State of the Union: Transitioning from Crisis to Progress

December 9, 2021

2021: A most important “Year in Review”.

On January 1st of this year I wrote to you that we were finding ourselves at a juncture, “setting our sights on the task of rebuilding our profession, and our lives.” I mentioned that we had much work to do in facing the challenges of the Pandemic, but that we would be planning and preparing for better days ahead. This month, nearly a year later, we are featuring many articles in the DFW Musician on that very adventure that 2021 brought us. While we continued to provide relief to members through our COVID-19 Relief Fund and put together scores of live streamed engagements through MPTF funding, we kept our minds on moving beyond crisis management and to the ultimate task of rebuilding. As I wrote that New Year’s message, we were looking forward to vaccine distribution and envisioning the beginning of the end of the pandemic. But as it turned out, the new year quickly brought us another surge in COVID-19 infection, and more hard days ahead.

Certainly, the year brought many ups and downs, stops and starts, advances followed by reversals. But through all of this we have transitioned from managing crisis to a state of rebuilding. Our large ensembles are now performing full size in front of fuller (if not to capacity) venues. Freelance venues are opening up. Single engagements are getting booked again. Teachers are back in their studios with their students. Broadway and concert touring is back. And we have new contracts with most of our employers. Where we have been able to do so, we have negotiated safety protocols that have to the best of our knowledge kept musicians from being infected at work.

The transition began in early summer. With high hopes about the rollout of vaccines, we were making plans to be back in operation by the fall. Wicked was the first touring Broadway show to open nationwide in August – right here in Dallas. We were negotiating contracts with an optimism not felt in a long time, imagining performances free of masking and the lifting of protocols. But then the Delta variant came. Within days it seems, plans that were weeks – even months – in the making gave way to peak infection rates (again) and this time muddied up with new controversies, exacerbated by conflicting public policy.

We did manage to open concert seasons in the fall with full ensembles, but had to negotiate new protocols (now involving vaccine policies) which had to be accompanied by a constantly changing debate of what the proper protocols would be. Touring of shows and concerts resumed, but under a cloud of anxiety about break-through infections and new uncertainties.

Ahead of other industries, we were forced to face the implementation of vaccine mandates just to ensure that we would not be shut down again. Then after many of our ensembles had negotiated and ratified vaccination mandates and other related policies, this very thing became a national and state controversy. With state policy at odds with federal policy accompanied by court rulings in every direction, the performing arts found itself caught in the middle, as it struggled to restart. While most of our employers embraced one sort of policy or another to maximize vaccination rates in our venues, some chose the opposite approach with a resistance to implementing any safety protocols which would hamper personal choice.

Despite the turmoil, our large employers have navigated the economic storm, critically aided by SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. For the most part we have been able to maintain wages, and even negotiate some improvements. Of course, some other employers are still mired in uncertainty and resistant to discuss a pre-pandemic perspective, and some others continue to use these circumstances to push through concessions.

Accordingly our union has had to face economic difficulties as well. Throughout the entirety of the crisis we have faced unavoidable losses of revenue, while facing the greatest of challenges. In 2020 we held our operational losses at around $34,000. We cut costs, reducing staff size and temporarily reducing pay for all personnel by at least 20%. But in capitalizing the COVID Relief Fund and paying the necessary expenses, our combined cash deficit added up to around $100K for 2020. We approached all this with a plan to manage the loss and recapitalize. 2021 brought with it some help, as the American Rescue Plan Act extended eligibility of PPP loans to unions. This brought us some economic relief we did not have the previous year. We anticipate a near balanced operational budget this year and are placed in a better place to move forward than one year ago.

While facing our own union’s fiscal challenges has been a serious concern, keeping our union family together has been the real priority. Waiving all fees associated with dues payment processes, we have worked with everyone to do as much as we can to keep everyone on the rolls. While we are working on re-establishing necessary revenue to the union so that we can move forward, we continue to operate with this priority. As we will be beginning another annual dues payment cycle for 2022, we need the support of all our members to keep running. But if you need help, some extra time or have any issues, let us know. What is important is that we stay together, especially now that we are poised to move forward again.

And speaking of moving forward: In early 2020 we had many plans and new initiatives to provide education and other resources to our membership, to reach out to the community and bring new musicians into the fold, to have events which brought us together and in partnership with the community. During the Pandemic, this gave way to relief efforts and creating live-streaming employment, but we now will return to these plans. We will continue to deal with battling the pandemic itself, but our pre-pandemic goals of growing, improving, and being a stronger force for musicians is back on the agenda. And now we find ourselves with new strengths. Reacting to the greatest crisis of all for nearly two years, we have gained new skills and acquired new tools in the process. I am excited to put all that to use as we work to emerge from the pandemic – not just to rebuild – but to be a stronger and better union than before. I look forward to working with all of you in making that happen.

Please have a safe and wonderful holiday season as we embark on this new journey together.