27 February 2013

The Strength of Union and the Arts

[As readers of ROT will probably have discerned by now, I am a supporter of unions for the most part.  The recent spate of union-busting by political and business leaders has generated several articles in Allegro, the news magazine of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians.  (Local 802 represents the musicians who play in the pits of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater here in New York City.)  I’ve collected three articles and editorials, two on the value of unions and the third on the importance of support for the arts (another topic on which I’ve sounded off on this blog), from the January 2013 edition of Allegro (Volume 113, No. 1), starting with this report by Local 802 president, Tino Gagliardi.]

*  *  *  *
President's Report
by Tino Gagliardi 

Say no to union-busting laws that hurt musicians and other workers! George Troia, president of AFM Local 5 (Detroit) was one of the many union members and supporters who protested Michigan’s recent right-to-work legislation.

These days, It seems to be fashionable to bust unions. As many of you know, Michigan recently became the 24th so-called right-to-work state in this country. I say “so-called” because the label “right to work” was invented by union busters to disguise the true purpose of this legislation. But these laws aren’t about any right to work. What we’re really talking about is unions under attack – again! To their credit, those who opposed this law in Michigan did their best to have their voices heard at the capitol, and Democratic lawmakers stalled the bills as much as legally possible. But, in the end, the Republican majority pushed through the legislation. The United States is now only one state short of a nightmare scenario where workers in half of the states are forced to live under such
union-busting laws.

We’ve had wake-up calls before, but if Michigan – where unions have such a strong, proud history – can be attacked like this, workers aren’t safe anywhere.

We must protect the gains that workers have made over the past 70 years. We must honor and preserve the hard work of those labor leaders who came before us. Remember, there are plenty of powerful interests who would like to take back what we’ve gained.

For instance, this past Labor Day, the House majority leader, Republican Eric Cantor, sent out a tweet that said, “Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.” It was cruelly ironic that on Labor Day – a day to praise and remember workers – Cantor instead honored bosses.

Also, when Mitt Romney made his famous clandestine speech about the “47 percent” of Americans earlier this fall, he referred to them as those “who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

Criticizing working people who have union protections as being “victims” and “takers” is nothing new. What is new is that big business has managed to bring this criticism of unionized workers closer and closer into the mainstream so that people start believing the rhetoric and voting for union-busting politicians.

President Obama, visiting a Michigan truck factory, put it this way: “You know, these so-called right-to-work laws, they don’t have anything to do with economics . . . . They have everything to do with politics. What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.”

Once again, to those who say that politics don’t matter and that the union should stay away from political work, I respond that we don’t have that luxury. We must continue our advocacy to make sure that we have political leaders and laws that are union friendly. Not just in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but all over the country. To get involved in our political work, contact my assistant K. C. Boyle at Kboyle@Local802afm.org or (212) 245-4802, ext. 176.

*  *  *  *
by Mark Mulé 

A musician accepts a non-union tour of The Wizard of Oz and learns what exploitation is really like

The yellow brick road to hell started last year when I was forced through my financial circumstances to play drums and percussion on a non-union tour of “The Wizard of Oz.” The tour gave me an old-fashioned schooling on what union membership is truly about. It turns out that wages and benefits are just the tip of the iceberg of what the union does for us.

First things first – the money. The pay for this non-union tour was about a third of what I had always made on the union touring contract (called “Pamphlet B,” for those in the know.) Also, on a non-union tour, there’s no overtime pay. And no rehearsal pay. It’s just a straight, flat salary.

Let me put this into perspective. On tech rehearsal days, we had to play “10 out of 12,” meaning 10 hours of playing with two hours to forage for grub.

But it wasn’t just about the hours. It was about the days. There was a period on this tour when we played 13 towns in 14 days while traveling thousands of miles.

The last five weeks of the tour consisted of a string of consecutive 4 a.m. bus calls, 10 to 14 hour bus rides straight to the venue (often a freezing hockey stadium), followed by five hours’ rest in a hotel

The grueling, no-sleep schedule included our bus driver, by the way. I spoke to him about this after he nearly went head-on into a highway divider at more than 60 miles per hour one morning. “Aren’t you entitled to more down time?” I asked. His answer was that not only was he entitled to it, but required by federal law to have more rest. The producer’s insane schedule was literally putting his employees’ lives at risk.

During this farce of a tour, I was living under a so-called contract that basically said I had no rights.

Now, most of you know that union contracts are rock-solid. If a producer violates a union contract, the union will back you up 100 percent.

A non-union contract is a totally different animal. It’s more like indentured servitude. Here is some actual language from my “agreement”:

MUSICIAN agrees that Employer shall be entitled to MUSICIAN’s services exclusively hereunder for the entire Period, excluding breaks, and MUSICIAN shall not render performing services for any party other than the Employer during such period without Employer’s prior written consent. Execution of this contract hereby commits MUSICIAN to the entire time period outlined in Paragraph 1 above.

It’s the last sentence that got me. The tour was scheduled for five-and-a-half months. This sort of bondage was what one might find on a contract between a ship’s captain and a destitute passenger desperate to book passage to the New World in 1697.

Then there was this:

It is agreed that the attached MUSICIAN Handbook will be an integral part of this contract.

Huh? What “handbook?” Nobody said anything about a “handbook.” What’s in this “handbook”? What if there’s a “musician must clean the bus latrine every Wednesday” clause in the “handbook?” It turns out there actually was no handbook – or at least, I never saw one.

The whole contract went on like this. Instead of signing it as is, I took matters into my own hands and pencilled in some revisions. No one cared and it made no difference anyway.

All of this was perverse, but the really insane part was that the tour was a nearly endless stream of one-nighters with no scheduled day off. O.K., I’m lying. There was exactly one scheduled day off, that being

Compare that with the standard union tour agreement, which requires that musicians be given two “golden days” off (no travel, no show) and two additional days off (no show, travel allowed), per month.

“These non-union guys are literally going to put me on a bus for five-and-a-half months straight,” I thought to myself. And they did. Five-and-a-half months and 29,531 miles with no scheduled day off except Christmas. And had there been a theatre (or hockey stadium) available on Christmas, you can bet that day off would have been snatched away like candy from a baby.

Luckily, we did scrimp a few unplanned days off from time to time. One time we couldn’t get to the venue because of iced over and closed Canadian mountain roads. (The crew was marooned on the side of the road for many hours and the decision was made for us not to attempt the trip.) We also manufactured
several days off by altering the travel schedule. Sometimes we elected to pack up and travel the same night after performing one or two shows, just so we could create a day off the next day.

Now let’s talk about respect. I overheard some producers refer to the performers as “the dogs.” No kidding. But the actual dogs on this show (the ones who played Dorothy’s dog Toto) actually had better contracts than the humans. Those dogs travelled by airplane whenever the distance was more than a few hundred miles between venues. And I would bet that they made more money too.

But perhaps the greatest evil and the most egregious crime perpetrated against the actors, musicians, and most importantly, the audience, was the use of the virtual orchestra machine.

Non-union producers of musical theatre are absolutely in love with this mechanical monstrosity.

Our orchestra consisted of one keyboard (that came with an optional conductor), one drummer/percussionist (nearly optional), one trumpet player (totally optional and only present because he was married to an excellent stage manager who absolutely would not go on this tour without her husband – bless her) and a “tapper.”

As some of you may know, the virtual orchestra machine is operated by tapping a single key on a miniature keyboard which triggers a computer simulated “orchestra.”

Thus the title of “tapper” is given to the operator of this crime against humanity masquerading as “musical accompaniment” for a so-called “Broadway tour.”

The thing sounded like crap, broke down several times per week (even nightly for a while), and sounded like crap (yes, I realize I wrote that twice).

Forcing a musician to play with a virtual orchestra machine is perhaps the most grievous form of torture one can imagine. No matter how good technology gets, nothing can replace the real thing. Playing with that thing crushed my soul. It made me fall out of love with music for the tour.

All of this did not go entirely unnoticed by perhaps the biggest loser when it comes to a non-union tour: the audience.

Our audiences paid top dollar to see what was advertised as a Broadway show (it was nothing of the sort). But they were not fooled. In Hartford, an audience member looked down into the pit and saw our entire ensemble, which consisted of the virtual orchestra monstrosity, two trumpets, a flugelhorn, and my drums. That was all of us: four live musicians and a computer. And he exclaimed, somewhere between sarcasm and anger, “Wow, the ‘orchestra’ sounded perfect!”

There was more. The main backdrop used in the show had gigantic, visible tears in it that were never fixed. And there were some of the rattiest costumes I’ve ever seen. One critic observed that Glinda’s dress looked like it had been balled up and thrown in a closet for years.

In short, the production values of this tour were the lowest of any show I have ever been a part of.

Yet the ticket prices were as high as those for a first-run Broadway tour, in some cases as much as $120. I calculated the ticket sales for an average week of the tour, and the number I came up with was $850,000. And that was just an average week. A sold-out weekend in St. Louis at the Fox Theater, for example, could have had our producers taking in as much as $1.4 million according to my calculations.

How much profit were our producers really making? I asked our company manager about that. He told me that the weekly overhead (or “nut”) for the show was under $100,000. So we’re talking profits that could approach $1 million in a good week.

This tour was not about good business. It was about business conducted unethically in order to make a killing. It was about greed, pure and simple.

Producers will tell you that there’s a new business model for touring musical theatre productions. They will tell you that they simply can’t afford the over-the-top “lavish” demands of the unions (like a per diem high enough to pay for a couple of decent meals per week instead of the endless fast food norm). I don’t believe them. Nor should you. Nor should audiences.

I believe you should get what you pay for. Always. I believe in ethical business practices. There is plenty of money to be made in an ethical manner. A producer does not have to pay sweatshop wages and maintain sub-standard production values to make money. There simply is no need or place for the obscene greed that has become so pervasive in this industry and business in general.

That is what a union is all about: maintaining high standards. Sure, a union negotiates the best possible compensation package for its members. That is certainly an important reason for the existence of unions. But a union agreement also helps ensure that the product is the best that it can be. It helps assure a consumer that the product they consume is created by people who give their heart and soul to their life’s work.

Too often, employers and right-wing talking heads bombard us with anti-union sentiment based on the false assumption that unions and their members are greedy, lazy and overpaid. I think when those folks make those accusations, they should take a good look in the mirror.

It’s all about ethics. A lack of ethics creates a lack of excellence. And in my business I see an alarming number of ethically challenged employers excusing their ethically challenged behavior in order to squeeze more profit from less product. In my opinion, this is the definition of greed.

[Mark Mulé first joined Local 802 in 1992. A drummer and percussionist, he has played for musical theater, including Broadway’s Annie in 1997, his whole life. He’s the author of numerous books on drumming, and his e-book, “WOZ A View From the Pit,” is available from Amazon.com. For more background, see www.local802afm.org.]

*  *  *  *
Guest Commentary
by Robert L. Lynch

Every four years America gets another chance to make its voice heard. And every four years the American arts community, in a way, gets a bit of a fiscal makeover.

How is that? Well, it has to do with how the nonprofit arts in America are funded and how policy affects those funding sources. And every four years, no matter who wins elections across our country, there are new policymakers in town. Roughly 10 percent of the $61 billion aggregate budgets of the nonprofit arts in America comes from government – mostly local and then state government and finally federal sources. Yes, this is a tiny portion of the whole, and it is actually a lot smaller than many people, including many politicians, think. This 10 percent is indeed a small amount compared to the 30 percent the private sector – (mostly) individuals – chips in and the 60 percent that comes from earned and investment income.

But that 10 percent is critical in what is a very conservative funding model for arts in our country. I call this model conservative because a very modest government investment leverages more than 60 times as much private and earned revenue to create a whole industry and support millions of jobs. How? A $146 million investment from the federal government directly leverages close to $5 billion more in local and state government investment, which in turn helps leverage another $50 billion to create the $61 billion nonprofit arts industry in America.

This model has helped grow an industry from a handful of organizations in 1965 – when the federal cultural funding agencies like National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) came into being – to more than 110,000 arts businesses today. And that core of nonprofit organizations has served as the catalyst and R and D engine if you will, that has helped spawn 800,000 additional for-profit arts-centric business like the local music store or dance studio or Hollywood or Broadway, collectively 4.2 percent of all American businesses.

Does a new president, or a new term for a president, make any difference for the nonprofit art industry?

When Kennedy took office, he envisioned a bigger role for the arts in America and set a series of initiatives into motion. Johnson actualized the initiatives and created the federal funding agencies and incentives to create 50 state arts funding agencies. Nixon saw the potential of the arts and the agencies and built up the funding capacity of the NEA and NEH. Under Reagan, federal money was used to leverage significant new amounts of local government investment and even larger private matching dollars. And now that the election is over, we have a new start.

Under Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, we began to see the arts engaged more and more as part of the solution to America’s social problems: youth-at-risk, crime reduction, healing of wounded warriors and rebuilding of challenged communities. And agencies beyond the arts and humanities like HUD, Justice, Transportation, Commerce, DOE and Defense slowly began to become partners in using the power of the arts to make America not only a more beautiful but also a better place.

Nice . . . but too costly? During the presidential campaign of 2012, it was argued that the arts are valuable but unaffordable in our challenged economy. Understandable perhaps but uninformed. There is good news here. The $61 billion nonprofit arts industry and the $74 billion in related audience spending create an economic impact of $135 billion and produce 4.1 million full-time equivalent jobs that return about $10 billion to the federal treasury each year. The federal investment in the arts – the tiny $146 million to the NEA – plus the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center and every other related arts expenditure equals close to $2 billion. And even then we still have a huge return on investment. Two billion spent on the arts returns $10 billion in federal taxes. Add state and local tax revenues, and that figure jumps to $22 billion.

The arts are so much more than all these numbers I have cited. The arts are making communities everywhere more creative and competitive places. The arts are helping to make classrooms throughout the country more exciting places to learn subjects like science, technology, engineering and math. The arts are helping to make 21st century workers and businesses more innovative and competitive in the global marketplace. But isn’t it nice for our administration, our president and our Congress to know that the arts are also helping to solve America’s core problems while not only paying their own way, but also contributing a tidy profit to our nation’s balance sheet.

[Robert L. Lynch is President and CEO of Americans for the Arts. A version of his essay first appeared in the Huffington Post on 17 November 2012.]



No comments:

Post a Comment