Time for a church musician's union?
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,437
    Just heard a sad story about a very capable and competent church organist being suddenly "let go" upon the arrival of a new pastor, which is of course not the first time I've heard of unjust treatment of church musicians by parish administrators. Makes you wonder if said priest ever read Rerum Novarum or Laborem exercens?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,036
    No, we need a musicians mafia - LOL. A couple of mitered heads found in beds would cause the rest to straighten up. (See movie, The Godfather).
    Thanked by 2Gavin cesarfranck
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    AGO?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,036
    I have belonged to AGO for years, but it is a weak organization when it comes to labor disputes. It actually tried to help at one time, then abandoned the effort since it wasn't working.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • The AGO apparently dismantled it's grievances department because it wasn't effective. In a right to work state, you really don't have a lot of options or recourse. Very sad indeed.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,033
    I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, yes, we're workers, and our employers should, more than anyone, be guided by the labor documents.

    Besides, the time and effort required to develop the skills for our profession comes close to excluding the development of any other professional-level skills. It's not like we can just go get an engineering job when the parish thing runs out. Too much time has been invested in musical training to a very high level.

    On the other hand, we're in a time of historic transition from the post-Vatican II frenzy to a new normal that is still at least a decade down the road. At this moment, probably 75% of pastors will not want to work with rotr music directors. And rotr music directors, if we're honest, would prefer not to work with those pastors, unless they change, which isn't likely. And at the same time, 25% of pastors will not want to work with non-rotr music directors, and vice versa.

    What we actually need are chessmasters in every diocese who will equitably move around music directors after each major pastor change.

    Barring that, I wonder if the at-will situation we now have is better than the alternatives.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,307
    AGO
    NPM
    CMAA
    ACDA

    image
    (There is an XKCD comic for every situation.)

    Even IF unions were a good idea in some cases (and not, you know, a communist plot to destroy the American family and make us all atheists) the employment situation for church musicians doesn't make any sense for union-style bargaining power.

    If you don't re-instate your music director at St. Slappy's, I won't play any more Masses at Our Lady of Bad Decisions!
    And that will cause me a problem, how exactly?
    You'll feel guilty about it!

    Apart from their now-entrenched political connections, at their essence a union only works inasmuch as they can inflict pain on the bosses. I don't see how there would even be a possibility for doing that in church music.
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,437
    Excellent considerations from everyone. Believe me, I know the pros and cons of labor unions, and realize such endeavors are inevitably messy, expensive and problematic, but it's just a shame when you see excellent professionals treated without dignity (or with basic human decency) by Catholic pastors.

    I just finished watching the Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko movie from Ignatius Press, and I guess I'm still fired up by all he did for the shipyard workers and his truly harrowing persecution and death at the hands of the Communists.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,036
    I belonged to a union for twenty years as a federal government employee. Striking wasn't allowed - against federal law - but employers could be legally forced to live up to the terms of the contracts. It is those contracts and what is in them that is important.

    Let's face it, the only way to inflict pain on church bosses is to cut their funding. That's about all that gets their attention, in most places.
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,078
    On the other hand, we're in a time of historic transition from the post-Vatican II frenzy to a new normal that is still at least a decade down the road. At this moment, probably 75% of pastors will not want to work with rotr music directors. And rotr music directors, if we're honest, would prefer not to work with those pastors, unless they change, which isn't likely. And at the same time, 25% of pastors will not want to work with non-rotr music directors, and vice versa.

    As one who began in the 80's NOT interested in ROTR and came to it in the early 90's, this quote pretty well covers the situation. It is the beauty of the way it is and the risk of what will happen when these camps collide. I know this from first-hand experience all too well. Unions will not change this experience nor will any type of collectivism. One has to build constituencies within a parish for purposes of insulation from the "sheep" who attack and know the risk that one might come upon a situation that cannot be rectified except through dismissal. Pastors are people with likes and dislikes and personalities. Some you can work with despite your philosophical disagreements and some you cannot work with. The ideal is to find a "marriage" with a Pastor that you can work with and go from there. Some find that marriage. Many do not. Personally, I am still waiting....

    I think we are more than a decade away from "normal" is there is to be such, but things are better than 20 years ago. One must take the long view. As it was said earlier on another post and is also posted on my office door," We are that of cathedral builders. We will not live to see it finished." But I have great hope when I see my young clerics and their training.

    Kathy, your wisdom is indefatigable....
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Pastor/Bishop to maltreated church employee:
    "Unions! Unions??? I dun't need to see no stinkin' unions!" BANG! (Treasure of the Sierra Madre)
    Not in a million years.....
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,567
    I am in support of Kathy's chessmaster idea. It would be a beautiful and effective system if somehow (don't ask me how!) dioceses could oversee, or at least lend a guiding hand, to placement of certain church employees with due consideration to the pastor at a given parish. I've seen that happen (and gotten a little work) just between priests ... "Our parish is looking for someone who can do this and that" ... "You know, I've got just the guy for ya!"

    The biggest problem I'd see in that is little groups/sects/mobs forming ... So you've got a ROTR priest moving around with his cronies and a "contemporary" pastor with his team of liberal liturgists ... and while this could lead to better peace-of-mind for all, it also starts to reek of (liturgical) schismatism - we have our group, you have yours. It's also worth noting, now that I think of this, that it already sort of exists ... not at e diocesan level, but I've seen these "teams" of like-minded individuals and it sometimes creates havoc, resentments, and schisms within a parish. But, then, there's a lot of frustration all around when a liturgist, choir director, pastor, and the congregation are all in disagreement so here we are celebrating the re-presentation of Christ's selfless love while many hearts are bitterly resentful toward brothers and sisters in faith. Sigh.

    I'm rambling. Don't know how it could work, but its a nice ideal. Presents some dangers though.

    Gosh, if everyone would just think exactly like us then we wouldn't all have to disagree so much.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I've been on strike for about 8 years.

    I'm on strike against churches that pay too little and/or demand music devoid of artistic merit.
  • jpal
    Posts: 365
    We could eliminate the problem by fixing seminaries.
  • We could eliminate the problem by fixing seminaries.


    This

    If I could hit the vote up a gazillion times, this would get it!
    Thanked by 2jpal elaine60
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 647
    If the American Federation of Musicians is any guide to how musicians and unions interact, probably better to stay away. (IMHO) One of the dumbest unions on the planet, even when the locals are run by people who are talented in music.
    Thanked by 1Jeffrey Quick
  • WJA
    Posts: 237
    The idea behind unions is collective bargaining: a group of workers negotiating an employment contract have more bargaining power than any of them individually, especially because it is illegal to fire them for organizing, bargaining, and striking.

    So unions can do something for groups of employees for a particular employer who organize as a collective bargaining unit. But for an individual worker in a setting with too few workers to form a collective bargaining unit, joining a union can't do much for the worker. There's no collective bargaining power to be hand because there is no group of workers to organize and bargain together.

    If the individual worker in that setting wants to get any of the protections a union might offer, he or she has to persuade the employer to enter into a contract that provides those protections, e.g., employment for a specific term, no termination without just cause, severance pay for termination without just cause, etc. Whether an employee can negotiate such a contract comes down to a lot of factors, the biggest being, how badly does the employer want him or her?

    Joining a union with no collective bargaining power will not change that basic calculus.
    Thanked by 1Adam Wood
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,033
    Kathy, your wisdom is indefatigable....

    It's probably not such a good idea to post this on my office door. Maybe my vanity mirror...
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,606
    Bring back the clerical rank of subdeacon. Ordain the male DMs who want to keep their jobs and swear obedience to the Bishop. Have the Bishop appoint them to all the sweet positions in the Diocese with a gerous payscale for subdeacon DMs.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,307
    Bring back the clerical rank of subdeacon.

    Would that mean we can wear copes?
    Thanked by 2Gavin Ben Yanke
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,307
    That's a perfect role for the MD then- he could sing all the versicles in his tunicle.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,130
    Would he have copal tunicle syndrome?
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,723
    Here's another angle: if one is interviewing with a parish, one should "check the references" of the parish with the prior musician. There's a technique to this, b/c the prior musician is likely to have some.....ahhh.......prejudices. But it's not impossible to get a sense of what's going on.

    Similarly, most priest transfers are advertised in advance. So call the musician at the priest's prior parish and ask a few questions.

    Otherwise, recognize that the job is a sometimes thing, just like a woman. You'll get a Popinjay Priest once in a while (I got two almost in a row.) It happens. Shake the dust off your sandals and move on.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • Theo
    Posts: 50
    I've heard several horror stories of an incumbent organist being fired when a new pastor brought along, or had plans to bring along the organist from his previous parish. This can happen anywhere, but seems more common in the Catholic churches because many of the jobs are not advertised openly and many Catholic parishes refuse to sign a contract with the organists.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,798
    Someone just told me this evening about a recent case. One good organist was dismissed, and other good organist replaced him. One is left wondering what these pastors are thinking. Maybe it's just a matter of personalities in some cases.

  • R J StoveR J Stove
    Posts: 302
    I would be very supportive of a union, which could perhaps be international in its scope to a certain extent. And I say this as one who has himself had few if any problems with pastors (musically I find clueless laymen much harder than pastors to deal with).
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    It cuts both ways though. There's plenty of antecdotal stories of younger priests becoming pastors and, within 6 months of their arrival, dismantling the guitar group, telling the non-organ playing music director that his/her services won't be needed anymore, and hiring a competant organist/choral director. Just read NCR and other publications to hear about it.

  • It cuts both ways though. There's plenty of antecdotal stories of younger priests becoming pastors and, within 6 months of their arrival, dismantling the guitar group, telling the non-organ playing music director that his/her services won't be needed anymore, and hiring a competant organist/choral director. Just read NCR and other publications to hear about it.


    PGA, I sure wish that scenario would be the norm, but unfortunately, more often it is the other way around.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    Well that's just because there are fewer younger priests right now becoming pastors. But it happens. And sometimes it happens for not publicly clear reasons.

    The palm beach cathedral got rid of their organist and it was insinuated on this board that the cathedral was moving backwards and didn't want real music. But I attended mass last month there and they had an organist who played literature and the piano was only used for one song. So who knows what happened behind the scenes? Perhaps both sides had their reasons for moving on.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • Where on the board was mention of the PB Diocese's cathedral organist? I am very familiar with that situation, and that speculation is pure non-sense.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    As I said sometimes it's not clear and there are two sides to every story.
  • It depends on the parish, I suppose. At my own parish, there are only three choir members in total- and I'm one of them. A priest with half a brain would not fire the only people he has who actually want to, and are trained to sing. Even the pay isn't too bad- 40$ a Mass, 50$ for funerals isn't bad in a week with a lot of funerals.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Okay, by the powers vested in me by the State of California and the Dishonorable Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (SJ honorary) I hereby declare the incorporation of Musicum Unicum Dominum as the legal advocate for all who willingly sign its charter and abide by their statutes and statues, and forward annual dues to my agent, duly appointed to represent your interests night and day at a moment's notice. The Charter and Bylaws are forthcoming. (see, Obamacare Bill, Pelosi, Nancy: Ye shall know what it doth contain after thou dost passeth it, like a kidney stone.)
    The union (we'd prefer to be referred to as a guild, but that's too Masonic) agent can be accessed at 1-800-YU4-REAL or email: lottagoodthisledo@headdown.net

    CC. Now, if you'll kindly excuse me I'm needed in San Francisco and have to catch our Hi-Speed Rail Bullet Train that doesn't really stop in CenCA, but neither it nor I really exist, so confidence level is RED HOT to board.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,110
    I don't know what the answer is. It's clear by the 15 proposals
    On this thread that we don't agree on a way forward.
    The AGO disciplinary procedures were canned because they
    Had no teeth.
    The firing of competent people so that the pastor
    can hire his friend happens ALL the time.
    The nature of our church is authority from the top
    down. The church can write all the documents it wants about
    the empowerment of lay people and establish
    powerless parish councils (just window dressing)
    But the authority model is the only one that the
    church has known, and it is inherent in our theology.
    That model is operating within or alongside a democratic
    society. While other organizations have developed unions and other
    structures to become more democratic/collectivist, the church still operates
    on the 3rd century Pope-Cardinals-Bishop-Priest-down to laypeople.
    Lets face it, there were no laypeople working for the church until 30
    years ago! The only people "employed" were priests.
    Lay workers are entirely dependent on the generosity or lack of it
    of the parish priest. I don't see how this will ever change.
    Nothing the AGO napalm, CMAA has done has changed this basic
    working structure. So, working for the RCC means accepting this way of
    doing things....otherwise one is living on fantasy island. Comments anyone?

  • Yes, the constant upheaval in parish life is a huge problem for everyone. One pastor destroys what the previous one made, and so on, sometimes every few years. There is no chance for stability under these conditions. Musicians are reduced to traveling minstrels living out of their suitcases. It is a disgusting situation and one that harms congregations too -- and of course they have no say over the matter. I gather that this has always been a problem but it was less so when there was general agreement on the role of music in the Roman Rite. It wasn't always just about the pastor's preferences. What would make some difference liturgically would be to reduce the options in the Missal so that there are some clear standards for what needs to be done, thereby put some control over this arbitrariness. Then at least the pastor would have his personal field of liturgical discretion reduced, and some clear standards for musicians could emerge.
  • Really, all you can do is pray the pastor has good musical taste and a sense of generosity, or you'll be gone and it'll be bye-bye chant and hello Marty Haugen tunes all over again. At least in my experience, anyway. And Lord knows the congregation is tired of those after thirty years.
  • expeditus1
    Posts: 483
    melo, there's just something about you.......I'm a bit leery of anyone who is too eager to gather union dues! I need to think about this one.

    The union for NALC (National Association of Letter Carriers), which one would think should have had leverage, in terms of membership numbers and dues, was impotent when it came to backing us. The union was quick on the uptake to collect our dues, but hung us mail carriers out to dry, on far too many occasions. Membership was compulsory, if you didn't want to experience workplace hostility from union members. Only one guy chose to buck the unsaid rule, and he took the brunt of being ostracized. The union did appear, however, to enjoy the biennial national conventions it hosted, especially in places like Hawaii. The next one, in 2016, will be held at the L.A. Convention Center.

    So, if you are going to take my dues, melo, you'd better promise some fabulous conventions.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Sure, EXP1, we'll hold them every year the same place you'll send the dues:
    The Grand Cayman Islands, most likely Turks and Caicos. I know Meloche will be there.
    Thanked by 2expeditus1 mrcopper
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,437
    Musicians are reduced to traveling minstrels living out of their suitcases.


    That's it in a nutshell, and since my husband is a public school teacher, I come at this situation from the perspective of another professional organization and am appalled at the lack of job security, arbitrary pay standards, lack of benefits, and other essential protective measures in the church music field, compared to what the AFT (which I know has regrettably morphed into another arm of the Democrat Party) has been able to accomplish for their members over the years.

    However, even the AFT, as powerful as it is, is not invincible, and the woeful Obama economy is causing school districts to knuckle down on teacher salaries, tenure, benefits, etc., and the current trend among younger teachers is ready, almost instant, capitulation of all the hard-fought ground which previous generations spent much blood, sweat and tears to gain.

    Obviously, the lesson is that if you want just working conditions, you must be relentless and determined enough to make sacrifices for them since there are going to be martyrs along the way.

    What I wonder, though, is if our post-WWII generation possesses the foresight, resolve and discipline---and the ability to forge an unshakable solidarity---to proceed with this task and similar endeavors and build a better future for the next generation? From my own experience with people my age and younger, I'm afraid the answer is "no."
  • Sounds like fun Melo, count me in. I'll fly the corporate 767 over and pick you all up. We can bill it as a business expense. Only requirement is someone has to compose swing low sweet chariot to a good chant mode. First class for all CMAA lol
  • expeditus1
    Posts: 483
    I'm detecting something nefarious and Madoff-ish about this whole thing, but my impulse for fun is overriding practicality, so I'm throwing-in with ContraBombarde and Melo! Let's get that 767 filled!

    (Do read JulieColl's thought-provoking comments above.)
    Thanked by 1melofluent
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,110
    Oh I like the idea of Grand Cayman, I can check all my accounts
    while I am there.
  • expeditus1
    Posts: 483
    And since melo mentioned that Meloche will be on the Island (By the way, how are sales of that recto-tone book going? Is it in its second-printing?), I just figured that since I'll have you all together, I'd like to do an Avon-Mary Kay-Tupperware-Pampered Chef presentation. On the 767 would work best.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Turning on my dime here, having read Julie's post twice, some general reflections:
    *Union solidarity last employed with moral justification was in Poland.
    *Unions are otherwise antiquated, self-serving lobbying interests in this era bearing no resemblance to those of the 19th and 20th century where they served as antidote to oligarchal monopolies/robber barons and industries. As having been in NEA as a public school teacher, I received nothing beneficial to me or my family from that membership except a smaller net paycheck.
    *Don't count on the fact that the general membership of parishioners even realize that you are being compensated for your services. And do count on the fact that many of them, if made aware, would be outraged you're not providing your expertise and service in the Name of the Lord for gratis.
    *In this era, take a clue from digital entrepreneurs (sp?) such as Google, Yahoo and FaceBook et al: cultivate a skill set that is immediately self-evident on a daily basis. Know your job culture's history, know how to make friends and influence people positively, take on all duties fervently with a good attitude, take on added duties beyond remuneration in the same manner, be innovative and cooperative with other parish plant stakeholders, know the flow chart, know the players.
    *Don't toot your own horn. Let your product (don't mean that derogatorily) speak for you, and deliver consistently.
    *Be everything to everyone as much as you can without compromising your integrity or moral conscience.
    *Develop acquaintence level relationships with the bishop, vicar, chancery staff and other parish pastors and musicians when opportunity affords itself.

    In short, try to honestly become indispensable. Your reputation must precede you before any pastoral re-assignment is anticipated or sneaks up on you.

    That's all I got on the serious side. Unions, as I quipped in my first response, are just like badges, they mean nothing if the person to which they're attached doesn't have the personal wherewithall to go it alone.
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,078
    Melo's advice is the best I have seen in this thread. Do that and you will last in a place.
    Thanked by 1Kathy
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Thanks, Kevin. That'll be one liter of Woodford Reserve, please, as no one's yet joined my union! Or more accurately, PAID ME MY MONEY!
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,437
    Excellent advice to anybody in any situation! I still maintain, however, that labor unions can and do serve a useful purpose, despite the ease with which they can be corrupted. I would even venture to say that a corrupt union is better than no union at all because, as nefarious and criminal as most labor unions are, they will still negotiate higher wages and prevent many basic injustices.

    If you ask any office worker, Walmart employee or McDonald's employee if he/she would rather have someone like Jimmy Hoffa watching his/her back (even if he was a crook), or be a corporate slave, I think you have your answer.
    Thanked by 1R J Stove
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    What gaineth a man to win the world, yet lose his own......
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,036
    One does not lose a soul by demanding fair wages and treatment. Being martyr musicians is how we have enabled our own exploitation for years. Oh, I'm working for God, so do anything to me. Well, that's ridiculous. We only work for God indirectly. There is a layer of management between us, and it doesn't always have our best interests at heart.