Warren, Youngstown Musicians Union Locals Are Poised to Merge

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Youngstown local of the American Federation of Musicians may soon double its membership and vastly expand its territory by absorbing the Warren local.

The 85 members of AFM Local 118 in Warren began voting in August on whether to disband and become part of Local 86-242 Youngstown.

The two-week online voting ended Aug. 28. Rex Taneri, president of the Youngstown local, said he expects the measure will pass.

The consolidation would spell the end of the Warren local, which was founded in 1900.

The Youngstown local, founded in 1940, also has around 85 members. With the addition of the Warren local, its membership would swell to around 170.

The change would also vastly increase the jurisdiction area of the Youngstown local, which currently is limited to the Youngstown area within Mahoning County and a small portion of lower Trumbull County.

The Warren local’s jurisdiction covers not just the Warren area but extends north to Ashtabula and east to Sharon and New Castle, Pa., and beyond. That entire area would move under the Youngstown local’s jurisdiction if approved by Local 118 members.

The union represents mostly classical and polka musicians, including almost all members of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra, and the W.D. Packard Concert Band.

Taneri, a longtime Valley bandleader, took over as president of the Youngstown local earlier this year. He had been a member of the local’s board for 15 years.

Taneri succeeded longtime president Del Sinchak, who remains a board member. Sinchak is also a well-known Valley polka band leader.

The Warren local has no leader since its president, Karen Ferren,
retired and moved to Huntington, W.Va.

The local polled its members to see if anyone wanted to replace Ferren as president, but found no takers. “So, they approached us,” Taneri said.

If the membership approves, Local 118 will cease to exist, and all of its functions will be handled by Local 86-242, which has its headquarters on the second floor of the DeYor Performing Arts Center in downtown Youngstown.

Warren Local 118’s jurisdiction is quite large, because it merged with the Ashtabula, Sharon and New Castle locals many years ago, Taneri said.

Its territory includes all of Ashtabula and Lake counties, and all of Trumbull County, with the exception of the southern tier that borders Mahoning County. It also includes a portion of Portage County; almost all of Geauga County; all of Lawrence County, Pa., with the exception of its southernmost reaches; and all of Mercer and Venango counties, Pa., as well portions of Clarion, Forest and Crawford counties, Pa.


While the merger would give the Youngstown local a boost, its numbers would still pale in comparison to its glory years. “Twenty years ago, we had 1,800 members,” said Bill Bevec, vice president of the local.

The musicians union serves as an agent for many of the Valley’s longtime polka and ethnic ensembles. It connects the bands with gigs, ensures fair contracts and facilitates payment.

The list of events for which it provides musicians includes the Brier Hill Italian Festival and the summer concert in the park series in Canfield, Poland and McDonald. Dues are $106 per year.

Like the membership rolls, the number of parks and festivals that go through the union has steadily dwindled over the year. In the past, close to a dozen municipal park departments contacted the union to book concerts. That number is now barely a handful, with most municipalities booking all or part of their concert series without the union.

The decline is due to several factors, Taneri said, including changing tastes in music and business practices.

Rock and pop music bands manage their own bookings and do not seek membership in the AFM, he said.

The only membership requirement is being able to play an instrument, Taneri said. Members do not have to be affiliated with an orchestra or band, although many are.

Nonmusicians who serve the industry as crew members or sound board operators cannot join the union.


Most of the roughly 40 members of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra are members of Local 86-242. They currently are voting on a two-year contract with the Youngstown Symphony Society that includes a pay increase, Taneri said. The voting period will end on Aug. 31

The Business Journal contacted officials at the YSO and the union negotiating team for comment but received no replies in time for publication.

The YSO will give six concerts in the 2023-2024 season, which will begin in September.

One large block of members that would become part of the Youngstown local after the likely consolidation is the W.D. Packard Concert Band, which is based at Packard Hall in Warren.

Thomas Groth, executive director of the Packard Concert Band, would welcome a merger with the Youngstown musicians local. “We all work together, so having it under one roof is a good idea,” he said.

Groth has been a member of the Packard band for 64 years. The outfit and its subunits are busy and aim to stay that way.

“Our mission as directed by [founder William Doud Packard] is ‘to play for the entertainment and edification of the people of Warren,’” Groth said.

The band plays 24 concerts per year, including 17 as the full concert band, five by the smaller Big Band Sound of Packard swing band, and two by the Packard Dixieland Band.

That’s a lot of concerts, but far less than in its early days, when the Packard Band played a concert every week.

“That was in the 1920s. But live music was big then and there weren’t [as many entertainment options] going on then,” Groth said.

Despite the changes, Groth believes that the live music business is alive and well. He’s been a member of the Warren local since he was a teenager and is a past member of its executive board.


Local 86-242 president Taneri is a Mahoning Valley native who has been a working musician and union member since graduating from the Dana School of Music at Youngstown State University in the 1970s.

Del Sinchak is the past president of AFM Local 86-242 in Youngstown.

A saxophonist and leader of the Rex Taneri Orchestra since 1975, he is also president of the Penn-Ohio Polka Pals, which promotes and performs shows in the region.

Prior to taking the reins as president of the Youngstown local this year, he was a longtime member of its board of directors.

But the man he succeeded, Del Sinchak, is an icon among Valley musicians. Taneri referred to him as “my mentor and friend.”

Sinchak was president of the Youngstown local for 35 years before stepping down, and was vice president for another 25 years. He is still a member of the board of directors.

At 88, Sinchak is still going strong. His band continues to perform regularly –  including several sets at the Brier Hill Italian Festival in Youngstown in August.

Sinchak still stops in at the union headquarters every week, lending his experience to Taneri and ensuring a smooth transition in leadership.

He is very much in favor of uniting the Youngstown and Warren locals.

“I thought we should have merged a couple years ago,” he said. “[The Warren local’s] president had moved to West Virginia, and you can’t run it from another state and do justice to the members.”

The Warren members gave some consideration to merging with the Akron or Cleveland locals, “but that would be ridiculous,” he said.

Sinchak started his music career as a rock act in the early 1960s but achieved regional fame after getting into polka.

He was nominated for a Grammy Award in the polka category in 1999 and 2006.

Sinchak has devoted much of his life to helping Valley musicians through his work with the AFM.

“I put a lot of my life into that local. But it was just as good to me,” he said.

Pictured at top: Rex Taneri, seated, president of the Youngstown local of the American Federation of Musicians, and Bill Bevec, vice president, confer in the union local’s headquarters in downtown Youngstown.