Robert Levine  

Treasuring for Dummies

Robert Levine
December 14, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

Once again Robert Levine shares his considerable knowledge and experience with Polyphonic readers, this time with a quick tutorial on the responsibilities of musicians who may find themselves the treasurer of his orchestra or union local. Easy to read and understand, Robert's words of wisdom will keep you out of hot water and possibly jail.

--Ramon Ricker

- Ramon Ricker

So you blew off the last orchestra meeting of the season, deciding instead to take the cute new cellist out to lunch. You returned to find yourself elected orchestra committee treasurer. Or perhaps you’ve just woken from a short coma (the cellist having accidentally pushed you under a bus after that unfortunate misunderstanding after lunch) and found yourself elected secretary-treasurer of your Local.

You could go off and have a good cry on the cellist’s shoulder, assuming he/she is still talking to you. You could return to the hospital and inquire about being put into a medically-induced coma for the next two years. Or you could buckle down and learn about your new job.

There are lots of serious mistakes that a union officer, or an orchestra committee member, can make. A screw-up by a union officer can provoke an unnecessary strike, can get union members fired, and can get the union sued for big bucks. But screwing around with the union’s money can get a union officer sent to jail. It’s happened to a few AFM local officers. And, while it hasn’t yet happened to an orchestra committee treasurer, it sure could. This is serious stuff, and you need to get it right.

The job of a union, or orchestra committee, treasurer is to operate (and, if necessary, design) a financial system so that

1) decision-makers have the necessary information to make informed decisions about finances;

2) members can see how their money is being spent; and

3) the union or orchestra committee is protected against theft.

While the reporting requirements for unions and for orchestra musician associations may be different (depending on how, or whether, your association is chartered), the fundamental principles are the same. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll talk about the requirements for a union system. When orchestra musician associations ought to be run differently in a specific area, that will be noted.

What does a good union financial system look like?

Labor unions under US law are required to make annual reports to both the Internal Revenue Service (as non-profits incorporated under Section 501c.5 of the Internal Revenue Code) and the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), a division of the US Department of Labor (DOL). While the required reports are quite different, the underlying purpose of the reports is the same – public disclosure of the union’s financial structure. The OLMS is by far the more intrusive of the two agencies, so their requirements should be where a union financial system begins. You should assume that your internal orchestra fund is subject to audit by the OLMS – legally, it probably is.

A good financial system for a union should produce three things. It should produce accurate information for those who make decisions about where the money comes from and how it is spent. It should be transparent, so that the members can see where their dues money goes. And it should protect the union against theft and other forms of loss.

Fortunately, these three requirements work together. A system that provides accurate information for decision-makers will also provide accurate information for the members. Documentation that informs an interested member just what expense a particular check was written to pay will also provide documentation to identify fraud. A transparent financial system guards against inaccuracies.

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