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Take This Job And Strum It: LA Mariachis Form A Union To Fend Off 'Pirates'

Photo by East of West LA via LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr
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With performance opportunities down more than 50 percent in the last two years and competition at Mariachi Plaza so ferocious that it devolves periodically into fighting, a group of plaza veterans have joined forces to form a type of labor union in an effort to stop "what they call 'mariachi pirates' from slashing prices to half the going rate," according to the Associated Press.

"Mariachi is culture and it's the way we earn our living," said guitarist Arturo Ramirez, president of the United Mariachi Organization of Los Angeles. "We have to protect it. This is unfair competition." But others complain the new organization simply aims to muscle out lower-priced competitors. "It's unjust," said Rafael Flores, as he stood on the curb with a guitar. "This plaza doesn't belong to anyone. We're all here trying to work."

The Boyle Heights plaza sees as many as 400 musician on a regular basis and the neighborhood caters to those in need of instruments, tailoring, and a place to sleep. The economic climate has blown in amateurs that now underbid the long-standing professional mariachis.
Established rates are about $50 per hour per musician, said Ramirez, who heads Mariachi Los Dorados de Villa and has been working out of the plaza for 25 years. Most groups require minimums of several hours or charge for travel and setup time, as well as the performance. But interlopers are charging as low as $150 an hour for a band - or $20-30 per hour per musician - and advertising in home-delivered flyers, so people aren't even coming to the plaza to seek mariachis

Jacinto Tiznado, a union organizer, calls the newcomers "mariachi pirates" with low "artistic quality" who "don't even have the whole suit or know all the songs." Professional mariachis, he noted, pay taxes and work as registered business.

150 members have enrolled so far.