Indicted West Virginia Boss Resigns, Accused of Playing Favorites in Job Assignments

Indicted union boss Tom Bailey, facing internal pressure from his union, agreed to resign from the Am. Fed’n of Musicians Local 136’s eight-member board of directors effective Dec. 31. He remains a member of the Charleston, W. Va., based local. In Dec., Bailey and his wife, Deborah, were indicted on federal union embezzlement charges and accused of embezzling some $15,000 from the local. Their criminal trial is scheduled for Mar. 26.

New local president Brad Bradley held a meeting Feb. 10 to tell members about changes that will be made in the local. “We’re going to try to redirect the union focus back to a more service-friendly organization,” Bradley said. “We’re really wanting to change things around.”

Some union members said they’ve been trying to find out what’s going on at the union ever since Bailey’s indictment. “The only time I hear from those guys is when they want my money,” said Chuck Biel, a union member who plays in several local bands and sometimes performs with the West Virginia Symphony Pops. “I shouldn’t have to ask the union what’s going on; they should be telling me,” he said. “I’ve paid my dues, and I’ve done what I’m supposed to do for the union.”

Bailey agreed to resign in part because of the federal indictment and in part because of a Dec. 10 union hearing in which union member Liz Nichols formally charged Bailey with using the union booking office for promoting his favorite bands, ignoring union regulations and refusing to share with Nichols copies of her own performance contracts. “If you didn’t kiss his butt, you didn’t get work,” Biel said.

Whether Bailey actually played favorites or not, Bradley concedes the perception is widespread in the union. As a result, Bradley said, anyone who wants to hire a band will be given a complete list of available musicians. The union business office is also being turned over to an accountant. “We’ve divorced the office away from the [union] board,” Bradley said.  Board member Larry Kopelman said he’s working on a book listing all area musicians to distribute to area bars, hotels and other venues.

“It’s very difficult to run a booking agency out of the union,” said Bill Holstein, Local 136’s  secretary-treasurer. “It seemed to be a pretty clear conflict of interest and doesn’t work out well at all, to say the least. The perception of nepotism in this office has been very harmful to this union.”

Other problems include many union members not being paid for jobs they played years ago, apparently because Bailey never turned in the paperwork. Moreover, “we weren’t even having the required meetings,” Holstein said. “We didn’t even have the elections when we were supposed to.” Union regulations require at least two meetings a year. They require a monthly newsletter – something union members never remember happening under Bailey.

Holstein also said it might be necessary to move out of union’s lavish headquarters. For years, the union has owned an impressive Victorian-style house in Charleston, but Holstein said taxes and maintenance on the building use up much of the union’s budget.

Some union members wanted to know how the union got in such bad shape. Holstein said Bailey originally told union leaders officials from the Dep’t of Labor were in town for a routine audit. Only later did they discover the Baileys were subjects of a criminal investigation. [Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette 1/24, 2/11/02]