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Workers Employed At The Brooklyn Academy Of Music Move To Unionize

Published Wednesday, May 22, 2019
by Hakim Bishara/
Workers Employed At The Brooklyn Academy Of Music Move To Unionize

(BROOKLYN, NEW YORK) - Last week, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in New York City held its annual benefit gala where patrons, Hollywood stars and Art World Insiders hobnobbed with each other at the starting ticket price of $2,500.

Swedish Singer-Songwriter Neneh Cherry performed and an art auction offered works by Richard Serra and Deborah Kass, among many others.

On its website, BAM reported raising over $1.8 million for its education and artistic programming.

Behind the scenes of the festive evening was a new Union Drive announced by BAM’s Administrative Workers and Cinema Staff.

In April, the Workers signed a petition to join Local 2110 UAW (United Auto Workers.)

An election is expected to be held later in May, although a date has not been decided yet.

While they haven’t yet posed any official demands, several Workers relayed their complaints to Hyperallergic, alleging worsening working conditions - including the reduction of benefits, 401k matching and health care, in addition to transforming full-time jobs to hourly part-time jobs, which render Workers ineligible for benefits.

Kaitlyn Chandler, a Video Editor and Motion Designer who has been working at BAM for over three years, told Hyperallergic in a phone conversation that a plan to form a Union has been in the making for more than a year and a half.

“We noticed a lack of transparency and discrepancies in codes of standards of conduct that BAM was holding for itself,” she said. “They (BAM’s management) made a lot of unilateral changes for people who are part-time and earn minimum wage at all levels of BAM.”

BAM’s management has thus far been cautious not to take a stand on the Union Drive.

However, in an e-mail sent to BAM Workers and forwarded to Hyperallergic, the management attached a document labeled “BAM Union Fact Sheet” which explained to the Workers: “The choice (to Unionize) is yours, but we feel strongly that it is in your and BAM’s best interest for you to learn more about Union Representation before you vote in the upcoming election.”

According to the document, Workers might have “less take-home pay because of Union Dues” and warned that negotiations will not necessarily bring salary raises

The letter also alerts Workers that they may be obligated to pay a Union Initiation Fee or Union Penalties.

In the case of a Union Strike, the letter adds, Employees can “lose substantial pay and employer-paid benefits.”

In a follow-up e-mail, the management sent an additional document with the headline: Update - How Wages and Benefits Are Negotiated - alerting Workers that if a Union is elected, they will no longer be able to negotiate compensation individually and that the institution is legally obligated to freeze all wage adjustments during the period of negotiations.

This correspondence left some Workers upset.

“They’re saying that they are presenting unbiased facts, but they aren’t.  They are only talking about the thing we would lose,” Chandler told Hyperallergic. “There’s no law saying that you can’t give merit-based raises.  ‘They are doing it because they don’t want the Union and they want us to vote - No.'”

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