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Energy to the gamers: The Reno Musicians’ Union has operated for greater than a century—however is going through an existential disaster

6 min read

In the identical 12 months that President Taft took workplace, the primary U.S. airplane was bought commercially, and the North Pole was first reached, the Reno Musicians’ Protecting Union Native No. 368 was chartered. Whereas there was a musicians’ union on the town because the late 1800s, Native No. 368 has been securing higher pay, higher working situations and advantages for the town’s skilled musicians since 1909.

“I joined in 1974, I consider, the primary time—I’ve been out and in of it a pair occasions,” mentioned union president John Shipley. “I used to be supplied a job in its place in the home band at Harrah’s Reno. I knew concerning the union via my highschool trainer. … He was the band director at Hug Excessive Faculty, the place I went to highschool, and he inspired me to hitch the union.”

Shipley was born and raised in Reno and bought his begin learning classical music earlier than becoming a member of jazz band as an adolescent. As a younger grownup, Shipley was mentored by huge band leaders on the casinos and golf equipment round city earlier than finally going to play phases worldwide as a “employed gun.” Amongst his many credit, Shipley performed with surf-guitar nice Dick Dale and served because the musical director for Motown recording band the Funk Brothers.

“My huge job proper now could be I’m on the Eldorado piano bar, the Roxy, 4 occasions every week. I name it singing Sinatra for martinis,” Shipley mentioned. “My second spouse and I did a gap act for Mr. Sinatra. And it was fairly an honor to fulfill him and carry out on the identical stage as him.”

When Shipley returned to Reno within the late ’90s, he resumed his membership with the Reno Musicians’ Union. However wherever he performed within the years earlier, he saved his membership with the overarching worldwide union with which the Reno native is affiliated, the American Federation of Musicians. Then and now, Shipley mentioned, the first utility of belonging to a musicians’ union is the ability of the collective bargaining settlement, or CBA.

“While you band collectively, you may stand as much as a CEO, one particular person, one company,” Shipley mentioned. “Each union, their first purpose is best working situations, no more cash—ensuring that musicians aren’t enjoying within the solar, you already know, enjoying outside in all this inclement climate, issues that needs to be in a contract.”

The 2 main CBAs that Native No. 368 at present has in place are with the Reno Philharmonic and the Reno Chamber Orchestra—longstanding contracts which have introduced constructive change through the years, Shipley mentioned.

“After I first grew to become a union officer right here … the lighting stepping into the pit on the Pioneer theater was actually inefficient, and several other musicians had tripped and harm themselves,” Shipley mentioned. “(Fixing) easy little issues like which can be what goes on in contract negotiations.”

Whereas CBAs are a number of the most important providers the union affords, they’re removed from the one ones. Shipley mentioned he’s making an attempt to barter funds into the AFM’s pension fund with this 12 months’s CBAs, which might assist present retirement stability for skilled musicians. Different advantages embody the whole lot from instrument insurance coverage to discounted cell-phone plans, and even assist to barter a mortgage.

“Each union, their first purpose is best working situations, no more cash—ensuring that musicians aren’t enjoying within the solar, you already know, enjoying outside in all this inclement climate, issues that needs to be in a contract.”

union president John Shipley

Julie Machado, a longtime union member and bassist for the Reno Philharmonic, mentioned the union was particularly useful throughout the pandemic.

“We known as on the union to assist us discover methods to get cash to musicians, as a result of if you happen to couldn’t go exterior, you couldn’t really make any cash enjoying,” Machado mentioned. “The union helped the musicians join with different assets in our neighborhood and on a bigger scale in order that they may pay their payments, pay their hire, purchase groceries, have little one care—that type of factor.”

Machado has been a member of Native No. 368 since 1980. When she joined the Reno Chamber Orchestra, she and the remainder of the gamers had been inspired by founder and conductor emeritus Vahe Khochayan to hitch the union. She at present serves on the gamers’ committee for the Reno Philharmonic—a board of elected members that symbolize every part of the orchestra and negotiates together with the union.

“The union is the negotiator for our collective bargaining settlement, however the gamers’ committee is the one which places it collectively,” Machado mentioned. “The one individuals who could be on the gamers’ committee for any orchestra in the USA are people who find themselves contracted and are members of the union.”

Throughout the pandemic, Machado mentioned, the Philharmonic board secured funding to pay for recording tools for the Pioneer Middle—a measure meant to proceed performances throughout lockdown. The union secured broadcasting rights per the worldwide media settlement, an element Machado mentioned was essential to compensating everybody which is emblematic of the commonly constructive relationship between Philharmonic executives and the union.

“That finally led to on-demand broadcasting in your house of the Reno Phil classics concert events, the Spirit of the Season concert events, and the PBS collection that we’re on,” she mentioned. “It couldn’t have occurred if we didn’t have the union there.”

Machado values the union for making certain issues just like the musicians’ wage scale and correct security lodging at contracted performances. Earlier in her profession, Machado additionally noticed the union as a approach to meet like-minded musicians and search for jobs—an choice that has fallen by the wayside in recent times.

The truth is, for as a lot because the union has completed for Reno’s skilled musicians, it now faces an existential drawback: shrinking membership. From a peak membership of greater than 600 within the Fifties and ’60s, Native No. 368 at present has round 80 dues-paying members—most of them older.

“If there aren’t sufficient musicians, there isn’t some huge cash to work with,” Machado mentioned.

Loads of elements have sapped the lifeblood from the native musicians’ union—and the organized labor motion normally—through the years. To Shipley, the best menace to any Nevada union is the state’s “proper to work” legal guidelines, which primarily neuter any personal firm’s obligation to barter with the union.

However there’s one other, extra subversive menace to union membership: A common lack of information, and generally apathy, by youthful musicians.

“While you discuss to a younger musician, he says, ‘Nicely, I’m having hassle paying my hire. (Union membership is one thing) I’ve to pay for,’” Shipley mentioned. “… However I’ve had younger musicians come to me and say, ‘This membership didn’t pay me,’ and I’ve gone over to the membership and dropped my enterprise card … and I used to be capable of get cash for the younger musicians.”

Machado—who’s performed in classical orchestras, rockabilly bands, bluegrass outfits and jazz trios—mentioned she wished extra younger folks knew concerning the tangible advantages even a school storage band might obtain from membership, from contract-writing workshops to greatest touring practices.

“Let’s say you’re enjoying, and also you appear like you’ve bought this common gig going as soon as a month or each week, and also you see that you just’re having issues,” she mentioned. “You may be a part of the union then and have the union symbolize you. You don’t have to hitch upfront. You may have it at all times there behind your again as a steadying power.”

Finally, Shipley mentioned, the union is simply as sturdy as its members. He factors to cases just like the current prepare derailment in Ohio as penalties of organized labor being devalued nationally. If the protections for the city’s musicians put in place during the last 100 years are going to final, it’s going to take direct motion.

“You get out what you place in,” Shipley mentioned. “It takes effort to belong to a union.”

Be taught extra concerning the Reno Musicians’ Protecting Union Native No. 368 at renomusicans.org.

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