Musicians union triggers discord at Mariachi Plaza

Mariachi Javier Flores (left) expressed concerns about a union. Photo by Edgar Lopez

By Edgar Lopez

A group of mariachis seeking better pay held a forum at Mariachi Plaza on Monday afternoon to address concerns about how a proposed union would affect the Boyle Heights plaza,  which has long served as an informal hiring hall and hangout for the Latino musicians.  Arturo Ramirez, president of  the Organizacion de Mariachis Unidos de Los Angeles, said the main goal of the group is to represent the plaza mariachis  and to regulate fair payment as a weak economy has cut demand and rates.  Members pay $10 monthly dues and get a badge; in return, members promise to receive no less than $50 an hour from clients.  The union would also come to the assistance of members who go unpaid by clients or booking agents.

But it was clear that not all of the 70 mariachis who gathered on Monday were in agreement, with the group appearing to be evenly divided on the matter of whether the union would be good or bad for the plaza.

The concerns and complaints made by brothers Jorge Rafael and Javier Flores of the group called the Monargas served as an example of the challenges facing the union.   The brothers argued that some clients would not pay $50 an hour in tough economic times. Jorge Rafael said that they sometimes have to settle for $40, $30 or even $20 an hour. At this, members of the crowd ridiculed Jorge for giving in to economic pressure.

A recent story in L.A. Opinión said that about 300 musicians regularly seek work at the public plaza – dominated by a bandstand and Metro Gold Line station – at First Street and Boyle Avenue.

Javier Flores said the group leaders only created the union because they are accustomed to earning $50 per hour. But he said that not all mariachis can earn that much.

Jorge Rafael said that Mariachi Plaza has become a big part of his daily life after he was laid off from his job. Since then, playing mariachi music at parties has helped him pay the bills, and he said he has been doing fine because of the plaza’s freedom.

In response,  union leader Ramirez said that the plaza was not a place for laid off workers but a place for musicians where they can be respected. If a mariachi does not want to pay the membership dues,  they should leave, he said.

The Flores brothers might have resented the union regulations but others were more supportive. Some of the musicians signed a sheet and paid their membership fee even as  others still felt skeptical of the greater good that the union promised.

Related post:

  • Nace asociación de mariachis en Los Ángeles.  Univision 34

Edgar Lopez is the Editor in Chief of  Campus News, the student newspaper of East Los Angeles College.


  1. $50 and hour seems like a very good fee per hour. I hope they can get it!

  2. Why should a union be able to tell people they have to leave a public plaza? That’s ridiculous.

  3. If a weak economy has cut demand, the only way to get a set fee of $50.00 is to restrict membership to the union and enforce a ban against nonunion musicians. That kind of artifically induced scarcity might work when going up against the big bosses, but in this case it’s just getting in the way of clients needing mariachis and mariachis needing clients. Maybe better to structure some kind of organization to guarantee competence of mariachis through testing and certification? That way a badge would actually mean and be worth something in the marketplace.

  4. Carlos Morales

    The union has no business in a public plaza….. Built with public money on a public street!

  5. to be accurate

    “union leader Ramirez says they SHOULD leave.” not that they have to. and if you really want to get down to brass tacks: why is this mariachi plaza okay, but not day laborers outside of home depot or vendors at the lake? just playing devils advocate, I’m okay with mariachis.

  6. I don’t have a problem with any of those things you mentioned, to be accurate. Home depot obviously has a right to restrict use on their property though.
    Sorry if I’m a bit cynical, but I can imagine a union intimidating nonunion members out of the plaza or petitioning the government for bs regulations in order to limit competition for their members through a ridiculous licensing law. If you want to know if the mariachi is competent, have him play a bit and judge for yourself. It’s not like life safety is at stake.

  7. good job edgar. =]

  8. I think you have to also see that the poor economy has started to have us feed on ourselves. Divisions of onion , non-union, “certified” musicians, laid off workers and other labels we are creating to survive. The capitalists are laughing all the way to the bank as we self-destruct .

  9. I work as a mariachi and i think that this is BS! these guys think they can run around making ppl pay 10$ so they can work?! NA!! i work there and if someone is making me pay to work????? i dont think so! these guys just cant get work becuase they cant play as good as the new mariachi that are starting to go and find work. So to those ppl trying to contral the mariachis in Boyle, get a job!!

  10. I don’t think you should force someone to join a union if they choose not to. I thought this was a free country…what the heck. And if they want to be paid $50.00 an hour, please make them earn a Music Degree from a Music University. Then they should be paid what they are worth. Not all Mariachis even sing that great, true they can play an instrument. But some of those guys are not that great of a singer. If they ever get discovered, or make it big, I am certain it will be more than $50.00 a pop. I don’t make $50.00 an hour and I was born here. Go figure about how that pay hike is so ridiculous if you ask me. And I also have a college education as well and I am not getting paid $50.00 an hour. PLEASEZ! Your union is totally out of whack with the economy.

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