Tuesday, October 02, 2007

It took me ten years to do it... but I finally spoke out about the conduct of the Pittsburgh Musicians' Union officers and board...

It's more than ten years since I served as President of the Pittsburgh Musicians' Union. Tonight (October 1, 2007) I attended our union meeting. Even with a free dinner as part of the deal there were only 30 people there counting the board and officers. The main news item under discussion at the meeting was the recent sale of our building. During the "Good and Welfare" section of our union meeting I made the following remarks. One of the members wrote "blah blah blah" on a napkin while I was speaking and passed it around his table to the great amusement of his table-mates. Otherwise my remarks were met with stony silence. The member who preceded me waxed rhapsodic for quite a while about the 'glory days' of our union, when we maintained a segregrated after-hours club for white musicians. To be fair to that member, that wasn't why he was fondly reminiscing about the club... it's just a facet of that era that has no real significance for him, and has been forgotten. (That club was closed when the white local was merged with the African-American local. The local's white members preferred to close the club rather than risk having their wives drink out of glasses used by African Americans -- and that is not the descriptor used by the member who told me that story.)

Tonight I am very sad. I’ve tried not to suffer each time I’ve watched the slow destruction of the union that I love so much and worked so hard to build. The concessionary contracts and orchestra cuts have made me sick. Our union has lost one paid officer’s position, one paid staff position, a third of our membership, and now our building.

I insisted, with the numbers to back it up, that we, as a union, could simply not afford the ½% dues giveback to the symphony in 1998. The $50,000+ annual revenue loss was destined to destroy our union. Sadly, there are many people in this union who are very pleased to see our local stripped down to complete ineffectiveness...several of them on the Financial Advisory Committee. To add insult to injury, the PSO turned right around and gave back far more than that to the Symphony management -- without a strike, without a struggle.

Come back to a happier time with me, though…


I remember when this local was on the verge of being expelled from the Federation because we had not updated our bylaws in twenty years. Herb Osgood drafted a set of bylaws nearly identical to the old ones and assumed that the membership meeting would adopt them without debate. How surprised he was when I rose with an amendment. The first amendment I proposed was changing the very first words of the first page - our name – from THE PITTSBURGH MUSICAL SOCIETY to the PITTSBURGH MUSICIANS’ UNION. To Herb’s astonishment, I was able to get enough members to agree with my position that the name of our union was changed that night. And that was just the beginning. I had a list of proposed amendments designed to give us, the members, more say in the affairs of our union. Other members agreed. Over the course of that meeting and a second special membership meeting our membership was alive with democratic fervor … debates, amendments, proposals… so many of our members engaged in trying to make the union better.

At that point I believed that it might be possible to make our union a driving force in our city’s cultural life. I believed that with enough energy and dedication that I could inspire us to be better … to put our legacy of racism, pettiness and selfishness behind us and build a thriving, vital union …

Still, no one was more surprised than I was when I found out I had won the election in 1997. I know that the 66 percent of you who split your votes evenly between Bill Marzsalek and Marty Bernstein would have gladly taken either of them and you certainly did NOT want me. But I believed that my hard work and dedication and love for this union could win you over. I was so wrong.

If you had only believed in and supported my ideas today our members would have a credit union, the best retail outlet for local music in Pittsburgh, a music services contract that would allow every member to get pension payments on every engagement, a useful, interactive website that would have created jobs for our members, a really useful membership directory, strong collective bargaining agreements protecting our bargaining units, a vibrant presence in the arts scene in our city, strong relationships with our elected representatives and with other unions, and, most importantly, lots of active new members.

Virtually every accomplishment of my administration has been demolished, destroyed and undone by my successors. When I look back on my two years of service to you, I still ache from the endless backbiting, harassment, humiliation, indignities and nastiness to which I was subjected. The constant anonymous hatemail, endless attempts to thwart any progress, the racist and sexist remarks and behaviors that sickened me. But the most frustrating thing of all was watching our Board consistently vote against our union’s self-interest just to spite me.

Let’s look at our building, for example:

Some of you will remember that during my administration I established a strong working relationship with our sister union, AFTRA … the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. They saw the advantages of having two arts unions in the same building. They offered us $85,000 ten years ago for a one third interest in the building. They were only interested in using our unoccupied third floor. We would certainly be way ahead of the game if we had accepted their offer. If we had made the $15,000 of desperately needed repairs and upgrades and banked the remaining $70,000 – and had a partner to share 1/3 of the operating expenses of the building for the past ten years, we probably would not have had to move. And if we chose to move, we could have gotten significantly more money for a well maintained building.

The board voted down their offer.

Here’s another classic example:

At one point in my administration my state representative, Ron Cowell, was poised to present a bill similar to the SONG bill (State of Nevada Grants), which matches MPTF money with state funds – This bill would have DOUBLED the money available to musicians statewide for MPTF engagements. I put this information in the newsletter. Did any of you call your representatives then to get them to sign on to this bill?

I had garnered the endorsement and support of the Allegheny County Labor Council for this project, and several local unions. The Fund was of course very enthusiastic about this initiative. I presented the legislation at the Penn-Del-Mar conference and followed it up with a letter to every AFM officer statewide.

Weeks later I got ONE call from one of our AFM officers in the central part of Pennsylvania after my statewide mailing. He told me that I might as well forget it. In addition to his AFM office, this brother was a lobbyist for PSEA. He told me that in all his years in office he had NEVER been able to motivate AFM officers to participate in any legislative activity… even when it benefited them directly. I couldn’t believe him.

Later that same day, George Clewer, who was serving on our executive board dropped in to say hi. I asked him if he had called his state legislator yet to enlist his support for this legislation. He said that was too busy. I asked him how the @#!% he could justify taking a fee for serving on our executive board if he was too busy to call his representative about a matter of this much importance to our members.

George’s response came several months later in the form of a scurrilous eve-of-the-election campaign letter sent out to all of you criticizing me for being unladylike and using foul language with him.

The bill went nowhere and I would say the future existence of the Fund is very doubtful.

Among the indignities and harassment let me single out for your consideration:

* The executive board ordered the most extensive and EXPENSIVE audit in our union’s history during my administration. They paid a certified public accountant to, among other things, comb through every phone call made from our local union to see if I was calling my husband in Sweden on the Union’s phone. I wasn’t. The biggest discrepancy uncovered in the audit was that there was no receipt in the till for the half keg of beer our members drank at the Union picnic.

* The board refused any expense for renovations on my office – I brought in my own office furniture and computer and had to put duct tape over the holes in the carpet in my office to keep visitors from getting killed. My successors immediately remodeled the office space and bought new furniture and window treatments.

* One evening my van was vandalized in the union parking lot while I was out meeting with a band I was trying to organize. My valuable items were still inside the vehicle. But my receipts and vehicle maintenance records were scattered all over Forbes Avenue. The windows in the van shattered… my van was filled with broken glass. Every panel in the van bashed in by someone wielding a bag of rocks. A few months later my brake lines were cut. Luckily I discovered it when I was heading uphill and not down. Still I kept thinking that if I worked harder, if I demonstrated results, that the board would come to respect some of my ideas.

* A finished, printed issue of our monthly newsletter was cancelled by the executive board. The executive board then gave Bill Marzsalek complete control over our union’s newsletter and I was not permitted to write for, or even see, the newsletter until it was printed. The executive board authorized using our dues money to print uncontradicted management drivel from Steve Libman on the front page of our newsletter.

* I left office with over $8,000 of unreimbursed expenses on behalf of this local … expenses that were completely appropriate and within the scope of my authority.

I’m proud of what I achieved as president of this local.

During my administration we posted a membership gain.

We had a budget surplus both years. We helped the Service Employees International Union to organize the workers at the Blood Bank up the street. They gave us a beautiful conference table to express their gratitude. (It was the only piece of furniture the union acquired during my administration.)

If you pay your dues or health insurance over the phone by Visa, you can thank me.

It was my administration that finally got our business records out of leather ledgers and into computers, thanks to the talents and dedication of Cecelia Mallamo, a brilliant and dedicated young woman.

Cecelia also brought a new level professionalism and quality to our office, and especially to our newsletter. During the months that I took the minutes at executive board meetings, Cecilia’s newsletters truly informed our members of what was going on at board meetings.

Cecelia was literally driven out of the union by the gross insensitivity and disgusting behavior of our Board and one of our officers.

I am so proud of the Women’s History Month banquet that I organized to honor the women life members of our local.

I am proud of the high quality recording seminar that I organized and offered to our members.

I am proud when I see musicians wearing DEMAND LIVE MUSIC tee shirts, which I bought for our local.

I’m proud of returning the union picnic tradition to our members, and live music to our meetings.

I am proud that our local hosted productions by New Horizons theater in our hall.

I am so proud to have brought Mary Ellen Hayden to this local. I remain humbled and filled with admiration at her dedication, her joyful and generous spirit, and the countless hours she spent organizing new members on behalf of this local for the ridiculous and insulting stipend of $200 a month. The woman that our Executive Board regularly humiliated and chastised and eventually fired for her so-called incompetence is now the executive director of Pittsburgh ACORN.

I am proud of negotiating the deal for our union to provide MPTF co-sponsorship to Citiparks and County Parks concerts. This not only elevated our union’s position and presence in the community and attracted many new members, but also, for the first time, provided rain-or-shine payments to all musicians involved.

I am extremely proud of the CLO contract that I negotiated… getting substantial wage increases, a union security clause and numerous other benefits previously unknown to that orchestra.

I’m proud of the local limited pressings agreement that I drafted.

I’m proud of organizing an informational picket line that got Al Dowe and Etta Cox paid when some creep tried to cancel them at the last minute.

I’m proud of suing several defaulting employers and getting our members paid.

I’m proud of the results on the grievances that I handled.

This union is so dysfunctional and crazy that I don’t know if anyone could make it better.

Crazy as it seems, I’m offering these words to you tonight because it’s still not too late to save this union. If the members of this union committed to support a progressive and competent president and board, this union could still grow. There are more musicians than ever trying to establish careers in Pittsburgh. They need and deserve a real union. None of you will say it, but I will: You never had a more competent, hardworking or devoted president. I don’t know if you’ll be able to find another one, but I wish you luck.