A group of fed up musicians set up outside of Carnegie Hall Monday night to hold a concert outside the official concert.
Between songs the sounds of brass-and-percussion ensemble changed into chants. “DCINY, give us a piece of the pie,” the musicians belted.
The majority of the orchestra of Distinguished Concerts International New York voted to join the NYC musicians’ union AFM Local 802 in 2019 but have yet to reach a contract with their employer, a for-profit company that produces concerts at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. For over three years, counting some pandemic-related delays, the union has fought for a fair contract that includes job security, hiring provisions, fair wages and pension and health contributions.
“They could fix this tomorrow if they would just talk to me, and get things straight,” Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi told Labor Press.
The musicians voted to join Local 802 seeking to demystify the agency’s hiring process and secure fair wages and some benefits like health care and pensions. Negotiations for their first contract were delayed due to pandemic restrictions on concerts, but when the union members got back into bargaining last year, DCINY allegedly rejected their proposals.
“When we got back to the table there was very little movement and nothing on the most important things, which were fair wages and just a reasonable expectation of being re-hired,” said Cynthia Smith, a violinist and member of the negotiating committee.
Iris Derke, DCINY’s general director and co-founder sent an email to Labor Press asserting that the agency has negotiated with the union in good faith and shares its goal of providing equitable opportunities.
One major sticking point is simply establishing the number of members that are in the orchestra’s roster, according to John Pietaro, 802’s director of organizing.
Union members engaged in negotiations said that they are trying to establish a transparent hiring process for the bargaining unit of around 160 members. During negotiations, DCINY provided a list of musicians of over 200 musicians on their roster.
“Their proposals were just diluting the bargaining unit,” Smith said.
The union said that the concert that it was protesting Monday is one that the orchestra has played for years. In lieu of a full orchestra, the union said that DCINY hired an unpaid high school group as replacement. Pietaro said that the leader of the high school band didn’t know it was getting in the middle of a union dispute.
In response, DCINY’s director insisted that it was a misrepresentation to call the high school concert band and choral music performance a replacement for the full orchestra.
Social media posts for DCINY’s mid-Feburary orchestra concerts in previous year show that the event was regularly played by the orchestra, but also had featured an opening act by a high school band.
The next regularly scheduled concert that the orchestra would perform in past years is scheduled for mid-March. The union members said that they would continue to stay on strike through that concert if they could not reach an agreement with management.
Beyond getting the attention of concertgoers as they entered the venue in tuxes and evening gowns, the union has also enlisted support from city and state legislators. Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine previously got behind the union’s efforts. On Monday, Queens state Senator and Labor Committee Chair Jessica Ramos rallied with the musicians.
“DCI cannot get away with creating beautiful music and not paying the musicians the wages that they deserve and the job security they deserve. They deserve to be afforded a life of dignity for bringing us so much joy and beauty,” Ramos said. “These musicians are not alone. There’s a lot of senators we can bring down here.”