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Home » Recent News » Freedom of Information … Act! Information Locals Are Entitled

Freedom of Information … Act! Information Locals Are Entitled


by Todd Jelen, Negotiator, AFM Symphonic Services Division

Todd-JelenMost seasoned orchestra committee members and local officers know that they are entitled to information from their orchestra during negotiations. Did you also know that the local is also entitled to information to help administer the contract, when it is not in negotiations?

Even if your contract doesn’t have specific language regarding this, your local is entitled to request any information necessary and relevant to contract administration and bargaining. Having this information can mean the difference between competently representing musicians and flying blind in a storm of half-truths.

Many locals do not receive the basic payroll information they’re entitled to. Locals often receive checks for work dues with no explanation where they were deducted from, the number of services played, rate of pay, health and welfare and pension payments made, doubling, cartage, and numerous other compensation categories that are negotiated in our collective bargaining agreements. Without this detailed information, locals cannot accurately represent musicians on occasions when doubling might accidentally not be paid, or if a section musician wasn’t compensated properly when they filled in for a sick or absent principal.

Another concerning trend is the lack of transparency when documenting the discipline and dismissal of musicians. The local needs this information to accurately assess whether or not the discipline is valid before the decision to file a grievance is made, as well as during the grievance process. This information is crucial to ascertain if the punishment was fair, if timelines were followed, or if any evidence exists that would help exonerate the musician.

Quite often, when locals request information outside of negotiations they encounter management pushback. They commonly hear: “If there is a problem, musicians can ask us about it and we will fix it for them” or “this is a private matter between the orchestra and its musicians.” These statements, whether intentionally nefarious or not, violate the very tenets of unionism.

The union is the sole representative of musicians and has a duty to represent all musicians regardless of membership status, or status in the orchestra. Refusing to furnish information to maintain the contract is a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. Without this information, our locals cannot properly investigate potential problems and are at risk of not fulfilling their duty of fair representation.

Sometimes musicians will inadvertently enable management by requesting information be withheld from the local because they feel embarrassed or they think that they can handle issues on their own. Musicians that help to conceal information are robbing themselves of union protection. This also increases the chance that other musicians will have the same problem. If all musicians know about all issues in the workplace, recurring infractions are less likely.

Ask your local secretary what information your orchestra provides with regard to the maintenance of your contract. If your local receives anything less than what I described in this article, please work together with your local to contact me and we’ll discuss a plan of action. Only when we have the information we need and are entitled to receive, can we successfully represent the needs of our musicians in the workplace.