From the President

Brother and Sisters of Local 655,

I am writing to you today to thank you for your support during the last 3 years. Many of you stepped forward and became involved in the various sub-committees that are now active. It is your involvement that keeps this Local moving forward in a positive direction. I sincerely hope that you will continue your involvement and even expand upon it.

My term as president is coming to an end soon and I'm not running for reelection. A new president will be elected for the coming 3-year term and I hope you'll consider that the new president might be you. Our membership is our strongest asset and the involvement of that membership will drive this Local to its success. That only happens if you choose to get involved. I hope each and every one of you reading this will do more.

The next president will find several changes to the Local. We've negotiated a collective bargaining agreement renewal with Palm Beach Opera and we currently have a tentative agreement with Broadway Across America for a renewal as well. I'll provide more details on the BAA deal once they are finalized but we have an agreement in principle and will be proceeding to ratification shortly. Part of my approach in dealing with the various organizations that employ our members was to open a dialogue and try to establish good working relationships between them and the Local. This effort was critical in the case of BAA. At the beginning of my term, the relationship between the Local and BAA was broken. There was considerable animosity between the parties and working together on anything seemed impossible. That we have now negotiated a new agreement, without the use of any lawyers and before the current agreement even expires, is a testament to the changed relationship between the parties. I want to thank Vice President Dan Satterwhite, Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Apana, Brian Stanley, and Neal Bonsanti for their work in making our BAA negotiation such a success. Kudos also go to Karen Dixon, Jeff Apana, and our AFM negotiator Todd Jelen for doing such a great job with the PBO agreement. I also want to thank Chris Glansdorp, Laura Winters, and Dale Sandvold, the PBO Committee members of the PBO negotiating team.

The Local has moved to a new office space that is both more economical and better fits our needs. Come by and visit some time; the building is currently under renovation but Jeff Apana is there regularly and can show you around. We are having our membership meetings there as well, please consider attending one! There have been increases to the local wage scales and cartage rates. I particularly want to thank Doug Friend for his efforts in helping us rewrite the percussion cartage rates to reflect the reality of current work situations. Please don't let all that work go to waste! When you're working in our jurisdiction, be sure and check the rates we have listed. Demand no less! Jeff Apana and I also attended the AFM's convention last summer in Las Vegas. We managed to make some new friends and even got a by-laws amendment passed to the International Executive Board for action. Look for Jeff's report upcoming about the events of the Southern Conference convention this summer in Orlando.

There have also been many changes to the community we work in. When I came into office, there was a real problem with the South Florida Symphony and the Miami Symphony not paying musicians and having large debts of back wages to many of our members. Your board and myself have worked tirelessly to gather information and open lines of communication with those organizations to help musicians get paid the wages they are owed and to prevent delayed payments going forward. As of today, both organizations have paid musicians on time for every concert the past two seasons. Further, both organizations are making headway towards paying the musicians the back wages they are owed. The Local is engaged in regular meetings with the Miami Symphony and it is my hope that eventually we will have a CBA with that group.

Last year, your Local Vice President Dan Satterwhite and myself were dismissed from a job we had both been playing on for many years. We were dismissed solely because we were officers of the Local. This was literally the only reason given. The AFM and the Symphonic Services Director both aided in the filing of an unfair labor practice against the organizations. That suit eventually led to us being reinstated to our positions. I want to thank Rochelle Skolnick and Jeff Apana for helping us navigate that issue so successfully. Their advice was most helpful. It is worth noting that this is a non-union job. Even though there is no union contract and no protections for those players, the Local and US labor law were still able to afford remedy to us for being treated in this unfair manner. There's no reason to be afraid when playing freelance jobs in this community! Labor law and an organized, determined union can often help you when something goes wrong, even on non-union jobs. We, as players in this community, need only band together and fight as one. The time for sitting on the sidelines and enjoying all that the union does for musicians without paying your fair share is over! All of you reading this are doing your part. It's time for all of us to carry that message to those who are not members but are enjoying most of the benefits that union members are fighting so hard to provide. None of these successes could have happened without you, the members of Local 655, communicating with us to keep us informed of the specifics of how these non-union jobs are treating you. I urge you to continue to communicate with the Local to keep us informed of any issues you may have. I also encourage you to remember that anything you can do to encourage employers to consider putting these non-union jobs under union contracts will lead to more protections for you and your work.

Going forward, getting more musicians in this community committed to building the Local and making its influence stronger needs to be a priority. We are currently under 300 total members. Recruiting new members must be a focus going forward as that will help to build our power base and sphere of influence. As a union, we are only as strong as our membership. Growing the membership will lead to greater influence among employers and more favorable treatment of musicians. I constantly hear musicians say that there's no reason to belong to the union, that they can get the same benefits without the expense of paying dues. While that may look like it's true in the short term, the reality is that most of the wages and working conditions that musicians enjoy here now were established through union bargaining over many years. The less of a role the union plays in that process, the closer we all get to having employers pay us and treat us however they want. Ensure for yourself and for those that follow you that the union stays strong. Do your part!

Last, I would like to thank the current and past members of the board. I have been inspired by their tireless efforts over these last 3 years. All of them have generously given of their time and energy for the benefit of the membership. Together, I think we made some difference in the trajectory of the Local. My sincerest thanks are hardly enough to acknowledge their body of work.

I wish you all the best, it was my privilege and honor to serve as your president. Please consider running for office and please vote for your representatives. You make the difference!

Jay Bertolet