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Laurie Niles

June 6, 2004 at 6:21 AM

This week I found myself sitting with fellow musicians from the Redlands Symphony on the spacious leather couch in the office of Hal Espinoza, president of the LA Musicians Union, Local 47. We were chatting with the president and vice president about the kinds of things we’ll bring up in upcoming contract negotiations for the orchestra. Of course, I won’t reveal any such things right before a negotiation! But I thought I’d give my fellow violinists a little window on this process, for it allows us to make what money we can in our profession in the United States, which offers so little public support for the arts.

I ended up on the Committee out of a mix of passivity, curiosity and hubris (“I’d be great at this, woo-hoo!”) During the chaos of a rehearsal break, the orchestra held elections for orchestra committee members. When someone asked, “How ‘bout Laurie?” Instead of standing up and saying, “Oh no, oh no. I can’t do it, too busy, WAY to busy! Out of the question!” I just smiled and felt kind of flattered.

Sucka!

Actually, I don’t know how crazy it will get. I do know that people get quite impassioned, quite inflamed, over the various issues that can come up: Do we want a higher per-service rate? Contributions to the pension? More positions in the orchestra? More rules for auditions? Mileage payments? Health and other benefits? Something in the contract about getting the damned bowings in the parts before the first rehearsal?

With a very temperate group of people, we were already a wee bit edgy on the topic of what to ask for, where the priorities should be.

At any rate, I truly feel I am in a union in LA. I’ve been a member of the America Federation of Musicians now for about 10 years and have been through a number of major negotiations (and nearikes) as a member of the Omaha, Lincoln, Colorado Springs Symphonies, among the many union groups I’ve played for. But Local 47 is certainly the most organized, well, organization I’ve known. This is not just one guy in an office someplace; the local has its own building, with rehearsal rooms and a 32-track digital recording studio. Stepping inside, the faces of hundreds of Local 47’s famous musicians stare at the newcomer from places of importance on the wall.

The Local 47 annual directory is enough to put a person’s status in the world of music into perspective. It’s not a couple of sheets of paper stapled together -- it’s a book, like the Bible. Or, given the task at hand, War and Peace. The most recent one I have is for the year 2002, and it lists, among its hundreds of pages of members, 1,099 violinists. I feel so, um, special.

At any rate, the powers at the union were extremely attentive to the concerns of our little band out on the edge of the metropolitan area; I was impressed. But that is what makes it so professional. This will be an adventure!

From jennifer steinfeldt
Posted on June 6, 2004 at 1:05 PM
All right, Laurie! Change the world! Feel special.
-Jennifer

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