Thursday, July 24—Justice for Jazz Artists demonstrated for a third time this summer at Madison Square Park’s popular Shake Shack restaurant and in front of the Jazz Standard, a club owned by Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), which also owns the fast food chain. USHG was founded by restaurateur Danny Meyer. Musicians and their supporters gathered in the park to protest Meyer’s refusal to negotiate with Local 802 on J4JA’s demands including pension and recording protections for musicians who work in Meyer’s club. While the musicians played New Orleans street beat favorites such as “Look-Ka Py Py” (the Meters) and “It Ain’t My Fault” (Smokey Johnson), a tap dancer entertained the crowd and supporters passed out leaflets demanding that the “Jazz Standard…recognize area standards.”
Later, the band and supporters marched up Park Avenue to the tune of “Mozartin’” by Alvin Batiste, and eventually set up in front of Jazz Standard. While Meyer’s patrons clapped along, demonstrators educated the public on the issues: the vast majority of jazz musicians, especially non-featured artists, often struggle to make a living, earning less than $25,000 a year from their music. Added to that is the unfortunate fact that most jazz musicians work for cash or are 1099 employees, and thus never receive an employer’s share of social security. Demonstrators impressed upon Meyer’s patrons the need for a safety net, one that is tied to work, to support the NYC jazz community.
Meyer himself is in a unique position to work with J4JA and the musicians he hires, as USHG is wildly successful. Contributions to the union’s pension fund on behalf of all the musicians who play Jazz Standard annually would add up to less than .01% of USHG’s gross income, which has been estimated at $430 million.