There are so many things to write about on labor day. The contributions of organized labor to this country are profound and so ubiquitous that many don't even know whom they should thank. (weekends, 8 hour work days...etc)
My favorite job of all time was as a union rep at the musicians union. Everyday was creative problem solving, everyday was helping working musicians. I think it was this experience that makes me want to be city councilor.
I thought it might be fun to tell one of my favorite stories from my days as a union business representative.
I was a live performance business representative for the Los Angeles chapter of the American Federation of Musicians (LOCAL 47!). One day I got a call from a woman, let’s call her Deb, who was upset that a gig she had at a local restaurant was cancelled two days before it was supposed to happen. I told Deb that what she is describing would violate the terms of the live performance contracts. I asked if she had already filed the contract with us or, if not, could she forward me the signed contract. She then told me that she had never joined the union, but was hoping that there might be something we can do.
I will admit for a second there I was stumped. I had never had a non-member call and ask for assistance before. But I quickly realized that the union exists to help musicians. Period. I told her that I would see what I could do, but I managed her expectations. The employer was under no contractual obligations to offer any relief.
I called the restaurant and spoke to the person Deb said she was dealing with. The manager of the restaurant was actually very willing to talk. She said that Deb was understandably upset and that there conversation never got anywhere because Deb was angry, got a little profane and hung up on her. I said that she’d have to understand that, for a self-employed musician, a lost gig could mean the difference between rent and no rent. The manager explained that the owner of the restaurant had decided to allow a last-minute event at the same time they had scheduled Deb, that the new event did not require music and so she had to cancel.
I said that I understood. I also said that had this been a union engagement she would have been required to pay Deb 100% of her wages for a last minute cancellation (the more notice you give to cancel, the lower the amount you owed). I said that while she was under no obligation to offer relief to Deb, many musicians call my office to ask about live performance venues and that I’d be obligated to say that her establishment has been known to cancel with little notice. I also said that I really don’t want to do any such thing because I appreciate that they hired live musicians at all. I told her that it would be much better to tell musicians that the venue had been known to reschedule at the last minute. The manager appreciated that I wanted to find a compromise and she told me to have Deb call for immediate rescheduling for the following week.
I called Deb and she was very relieved to have the gig back on the books. She said that she didn’t really know the union did this for its musicians. She was under the impression that they just take 3% of her gig. I said the union provides health insurance, pension, contract enforcement, job placement, breaks, overtime, etc. I told her that she should talk to other union musicians and not get all her info from employers. Deb said she was interested in joining. But, it was at the end of my time there and we moved to Quincy a couple weeks later. I hope Deb joined.
Unions exist to help all workers, not just their members. Happy Labor Day!