The leadership team of the New York local of the musicians’ union — the union’s largest local in the nation — was voted out of office on Tuesday in a stunning upset, amid concerns over the underfunded musicians’ pension plan and broader changes facing music, the original gig economy.
It was the first contested election in nine years at Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, and it could cause national ripples. Adam Krauthamer was elected president with 67 percent of the vote, beating Tino Gagliardi, who has held the post for nine years and played a key behind-the-scenes role in the city’s musical life.
The insurgency began with musicians concerned about their pensions. The American Federation of Musicians and Employers’ Pension Fund, a multiemployer plan representing thousands of musicians around the country, has grown so underfunded that it may decide to reduce benefits in the future. The crisis has led to renewed activism by musicians.
Some have sued the plan’s trustees, claiming mismanagement, which the trustees have denied. Others, including Mr. Krauthamer, formed a group called Musicians for Pension Security.
“It made people stand up and take a look around and see what was going on,” Mr. Krauthamer, 37, said in an interview on Wednesday.
He said that many musicians were troubled by what they found — feeling that the trustees of the pension fund had been unresponsive to their concerns — and worried that the large New York local was losing members and growing out of touch with the needs of a new generation of musicians. Several of New York’s cutting-edge ensembles, including the International Contemporary Ensemble, have opted not to unionize in recent years.
“If we don’t find a way to bring new members into our union, and more work under contract, we are never going to be able to fund our pension,” he said before playing the French horn in a matinee of “Frozen” on Broadway.
Mr. Krauthamer’s ticket, 802 Musicians for Change, said in its platform that while protecting and improving existing contracts for Broadway shows and at the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, New York City Ballet and elsewhere was important, the union needed to bring more musicians into the fold. It called for coming up with more flexible contract frameworks that could be “available to musicians that don’t typically fall into the traditional union mold.”
It was a hard-fought campaign. In a debate, Mr. Gagliardi emphasized his experience. “This is not class president, folks,” he said.
Mr. Krauthamer argued the union had grown out of touch. “The rest of us, as musicians, have adapted to our market,” he said. “We understand what’s going on. But our union is stuck in the past.”
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