52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week 25: Groups

PROMPT: Humans are generally social creatures; that is, we tend to form or join groups. These groups could be familial or they could be by choice. Think about church groups, fraternal organizations, schools, jobs/trades, sports teams, or clubs that an ancestor belonged to.
My great-grandfather Ernest Laney (in straw hat) with fellow miners in a photo from 1944.

I am a proud member of a union: the American Federation of Musicians. I became a member through Local 105 in Spokane, Washington, and since 1992, I have been a card-carrying member of AFM Local 802 in New York City.

As I write this, I have been furloughed since April 2020 and, for almost an entire year, I was not paid by my employer: the Metropolitan Opera. With positive Covid numbers down and vaccination rates up in the New York City area, performing arts organizations are making plans to reopen in the fall and welcome back their audiences, subscribers, and patrons. Numerous Broadway theaters have announced that they will open to full capacity in mid-September.

While the MET has announced its 2021-2022 season and intends to open in September, its employees are facing more concerns than merely the proof of vaccination required of each of us for our safe return to work: After self-righteously citing a force majeur clause in all MET union contracts, management furloughed artists and crew at the beginning of the pandemic, leaving its employees without a single paycheck for almost a year. Then, adding insult to injury, MET management has been trying to gut union contracts, using the pandemic as leverage. In essence, management is claiming poverty (in spite of not having paid its employees for an entire year) and justifying its attempt to extract draconian concessions from the very workers whose artistry is what that the public pays to see.

While the union representing solo artists and the MET Chorus–the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA)–came to an agreement with management prior to the expiration of their current contract, management has been dragging its feet in ongoing negotiations with members of the Stage Crew and the Orchestra.

The author, on the virtual picket line.

Whatever progress has been made in negotiations between the AFM and management has been put on hold while management focuses on another critical agreement with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local One, representing the Stagehands and Crew. These hard-working employees have not been paid anything since April 2020 and, unable to reach an agreement with management following the expiration of their contract in late July of last year, management chose to lock out these workers in mid-December.

Never before has solidarity been as crucial as it will be for MET employees in the weeks ahead. Toward that end, I was among hundreds who turned out for a rally in front of Lincoln Center on May 13th in support of our locked-out brothers and sisters of IATSE and the Theatrical Teamsters Local 817.

With many of my colleagues having scattered since the pandemic began, abandoning expensive apartment leases they could no longer afford and seeking work elsewhere—and with ongoing concern about large gatherings of people, IATSE leadership came up with a brilliant idea: a “virtual picket line.”

A IUMMSW badge from the 1940s

Needless to say, unions and the power of collective bargaining are on my mind a lot these days.

Many of my ancestors were also members of various unions over the years. They too benefitted from bargaining a a group. Before I joined the 52 Ancestors Challenge, I wrote a post about my great-grandfather’s involvement in the union representing miners in Southeast Kansas.

It is clear from contemporary news pieces that he was directly involved in the activities of his union: the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (IUMMSW) and that this brotherhood was very important to him. For that reason, it seems appropriate to share my earlier post for this assignment.

It can be read here.

2 thoughts on “Solidarity”

  1. I wish you well with your negotiations. I can’t imagine the subscribers to the MET would be pleased to hear of the heavy handedness of the management. Did the MET fail to get a fed PPP loan? The show can’t go on without performers, musicians or crew! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and for your support, Barb. Unfortunately, the MET was not eligible for a PPP loan because it has too many employees to be considered a small business.

      Since writing this post, Local One has reached an agreement (yet to be ratified) and has returned to work. Orchestra negotiations continue and have been extended into next month. Time will tell whether the “show will go on” as planned for a September start.


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