I wrote an 11 page paper about the problems with unions, Part 3: “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

There are a number of implications with this case that range from the engagement of a volunteers, to an employees right to self-determine their representation, to the NLRBs right to intervene. A number of these issues are addressed above, but the elephant in the room is the rights the individual employee has to control the terms of their employment.

The issue of how to determine who is a volunteer and who is an employee is made based on how they are paid or reimbursed. In the course of the discussion that preceded the legal action, the Opera changed the name of the auxiliary choristers’ pay from ‘an Honorarium’ to ‘a transportation stipend’ (¶4). However, as discussed further in the Outcome section, when the contract was due for renegotiation, this was eliminated entirely.

The employees were allowed only one piece of input in both the discussion and the litigation: a single vote. This is not uncommon under union circumstances; however, given their national scope and lack of local branches, or “locals,” to differentiate areas of activity, striking is difficult if not impossible to accomplish. In addition, the number of employees directly affected by this issue is small when compared to the number of artists performing in a given season. When the union took the issue to the NLRB and the Opera did not comply with the NLRB’s findings, members had no recourse but to await legal proceedings undertaken by the union. This is a very specific example, but it is common within the industry. While individual actors may have their situations rectified on a small scale in arbitration, lasting change is not possible until a contract is up for renegotiation. In this case, the change is not represented until the 2012 contract – issued 10 years after this case was heard.

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