Theater Musicians Association: Solidarity and Vigilance with a Voice

By Mendel, Tom | International Musician, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Theater Musicians Association: Solidarity and Vigilance with a Voice


Mendel, Tom, International Musician


We are living in a time when there is a concerted effort by some of our political leaders towards anti-unionism. This is fueled by special interest groups, such as corporations and their lobbyists. Organized labor is under attack.

This anti-union feeling isn't foreign to theater musicians. As costs for shows increase, unions have become a scapegoat for many of the financial problems facing producers. But when you take into account that the average cost for the musicians in a Broadway show is such a low percentage of the gross costs, it's difficult to give credence to these attacks, especially when you consider the fact that the League of Broadway producers has stated that this is the best year in the history of Broadway.

Many of our employers seem to put less emphasis on the artistic aspects of the music that they're presenting. Instead, the bottom line appears to be the primary consideration in much of their decision making. Reductions of the original Broadway orchestrations for tours are commonplace. Recordings and "virtual orchestras" are replacing union theater musicians. Producers want to keep their costs as low as possible to increase their profits.

Pamphlet B, the contract for touring shows, is up for negotiation soon. In addition to the "full Pamphlet B agreement," the Alternative Touring Agreement will be discussed. Theater musicians bargained in good faith to allow a "tiered" system, which lowered wage scales based on productions with low guarantees. (If a production's guarantee falls below a given amount, the wage scale is lowered proportionately by putting it in a lower tier). They agreed to this on a promise from the producers that this lower scale for touring musicians would allow producers to license a tour union, instead of nonunion. Many of these shows have gone nonunion anyway.

Not only have the tiers not attracted/prevented much non-union work since their inception nearly 10 years ago, they have become the majority of the touring work on the road. This past year, of the 21 union shows that toured, two-thirds of them were on a tier. This is not how the Alternative Touring Agreement was presented or intended.

AFM President Ray Hair will be spearheading the bargaining unit that will fight the conditions that have been forcing our wages to race to the bottom and the sizes of our orchestras to diminish. As part of the negotiating team, the Theater Musicians Association (TMA) will be a strong advocate for all theater musicians. …

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