Now is the right time to become an American Federation of Musicians member. From ragtime to rap, from the early phonograph to today's digital recordings, the AFM has been there for its members. And now there are more benefits available to AFM members than ever before, including a multi-million dollar pension fund, excellent contract protection, instrument and travelers insurance, work referral programs and access to licensed booking agents to keep you working.

As an AFM member, you are part of a membership of more than 80,000 musicians. Experience has proven that collective activity on behalf of individuals with similar interests is the most effective way to achieve a goal. The AFM can negotiate agreements and administer contracts, procure valuable benefits and achieve legislative goals. A single musician has no such power.

The AFM has a proud history of managing change rather than being victimized by it. We find strength in adversity, and when the going gets tough, we get creative - all on your behalf.

Like the industry, the AFM is also changing and evolving, and its policies and programs will move in new directions dictated by its members. As a member, you will determine these directions through your interest and involvement. Your membership card will be your key to participation in governing your union, keeping it responsive to your needs and enabling it to serve you better. To become a member now, visit www.afm.org/join.

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Officers Columns

Here are the latest posts from our officers

AFMPresidentRayHairW

Ray Hair – AFM International President

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    Unallocated Contributions Support Each Participant’s Pension

    Note: Fund updates appearing in this column are not applicable to the AFM’s Canadian pension fund, known since August 2010 as Musicians Pension Fund of Canada. 

    To improve its funded status and restore its health over the long term, the American Federation of Musicians and Employers’ Pension Fund (Fund) needs additional employer contributions as well as good investment returns. For the plan year that ended March 31, 2017, higher employer contributions and strong investment performance kept the Fund out of critical and declining status for the plan year that began April 1, 2017. Whether the Fund can stay out of critical and declining status in the future will depend in part on income each year from employer contributions and investment returns.

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Sam FolioW

Sam Folio – AFM International Secretary-Treasurer

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    New Digs for Our AFM West Coast Office

    The AFM maintains our headquarters in the heart of Manhattan’s Times Square (often referred to as the “crossroads of the world” and best known for the ball drop on New Year’s Eve). We also maintain offices in Los Angeles, Toronto, and Washington, DC.

    Recently, our AFM West Coast Office in Los Angeles moved, along with AFM Local 47, to the local’s new office building in Burbank. We previously leased space from Local 47 in their old building and we will continue to lease space in their new building located at 3220 Winona Ave., Burbank, California 91504. While there may be some hiccups during the transition, we are making every effort to keep the workflow moving and the communications open. Currently, 12 employees work in the AFM’s West Coast office.

    Our Canadian office in Toronto has 15 employees (including Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert). This office handles the national Canadian issues for all 10 Canadian provinces and three territories. This can be enormously complex as the labor laws in Canada often differ province to province.

    Our Washington, DC, office coordinates all our legislative activities. AFM Diversity, Legislative and Political Director Alfonso Pollard, our official lobbyist, and Sandra Grier work to promote our legislative agenda, while building relationships with our elected representatives.

    I am often asked why the AFM keeps our headquarters in New York City. After all, NYC is crowded and expensive. Indeed it is, but this is where the labor community is located, not to mention many employers with whom the AFM negotiates. Another exceedingly important reason for staying in NYC is our experienced and valued staff. Any move outside Manhattan would certainly mean losing a number of employees who bring years of experience, knowledge, and understanding of the music business to their work each and every day. Currently, we have 33 employees working in the New York Office, including AFM President Ray Hair and myself.

    For years, we have had the desire to own our headquarters office space, rather than lease. Ownership builds equity and any extra space can be leased to third parties, which will generate revenue for the AFM. While owning an entire office building in Manhattan is beyond our means, purchasing a floor in a building may be possible.

    A few years ago an attempt to purchase a floor in an office building was scuttled because the burden on our cash flow created doubt about our ability to meet all our financial obligations. We just couldn’t swing it. Today, we find ourselves in a somewhat improved financial position. Make no mistake—there are plenty of things that can quickly affect our financial position negatively.

    However, there are good arguments to move forward with a purchase at this time. The lease of our current space will expire January 2019. We will have to move out of our current space regardless of whether we stay in the same building. The landlord has told us that a tenant wants to take over the entire floor, including the space we currently occupy. We would need to move to a different floor, even if we decide to stay in the building.

    Additionally, the rent will go up considerably. Looking at purchase projections versus leasing, the first few years after the purchase things will be very tight financially. This is particularly the case in year one when we will be paying rent for our current space, while the interior construction build-out takes place in the newly purchased space. But as we get into years three through 10, purchasing becomes more advantageous when compared to leasing. Keep in mind, with each year of ownership, our equity in the purchased space grows.

    This may well be the only opportunity we have in the near future to own our space. Interest rates are quite low and a space that meets our needs is available. At this writing, it is far from a done deal. We are still negotiating with the owner. Any purchase will be contingent on presentation, review, and approval by the AFM International Executive Board. I’ll keep you posted as things progress.

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awillaert

Alan Willaert – AFM Vice President from Canada

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    BreakOut West—Still No Deal Do Not Work for BOW

    While talks have continued with the executive director of the Western Canadian Music Awards, which presents the BreakOut West (BOW) festival, there is still no appetite on their part to enter into an agreement for the services of musicians. While the CFM has pitched a three-year deal to cover minimum basic fees, pension, and distribution of recorded performances, BOW is refusing to bargain even one year.

    The festival is employing a classic “divide and conquer” maneuver. Artists who they consider headliners and therefore essential to the visibility of the festival, are paid handsomely. But the vast majority of the musicians showcasing—in excess of 250—will receive no compensation. Additionally, they are presented with a contract that states they can be recorded and BOW will be held harmless from any payment for the use of any such recordings, in perpetuity.

    Since the festival continues to be listed on the AFM International Unfair List. Musicians must not provide services for BreakOut West.

    Let me repeat that: Do not perform at BOW!

    As unsavoury as this is for everyone, there is much more at risk than what some musicians may consider valuable “exposure.” There are many important festivals in Canada, and failing to get an agreement with one, risks similar consequences elsewhere. All employers everywhere must be held to the same standards: if you engage musicians, they must be properly compensated and treated as professionals.

    As AFM President Hair has stated many times, “An injury to one is an injury to all. Together, we are stronger.”

    Another important factor in this scenario is the venues. While BreakOut West is not providing compensation, neither are the clubs that are being used for the performances. They can expect a packed house, high liquor sales, and no-cost entertainment. Free music. Anyone who performs under these circumstances is merely contributing to the “pay to play” problem.

    Our issues with BOW are not so different from dark recordings that went on years ago, when there were several important recording studios in Toronto. The business representative at the time, Murray Ginsberg, would often visit studios to ensure that the employer on the gig was signatory to the Sound Recording Labour Agreement.

    The players would, of course, be annoyed by a visit from Murray “the Mountie” and the disruption but, in the end, extremely grateful when they were paid appropriate session fees. In addition, there was the increase in the monthly pension payout upon retirement, and also the cheque from the Special Payments Fund, which arrived each year for five years after any such sessions. Not only that, but recordings that were properly documented on B4 Report Forms were subject to new use payments, for subsequent release in other medium or when otherwise repurposed. The promise of “50 bucks cash” could turn into tens of thousands, when it was done properly.

    By not obligating the employer to sign a contract for appropriate fees and pension, you are letting them off the hook, cheating yourself, and making it that much harder the next time. By giving BOW your services for free, and not having a contract in place to protect any recording that ensues, you are doing yourself a huge injustice. It also sends the message that your product has no value. The minimum you perform for becomes the maximum employers are willing to pay.

    The time for solidarity is now!

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Other Officer Columns:

nightlight office

Nightlife Office and Advisory Committee

by Tino Gagliardi, AFM International Executive Board Member and President of Local 802 (New York City)

Across this country, musicians are playing in bars, clubs, restaurants, hotels, and other performance spaces in an effort to hone their craft, share their artistry, and make a living. American art, performance, and music have been born, bred, raised, and developed in the nightlife establishments of our cities. These musicians play an outsized role in shaping the cultural heritage of our nation. As a result, the nightlife that drives municipal economies and our nation’s culture, owes a great deal to the musicians and performers of our nightlife industry. Yet, does our society adequately support those individuals who make it vibrant and strong? No.

In New York City we are working on changing that. New York City Council Member Rafael Espinal (Democrat, District 37) recognizes the role that the city’s nightlife industry plays in its economy and began working on legislation that would create an Office of Nightlife and Nightlife Taskforce to address issues frequently faced by nightlife establishments and their communities.

Though this office was originally conceived as a combination industry liaison and issue resolution facilitator between the city, small businesses, and communities, we at Local 802, saw this as an opportunity to provide support for a frequently ignored community of workers that has traditionally been exploited, discriminated against, and undersupported.

With the council member’s support and partnership, we were able to expand the original scope of the office and taskforce, advocating for language in the legislation that would commit the office to addressing workforce issues like wage theft and misclassification, and require them to make policy recommendations that would benefit performers and workers by addressing some of the industry’s unique issues. On August 24, the bill passed. We are closer to the creation of an Office of Nightlife than ever before.

Advocates and performers who live and work in the nightlife scenes of other cities should pay attention—the Office of Nightlife could be worth replicating.

This Office of Nightlife could provide a new type of government partner for performer advocates to work with to address issues that countless musicians face on a nightly basis: exploitation, misclassification, pay-to-play schemes, and more. The challenge is providing the tools with which the office can effectively and efficiently do its job.

There are many agencies and offices that regulate small businesses and mandate specific employment practices and safety requirements. However, the tools available to these agencies often do not apply to the unique nightlife industry or are ineffective in addressing common business practices at bars, restaurants, clubs, and hotels. How do we mandate fair employment at a performance space where it is arguable who the employer legally is? This is just one example of how complicated the nightlife industry is.

If this office is to be impactful, and if other municipalities are to follow New York City’s example, the Nightlife Office must work with locally elected community leaders and administration to develop regulatory mechanisms that empower the director to protect performers who are otherwise unsupported and unprotected. Without impactful regulatory and enforcement frameworks, the city will lack the ability to prevent pay-to-play and unfair employment practices, and will be unable to help us in our work to ensure that all musicians have the opportunity to make a fair living that dignifies the contributions they make to our common cultural heritage.

Luckily, New York City is the perfect test case for such an office. Mayor Bill de Blasio has shown that he understands that the city’s nightlife is an important part of our economy. As a former consumer affairs commissioner, Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment Commissioner Julie Menin has experience developing both consumer and worker protections. Council member Espinal has shown sensitivity and appreciation of the challenges that workers and performers face.

These leaders must be applauded for their advocacy and vision. We are extremely hopeful that this office will soon play an important role in advocating for musicians. We will work closely with these leaders and this office to support our union’s agenda—raising the wage floor for musicians and ensuring that New York City remains a place where musicians are celebrated and where performers can live, work, and raise a family. This work is important, not just for New Yorkers, but for musicians across the US.

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building a strong union

Building a Strong Union

by John Acosta, AFM International Executive Board Member and Vice President of Local 47(Los Angeles, CA)

Recently in Los Angeles, the California State Labor Federation, along with state labor federations from Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, held a conference to address what is deemed to be the inevitable implementation of national “right to work” legislation by the current US Congress. Several hundred union leaders gathered to discuss best practices for unions already facing right to work. Invaluable information was distributed to those in attendance.

While many locals in the Federation have already been faced with the challenges of right to work, we who are in states that are currently not right to work may be joining this not-so-prestigious club. Some of you reading this article might consider me to be an alarmist, and I hope to be wrong, but the labor movement in California is taking the approach of, not if, but when right to work becomes the law of the land.

Our one choice should be to organize. We as a movement cannot remain stagnant or paralyzed, and we must rethink how we can organize internally to strengthen our ranks; not only resisting the challenges of right to work, but positioning ourselves to fight back. In the current climate, unions cannot be defensive. We must take the offense in our thinking and approach. Some of the recommendations that have come out of the right to work labor conference emphasize member engagement, strengthening workplace structures, and engaging new members.

When a musician joins the union, their first interaction should be a positive one. Too many times musicians learn about our union because they are required to join under our agreements. If we can get out in front of this by creating and maintaining an outreach program in music schools, we may be able to make the first interaction a positive one.

Local unions should look at broadening outreach into the community, building alliances, and finding common ground with our community in areas of shared interest.

Our message is critical. We must remind our colleagues that our union is working people standing together; that real people, not just “union officials,” comprise our union. We need to do better in ensuring that the face of our members is the face of our union. In addition, we need to tell real stories. Let’s dig deep in the well of our experiences to demonstrate how our union has helped our members in tough times, and how, without our union, there would be no safety net for working musicians.

Unfortunately, all of our locals are too overburdened and under-resourced to be effective in all the ways I suggest. Our challenge is to find the means to accomplish our mission, despite this lack of resources. That’s why I believe the key is to get membership to take the lead in these critical internal and external efforts. Without direct member involvement, these goals are unreachable.

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Light Summer Reading: A Real-Life Fairytale

by Tina Morrison, AFM International Executive Board Member and Vice President of Local 105 (Spokane, WA)

Once upon a time there was a musicians’ local of the AFM. They didn’t really know much about the ways of the nonmusician or “civilian” world. The local did its best to assist member musicians. They were generally happy in their musician world, talking about music and instruments, telling and listening to stories about their lives and gigs, and solving problems in the symphonic workplace. But they weren’t satisfied. Musicians were still struggling to find work and they could tell the civilians were being deprived of the amazing art form that had been developed and passed along through generations.

The local knew they would have to do something different. They sent one of their officers out into the world to meet with civilians and start communicating through different, nonmusical means. The local wasn’t sure where they were going but knew it was the right path.

The officer ventured out slowly, testing the grounds and becoming braver. With the encouragement of another member musician, she joined a local service organization where she was one of only two musicians. She observed their meetings and learned to communicate with them. She told them the stories of musicians and the members of the organization became interested in supporting the musicians.

As the officer gained more knowledge of this strange world, she was introduced to the local arts community. She started attending and then volunteering for their events. She told them the stories of the musicians, the difficulties they faced, including a city ordinance that made it more expensive to have live music and dancing, which was influencing potential venues to choose other forms of entertainment.

She made friends and eventually was appointed by the mayor to serve on the arts council. She learned from the arts commissioners that politicians could make decisions that would help the musicians, so she volunteered to chair the legislative and lobbying committee.

Political figures were people on TV or in the newspaper but, nervously, she decided to treat them like people and quickly discovered they were flesh and blood just like musicians. One of her friends on the arts commission decided to become a politician, ran for a city council position, and was elected!

This friend quickly became very busy learning a new job and performing a new role in the community. A few years went by, but he never forgot the musicians and the problem created by a particular city ordinance. He stayed in touch with the local officer and eventually the time was right for them to go to work to change the ordinance. The local officer introduced him to the new generation of officers. They worked together rewriting the ordinance and the city council voted for their changes, supporting musicians in a way they never would have thought of themselves. The End … beginning!

Have an enjoyable summer and please be involved with your local and your community. Without the encouragement, support, and expertise of the musicians of the local, none of the above would have come true

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Traveling Engagements

Traveling Engagements—Who Plays and Who Gets Paid?

by Joseph Parente, AFM International Executive Board Member and President of Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA)

Over the next several months, outdoor venues will be presenting various types of entertainment in many locals throughout the Federation. These engagements provide added employment to many musicians. However, there seems to be an issue as to which musicians are to be employed for this work and what is the correct scale for these traveling engagements.

A symphony orchestra traveling to another jurisdiction to perform a symphonic concert is normally covered by their collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and is not at issue here. However, in cases where symphony orchestras are hired to travel to other jurisdictions to back a name act or to perform the soundtrack for a motion picture or video game, there have been problems.

AFM Bylaws cover both types of engagements. Article 14 Section 3(a) states:

A symphony orchestra may travel freely for the purpose of giving concerts of a symphonic type ... That seems to be clear. Article 14 goes on to say: In the cases where a symphony orchestra travels as a back-up unit to an artist or in a commercial venture that is not self-produced … or the orchestra is not the main attraction ... the wage scale of the home Local or the Local having jurisdiction over the engagement, whichever is higher, shall be payable to the musicians …

Again, this means playing for an act, motion picture, or video soundtrack.

Article 13 covers traveling engagements defined as … an engagement in which any member performs outside the jurisdiction of that member’s home Local. This applies to symphony orchestras as well as freelance orchestras traveling to other jurisdictions.

Article 13 Section 10 states:

Except for services that are covered by a CBA with the home Local or the AFM that provides for wages and other conditions of employment … the minimum wage to be charged and received by any member … for services rendered on a Traveling Engagement shall be no less than either the Local wage scale where the services are rendered or the Local wage scale where the musical unit has its base of operation, whichever is higher.

So there is no misunderstanding, other than an orchestra traveling to give a concert, the orchestra’s CBA is irrelevant. Terms of employment are governed by the local’s (either home local or destination local) wage scale book. Obviously, a promoter or presenter would love to pay only traveling expenses (per diem, lodging, etc.), while the cost of the orchestra is being paid by the orchestra’s management who is burning services under their weekly scale.

Incidentally, this situation doesn’t merely occur during the summer. There are just many more engagements in the summer because of outdoor venues. Similar engagements take place during the year with regional “mini-tours” such as Il Volo, Salute to Vienna, Mannheim Steamroller, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra. These are usually freelance engagements, but the same rules apply. Contractors, locals, orchestra committees, and musicians need to communicate with each other before these jobs take place so there is a level playing field for all musicians involved. Once the job takes place, it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to make things right. Local musicians should not and cannot be cheated out of work that is theirs in order to accommodate others who circumvent the AFM Bylaws.

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Official Journal of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada