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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Secretary-Treasurer

jay blumenthal

Jay Blumenthal – AFM International Secretary-Treasurer

    Unionism in the Age of Entrepreneurial Musicians

    Recently I was introduced to a young man who makes his living as a professional musician but engages with today’s marketplace in a very different way than I did when I began my career. As a college student,  I remember wanting very much to join the union. It was a rite of passage. Becoming a union musician meant I was a true professional, and therefore, allowed me to take my place among the wonderful and talented musicians who made their living making music. I remember carting my bass to what was a rather pathetic excuse for a union hall (a smoke-filled room with a desk). Behind the desk was an elderly, rather rotund man with a raspy voice made so from all the cigars he’d smoked, one of which hung from his mouth. Blue-gray smoke wafted up towards the ceiling.

    He greeted me with: “So kid, you want to join the union.”

    “Yes,” I said.

    “Okay,” he replied, “play me a D major scale.”

    I played the scale and he said, “Alright,  kid … you’re in. That’ll be $7 initiation fee and $14 first quarter dues.” As I pulled the cash out of my pocket he asked me my name for the first time. I spelled it for him as he filled out my first union card. With that, he shook my hand, saying, “See ya kid.” I left floating on air. I had arrived!

    Today, it’s quite different. An entire underground music economy exists, inhabited mostly by Millennials and Generation Z. Gone are the days when union membership was a necessary rite of passage. Many young musicians perform mostly nonunion work for cash and have none of the benefits or protections of a union contract. That said, they do make a living from this work. They are not necessarily opposed to the union, but are for the most part unaware of the labor movement and the contributions unions have made to improving wages and working conditions. 

    What many young musicians do want is health insurance. While health plans are offered by some of our largest locals, contributions to the plans come from being on a union contract. So, if these musicians can be educated about the union and offered the opportunity to participate in a health plan, they may become interested in union membership.

    As I learn more about this underground music economy, I will follow up by letting you know of any progress that is made working with tomorrow’s professionals.

    FIM International Orchestra Conference 2017

    Having just returned from the 4th International Orchestra Conference (IOC) of the International Federation of Musicians (FIM), I was pleased to see how participation has grown since 2008. The IOC was established at the suggestion of former AFM Symphonic Services Director and International Secretary-Treasurer Florence Nelson when she was serving as a FIM officer. The conference takes place triennially. This year’s was held in Montreal, sponsored by the Guilde des Musiciens et Musiciennes du Quebec, AFM Local 406. Two hundred and sixty-one delegates, representing 30 countries attended, including a large contingent from Ghana! The official AFM delegation included AFM President Ray Hair, Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert, International Executive Board member and Local 802 (New York City) President Tino Gagliardi, Director of Symphonic Services Rochelle Skolnick, Director of Symphonic Electronic Media Deborah Newmark, ICSOM Chair Meredith Snow, ROPA Delegate Naomi Bensdorf Frisch, OCSM President Robert Fraser, and myself. I would like to recognize the Local 406 President Luc Fortin, Secretary-Treasurer Éric Lefebvre, Vice President Montréal Geneviève Plante, and Vice President Québec Jacques Bourget. In particular, I want to recognize former Local 406 Executive Director Myléne Cyr and Conference Coordinator Alexis Pitkevicht, who organized the conference and handled communications and public relations. They did a wonderful job working with FIM to put on an excellent conference.

    The world has become a global marketplace. We now understand that what happens in the global marketplace affects the work of all professional symphonic musicians. Coming together to strategize, discuss common problems, and show support and solidarity for one another is an important function of the IOC. Look for additional coverage of the IOC in the July issue of the IM.

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    It’s Spring—Finally!

    While many are welcoming the arrival of spring with cherry blossoms, light green foliage as tree leaves make their annual debut, and erupting flower beds, AFM local officers have been hard at work preparing and uploading their DOL Labor-Management reports and wrapping up their 2016 audits. Indeed, spring is a very busy time of year for AFM Secretary-Treasurers. As we wrap up our paperwork for last year, we are all provided with an opportunity to reflect back on 2016.

    This year’s annual AFM audit will confirm the Federation had a surplus in 2016; however, the surplus was smaller than those reported in recent years. The primary reason for this can be attributed to higher legal costs. Negotiating successor agreements, and holding employers accountable, has been a hallmark of this administration. In the recording industry, some film companies and record labels have not been meeting their contractual obligations in full. This has resulted in litigation initiated by the AFM. In several instances, rather than going through protracted and expensive litigation, settlements have been reached putting payments into the pockets of musicians now rather than rolling the dice for a potential win (or loss) years down the road. Unfortunately, in a few cases, settlements could not be reached so some litigation continues. 

    Litigation can be very expensive, so our legal bills for 2016 shot up dramatically. Realizing large legal bills are not financially sustainable, AFM President Ray Hair and I discussed how we might better contain legal costs without sacrificing our responsibility to maintain and enforce our national contracts. Consequently, we made two new hires to serve as attorneys, joining our In-House Legal Counsel Jennifer Garner. These new attorneys are embedded in various AFM departments. In-House Counsel for the AFM West Coast Office Russell Naymark and Special Counsel and SSD Director Rochelle Skolnick will help litigate cases thereby reducing our dependence on outside counsel. While there will be times when we need outside expertise, the hope is that these additions to our staff will aid in bringing down our legal costs.

    Labor-Management Report

    The AFM’s 2016 Labor Management report (LM-2) was uploaded successfully and timely to the Department of Labor (DOL) site. AFM locals and conferences with a January to December fiscal year should have completed and submitted their 2016 LM report to the DOL as the deadline was March 31. There is no grace period! Beginning with the January 2017 fiscal year, all LM reports must be signed and filed electronically. (See my September 2016 International Musician Secretary-Treasurer column, page 4.)

    AFM Annual Report

    The AFM 2016 Annual Report is currently being prepared. It is comprehensive and contains reports from the AFM president, general counsel, vice president from Canada, secretary-treasurer, auditor (BDO) with financial statements, Federation division directors, the editor of the International Musician, and the AFM International Executive Board minutes. When ready, electronic copies of the annual report will be e-mailed to all AFM locals and will be available on the member’s side of the AFM.org website. Printed copies will be made available to locals upon request.

    List of Locals

    The 2017 List of Locals booklet has been printed and mailed to each local. If your local has not received your copies, please let Assistant Secretary Jon Ferrone jferrone@afm.org know so we can follow up. The 2017 List of Locals is also available electronically on the Member’s section of the AFM.org website. After logging in, go to Document Library / Miscellaneous Folder / 2017 List of Locals.

    Now go enjoy springtime!

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    International Musician Seeks Advice and Consent

    The International Musician (IM) falls under the purview of the Secretary-Treasurer’s office, however, in February 2017 we formed an International Musician Editorial Board (IMEB). Our board consists of 14 members, including several AFM International Executive Board (IEB) members, the directors of many AFM divisions, the AFM Assistant Secretary, and the IM managing editor. The first meeting included discussions about our goals, target audience, how the IM’s content can best support the AFM mission, member input, and topics for our next issue.

    As you know, the IM is the official journal of the AFM, but in fact, it really is much more. Beyond providing official notices, the cover stories highlight musicians who have gained recognition in our field, achieved significant milestones in their careers, or have made meaningful contributions to labor. Feature stories and member profiles introduce the readership to what our members are doing and special events. News articles inform the membership about what is happening in the field and also broader labor issues. Audition ads announce openings around the world in orchestras and ensembles.

    One of the goals of the IMEB is to closely tie our content with the goals and mission of our union and the broader labor movement. That’s where you come in. Members often think of the union as a third party—“What can the union do for me?” We would like to change that perception. The strength of our union comes from the members themselves. Member participation, solidarity, and support for one another are the foundation of a strong union.

    International MusicianThe expression, “You are the union!” is exactly what members need to understand and internalize. Nothing is more important than a well-informed membership that participates regularly in union affairs. With this in mind, we welcome the submission of appropriate content that’s well written and is of broad interest to the membership. If you wish to write an article, contact the IM editor, Cherie Yurco at cyurco@afm.org, letting her know of your desire. She will bring your suggestion to the IMEB for a discussion about possible inclusion in a future issue of the IM.

    The two meetings we have had since the formation of the IMEB have been invaluable. Board members bring their knowledge about what’s happening currently in the field and their views on labor. It is our intention to cover many genres so the IM will have a broad appeal to the membership. To the extent possible, AFM Communication Director Rose Ryan, will continue to pick up some of the IM content to use on our AFM Facebook page.

    We will be working on an electronic membership survey which, when completed, will help us understand how we can adjust the IM content to better meet your needs. When the survey is ready, we will make an announcement in the IM and provide a link to the survey.

    This issue of the IM will be available at the fourth International Orchestra Conference (IOC) of the Fédération Internationale des Musiciens/International Federation of Musicians (FIM). The IOC takes place once every three years. This year it will be in Montreal, Canada, sponsored by the Guilde des Musiciens et Musiciennes du Quebec, Local 406 (Montreal, PQ) AFM. We took this opportunity to feature an Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) musician for this month’s cover story.

    The IM Editorial Board meets monthly. Board members outside of New York City join the meeting via Internet video conference.

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    NAMM Show Hits the Mark!

    I’ve been hearing about the January National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Show for years. Many of the NAMM Show exhibitors advertise in our monthly International Musician (IM) so this year’s show seemed the perfect opportunity to thank our advertisers in-person and talk to other vendors who could become potential IM advertisers. Since the IM is received by all of our 80,000 AFM members in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico, vendors who advertise in our official monthly journal are able to reach a very special segment of the market—working musicians who make their living making music.

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    Tackling Problems Together

    Recently, I attended the Department of Professional Employees (DPE) Arts, Entertainment, and Media Industries (AEMI) meeting in New York City. The DPE, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, is the largest association of professional and technical workers in the United States.

    The DPE AEMI meeting covered three important topics.

    1) Legislative and Outreach Director Michael Wasser gave the attendees a preview of the president-elect’s administration and new Congress. Unfortunately, the prospects for labor are rather grim. This is already evident from the president-elect’s cabinet picks, including his nominee for secretary of labor. The Labor Department is responsible in large part for regulating the workplace and overseeing the job market. The proposed nominee has made his opposition to a $15 minimum wage, extending overtime pay, and the Affordable Care Act well known. In addition, it is expected the composition of the National Labor Relations Board will change. Many important decisions that directly affect our members are made by the Board.

    2) A problem has developed regarding O and P visas that is of particular concern to our Canadian members. Unprecedented delays in obtaining visas (needed to perform in the US) continue to be a problem. Often the delays are so long, Canadian musicians have to cancel their gigs in the US because the visas have not been processed by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in time. AFM Canadian Office Executive Director Liana White; AFM Legislative-Political and Diversity Director Alfonso Pollard, from our AFM Washington Legislative Office; and AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking Division Director Michael Manley, from our New York Office, attended this DPE meeting and are working with our elected officials to improve the situation.

    3) In October 2016, the DPE surveyed a cross-section of professional and technical workers who were not union members. A total of 1,004 workers were surveyed. Some of the insights gleaned from the survey were:

    • A majority identify compensation as the aspect of work they most want improved.
    • Workers desire career advancement opportunities and a voice in decisions that affect them.
    • Professionals identify better pay, benefits, and work/life balance as the most convincing reasons to have union representation.
    • 88% of professionals believe having a contract that details wages, benefits, and rights on the job is a good idea; 60% support a labor union.
    • A majority of professionals believe having a union would improve health and retirement benefits, job security, and wages.
    • Professionals want an effective union that puts members first.
    • Professionals prefer to belong to a union that is responsive to individual members, as opposed to one that is large and strong.
    • Management putting the financial bottom line ahead of quality and service is a top issue faced by professionals on the job, followed closely by poor communication by management.
    • Professionals feel undervalued.
    • Top concerns expressed by professionals for having a union include too much involvement in politics, protection of poorly performing employees, and conflict with management.

    As we are all aware, declining membership continues to be a vexing problem for unions. Gaining broader insight into what nonunion professionals are thinking and understanding their concerns provides the union with guidance as to how best to make union membership more appealing. The greater density (unionized workers) a union has in the workplace directly correlates to a union’s strength. Turning declining membership around is a priority for the AFM and the DPE is taking steps to be supportive in this effort.

     

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