) and Mary Landolfi (2007-2009). Lennon was recognized by many bargaining units, in particular the Metropolitan Opera, as a talented and clever negotiator.
Elected on the Members Party ticket in 2003, Lennon ran for re-election in 2006 but was defeated primarily because it had been disclosed that he had been using his 802 credit card for personal purposes. Though he had repaid the union prior to the disclosure, the scandal resulted in the creation of the “Concerned Musicians of Local 802,” a group of musicians that led to the election of Mary Landolfi as the next Local 802 president in 2006.
Landolfi was perhaps single handedly responsible for saving Local 802’s health plan, which was in serious trouble in the months leading up to the 2006 election. Saving the plan rested greatly on increased health contributions in the Broadway contract she negotiated in early 2007.
Although the Concerned Musicians ran a full ticket for the 2009 election, Landolfi chose not to run for re-election as President but rather threw her hat in the ring for Executive Board (she had formerly been an EB member during the Moriarity and Lennon years). The Concerned Musicians lost all but one Executive Board seat in the 2009 election to the Members Party ticket headed up by its Presidential candidate, Tino Gagliardi.
Before Gagliardi took office on January 1, 2010, he had been a popular and in-demand Broadway trumpeter. He had previously run unsuccessfully for Recording Vice-President on the Members Party ticket in the 2006 election.
So far, during Gagliardi’s administration, Local 802 has expanded its jurisdiction from the five boroughs of New York City to now also include Sullivan County in upstate New York and the area around Stamford Connecticut.
Readers may like to know that our current headquarters on 48th St. is but the last of several of Local 802’s locations. Our offices were first at 958 8th Avenue (The Fisk Building) in the 1920s. In 1930 the local moved to 210 E. 86th St. In 1934 we set up shop at 1267 6th Avenue, near Radio City. Then for many years we had offices at Roseland (239 W. 52nd St.). In 1982 the Union moved to the McGraw Hill building at 330 W. 42nd St. and finally in 1992 to our current 322 W. 48th St. address.
For 90 years now, Local 802 has endeavored to make the lives of its members better in all fields of the music industry: pop, rock, hip-hop, rhythm and blues, jazz, latin, concert, theater, restaurants, club dates, night clubs, hotels, ballrooms, symphony, opera, ballet, catering establishments, parades, amusement parks, funerals, radio and TV broadcasts, recordings and music prep.
This history is a “bare bones” look at the events and people that have brought Local 802 to where it is today. It has only lightly touched on some of the issues that it and its members face today and have faced in the past. The day to day issues dealt with by our Union run the gamut from the commonplace to the crucial, but a few have remained constant themes throughout.
The struggle to address the loss of musicians’ jobs because of the impact of technology is ongoing. In the 1920s thousands of musicians lost their theater jobs because of the synchronizing of music with film (“talkies”). In recent years it has been the impact of computers, synthesizers, recordings and the internet. Raising the level of awareness as to how music and musicians enhance our culture and quality of life remains a high priority for both Local 802 and the AFM.
Combating these problems is the reason our predecessors organized themselves into a union in the first place and will be the reason we continue to speak collectively in the future.
Local 802 remains the proud “flagship” of the American Federation of Musicians, continuing to fight for and set the standards that influence the lives of musicians throughout the United States and Canada.
This article was written by Bill Rohdin.
Official Journals and Allegros of Local 802 from 1925 to the present; The Musicians and Petrillo by Robert D. Leiter published by Bookman Associates Inc., New York 1953; Various online issues of Billboard Magazine as well as other documents found online; My own memory and those of some other “old timers.”
Todd Weeks for spurring interest in this subject when he connected me to the 802 “picture archive”; Bobby Shankin for his recollections and research assistance; Tino Gagliardi and Mikael Elsila (as well as Robin Donach and Fran McDonald) for allowing me access to the Official Journals and Allegros; Murray Rothstein for his 3-part history of Local 802 in the 1996 Allegros, which gave me a starting point and a document to use for fact checking; Jack Gale for his editing skills and providing me with issues of The Musicians’ Voice; Sam Folio and Elaine Howard for helping with identification.