Young Musicians Program Still Ensnared in Controversy

A union grievance filed against the director of a respected youth education program at UC Berkeley is moving toward arbitration.

Last year, when Amy Brodo was dismissed from teaching cello at the Young Musicians Program after six years on the job, nothing could have prepared her for the ongoing battle to get her position back and find out why she was fired. Today, she has returned to work, but not to the position she lost, and she still doesn’t have any answers.

Housed at UC Berkeley, the Young Musicians Program provides private music training at no cost to low-income Bay Area youth and has long employed professional musicians as teachers. The program’s instructors are governed by the American Federation of Teachers union contract, which also protects the university’s lecturers and librarians. The union filed a grievance in November 2011 on behalf of instructors, including Brodo, alleging contract violations — namely, that program director Daisy Newman had refused to comply with the instructor review process and had turned the program into a hostile work environment while engaging in retaliatory behavior.

Now, after a year of negotiations with the Employees Relations Unit at UC Berkeley, union field representative Michelle Squitieri said the next step is arbitration. “This is one of the worst cases we’ve ever had,” said Squitieri, who has been union rep for eleven years. “I think the story I am telling you is the tip of the iceberg.”

As the Express reported in April, Newman had allegedly refused to give instructors who had taught in the program for six years or more employee reviews, which would allow them to move from a year-to-year contract to a “continuing appointment” — a position of seniority that guarantees work if there is an appropriate opening to be filled. Squitieri said that before Newman became director in 2003, the Young Musicians Program had granted these mandatory reviews and awarded longer-term contracts to its instructors.

After being dismissed with no notice or explanation in the fall of 2011, Brodo said she asked the union, “Do I have any rights here?”

“I was never told by Daisy or anyone what I did wrong; there is nothing in my personnel file,” Brodo told me. (She declined to be quoted in the April Express article for fear of further retaliation.)

After the union filed its grievance, Newman reinstated Brodo. But according to Brodo and the union, Brodo was not given any classes to teach and her salary was reduced dramatically. In June, Brodo was finally granted her mandatory six-year review, which Squitieri said she passed with “flying colors.” The program then awarded Brodo a continuing appointment, but then she was told it was too late for her to be hired as an instructor in the Young Musicians Program’s summer session.

In addition, having to sit out most of the 2011-12 school year cost Brodo $24,000 in lost wages. Brodo also said her best cello student quit the program when she wasn’t teaching.

When Brodo returned this fall, she found that her former cello students (some of whom she’d been teaching for six years) had been assigned to another instructor. Furthermore, she discovered that she was no longer allowed to teach experienced youth cellists and was instead given inexperienced students, most of who had never touched a cello before. Brodo and Squitieri then complained to UC Berkeley to no avail; because of the ongoing grievance, Brodo and the union no longer interact with Newman concerning Brodo’s case. UC Berkeley Director of Employee and Labor Relations Debra Harrington did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and Newman said she was bound by campus regulations to not comment about Brodo, but then said: “The first article was very unfair and I considered it to be a smear of me. I have kids in 37 universities with 65 percent of them on full-scholarship and others on partial.”

The Young Musicians Program is primarily funded through private donations. According to campus officials, the program’s total budget this year is $1,444,245, of which $235,078 — or 16.3 percent — comes from UC Berkeley.

Since taking over as director of the program, Newman has earned a reputation for taking no prisoners. According to the union, Newman solely decides which students are admitted, does not allow students to study with outside music teachers, has been known to change a student’s instrument without any explanation, and will readily dismiss both students and instructors, without warning or consulting anyone. Brodo estimated that since 2004, about 10 percent of students had been kicked out of the program, and when she showed up for the summer session in 2011, many of her colleagues were remarkably absent.

“It was around noon on the first day and we were standing in front of Morrison Hall about to go to lunch when people started noticing: ‘Where’s Hal, where’s David, where’s Patty, what happened to them?’ During that summer, there was a fair amount of tension,” Brodo said.

By all accounts, the Young Musicians Program has helped the early development of many professional musicians and provided rare opportunities to the students it serves — about ninety a year. In addition to free music lessons, the program pays for instrument rentals, runs five days a week, provides an intensive summer session that includes three meals a day, and covers the costs of college applications, SAT tutoring, and school tours, including flying students anywhere in the country for on-site auditions.

Dylan Wiggins — the oldest son of D’wayne Wiggins of Tony! Toni! Toné! — played piano in the Young Musicians Program for three years before his teen group Poplyfe competed on America’s Got Talent. Wiggins, now seventeen and based in LA, said that, while on some occasions Newman wasn’t fair, she prepared him for “the real world.”

“The expectations were definitely high,” said Wiggins. “If you weren’t handling your business, she wouldn’t have you taking up dead space. If it had been slack, I guarantee I would not be here.”

A few scenarios could play out in the battle between the union, Newman, and UC Berkeley. If Newman wants to continue running the program as she has been, it may need to become a separate entity from UC Berkeley, according to union officials. But Newman vehemently denied that any discussions were taking place to move the program off the university campus. If the program stays within the university, it is subject to external review and required to follow the union contract. “It would be horrible to lose this program,” said Squitieri. “She’s an autocrat. What it needs is transparency.”

Squitieri added that the union would not consider a settlement until Brodo returns to her previous position, and based on recent dead-end meetings with Harrington and the newly involved Office of the Vice Chancellor for Equity & Inclusion chief of staff Elizabeth Halimah, arbitration seems imminent. “I want my students back and I want to be treated respectfully,” Brodo said.


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