Sounding the dignity of labor message

Frank X. Gallagher– Production Manager and Sound Engineer, Local 16 IATSE Shop Steward – California and New York

Feature | New York, NY | 04 May 2021
Growing up in a coal mining district of Scotland, Frank Gallagher learned from a young age the importance and security that being a part of a union would provide. Today, he is a proud union member, production manager, sound engineer and podcast host. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
“The dignity of labor is what I've got out of my union and the fact that I have representation against exploitation,” said Frank X. Gallagher with steely-eyed focus.

As a Production Manager and Sound Engineer for the rock and roll band The B-52s, host of the podcast Soundman Confidential, and a proud “card carrying journey man member “ of the Local 16 IATSE union in San Francisco, music and worker’s rights are in his blood.

Growing up in Scotland, Frank learned that unions played an important role in the lives of workers. “I grew up in a coal mining district in Scotland and my uncle was the convener for the local mine workers union chapter and the national union of mineworkers,” Frank recalls.

“I've got my card in my pocket. I introduce myself as a union member and I get respect and cooperation everywhere I go,” Gallagher says in reference to being a part of a respected union.

He describes the difference between working with union members and non-union members as “night and day,” citing that union crew members “have accountability, and are accountable to the steward and to the union brothers.” Local 16 members are well trained on safety at work, a skill that is necessary when working with electricity and wire cables as Frank does.

“I'm a worker. I'll get my jacket off. I'll load the truck,” says Gallagher as he describes his strong belief and dedication to a hard work ethic, something he learned from working on the coal and clay mines as a young school age boy.

“I've never forgotten coming from the mines,” he says of the long and arduous work he endured during that time, before he went on to work various jobs. “I worked in catering and hotel management when I left school, so I was working in kitchens dining rooms, the front desk sweeping floors, carrying luggage and before computers pencil paper, and then I went to London in 1966,” Frank mentions.

In order to perform his job efficiently Frank needs to constantly update his knowledge and keep up with the changing technology used in his field. He is confident that a robot would never be able to do his job due to the skills and detail required. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
It was there while he was working at an ambassador’s residence that a chance meeting with a band on the street, would lead to an illustrious career for him.

“I saw this van on Carnaby Street with Scottish plates, I heard these guys talking, and it turned out to be a band,” Gallagher says excitedly. After striking up a conversation with the band members, they invited Frank to look them up when he was next in Scotland.

“I ended up getting in the van with them one weekend and they asked me to help move the equipment to which I said ‘sure,’ and the next week I learned how to wire the stuff, and by the end of the year, I was running the little 4- channel sound thing for them, and that’s how I got into it,” he shares with pride.

“I got in a van in 1966, and I didn’t get out,” Gallagher remarks citing that he has had a long and steady career thanks to the transferrable skills he has been able to use even in the corporate world.

In keeping with his work ethic, Gallagher’s advice to any young person starting out in the world of work is “principles before personalities.” He continues that “personalities will always be there, but the principle is the job must get done.”

Frank has instilled this mindset in his daughter, a New York University graduate who in addition to being an actress, works as a costume designer for the Metropolitan Opera and popular Broadway shows such as Wicked and Frozen. Following in her dad’s footsteps, she is also a proud member of a theatrical union, a move that Frank hails as a great decision “without question!”

“It's not work. Its labor, but it's not work. It's a gift and a passion and I love doing it,” says Gallagher fervently with regards to how he describes his work and the meaning it has to him. “I call my gift decibels for dollars,” he says jokingly with a light-hearted laugh.

“Some nights I get goosebumps mixing music for 30,000 people in the field all going nuts,” which gives him the confirmation and validation of truly being in the right job. His other work with his union which he is equally passionate about involves protecting the dignity of labor while also advancing trade unionism.

Much of Frank’s success in his career can be attributed to his hard work ethic and positive attitude to work, which were ingrained in him from a very young age. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
“Anytime I think I'm having a bad day, I just think back to going down the mines as a boy,” Frank reveals, noting that “you don’t forget the smell of the mines.” This serves as a strong indication and proof of Gallagher’s gratitude, positive attitude and his conviction to a hard work ethic.

Frank says it is vital for him to stay up to date on new technologies to perform his work duties. “It’s very important because I have to learn new machines and nomenclatures,” he affirms, while strongly underscoring that his skills will be relevant in the economy for quite some time.

“Without a doubt! Even more so because this is one job that a robot can't do, so I've got a little job security,“ he confidently exclaims, a signal that the soundman will continue to transmit the message.

As the sun is setting on Central Park in NYC, Frank knows the band will be coming to the stage soon. He prepares himself to get the team moving as he reflects on the essential part of what work means to him.

“Dignity first and I make that speech every day. When we have a safety meeting, it is ‘treat each other with respect mutually, treat the equipment with respect and treat the building with respect’”.