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Home » Officer Columns » 100th Convention Epilogue: The Quest for Fairness for Subs and Extras

100th Convention Epilogue: The Quest for Fairness for Subs and Extras

  -  AFM International President

A resolution that provoked considerable debate during the recently concluded 100th AFM Convention was Resolution 20—“Extras and Subs in Orchestras”—a measure which sought to address the disparity in wages and working conditions that exists in many orchestral collective bargaining agreements for substitute and extra musicians, as compared to those of their seasonally-contracted colleagues.

The proponents of the resolution, Local 8 (Milwaukee, WI) President Robert Levine and Local 444 (Jacksonville, FL) Secretary-Treasurer Brad Buckley—both former chairpersons of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM)—were determined to submit it to committee caucuses and the convention floor as an opportunity to meaningfully discuss the imbalance and inequity in contract coverage for subs and extras, despite the fact that those musicians are held to the same artistic standards as their rostered colleagues. In the text of Resolution 20, the proponents noted a range of important workplace dissimilarities, which I summarize below.

An increasing number of local orchestral collective bargaining agreements pay subs and extras lower per-service than full-time players. (We know that, in some of these local contracts, orchestra negotiating committee reps agreed to reductions in sub and extra pay as a concession to the employer in order to conclude an agreement).

A few orchestral CBAs contain benefit provisions for subs and extras such as AFM-EP Fund contributions, but most provide no benefits. In contrast to the protections enjoyed by their rostered colleagues, many subs and extras have no recourse for dismissal, or for getting demoted in the sub pecking order or removed from the sub list at the whim of a conductor or at the urging of a colleague.

As for the bargaining of the orchestra contracts that govern their services, subs and extras are rarely ever afforded the right to elect a rank-and-file rep to attend and participate in contract negotiations, but rather depend on their orchestra committees and local officers to advance their concerns. In addition, subs and extras practically never have the right to ratify the agreement or the contract provisions they work under, in stark contrast to the rights and privileges enjoyed under AFM Bylaws by most other members working under a CBA.

Resolution 20 asked the Federation to adopt a policy bylaw urging its members and locals to address these issues in accordance with basic principles of union democracy.

When Resolution 20 hit the Federation’s inbox prior to the convention, I was delighted and also somewhat surprised. I was delighted that two respected player advocates for orchestral musicians, Mr. Levine and Mr. Buckley, were interested in developing a dialog during sessions of the union’s highest decision-making body in an effort to promote fairness for thousands of AFM members. After all, if there are 12,000 rostered members of collectively bargained major and regional US and Canadian symphony orchestras, there are at least an equal number of subs and extras performing in those orchestras, and a great many of those musicians have a reasonable expectation to return to their workplace from season to season.

But I was also surprised because, from my experiences in organizing, negotiating, and administering symphonic collective bargaining agreements for the better part of three decades in Dallas-Fort Worth and across North Texas, I knew that the representational concerns of subs and extras were many times a point of contention and a source of divisiveness whenever employers proposed to pay for contract improvements for the regularly contracted members with cuts in pay from the subs and extras, and particularly when those in the line of fire had no voice at the bargaining table and no ratification vote. By daring to raise the issue at the convention, with its significant roll call of local officers who were also orchestral musicians, might Mr. Levine and Mr. Buckley be opening up Pandora’s Box?

Divisiveness, with its roots in bad business unionism, the contest between hierarchies within the workplace—the haves and have nots—where those at the bottom of the ladder are grist for the mill to protect those at the top, is the road to class warfare at contract time and political warfare within the union all the time. It gets you the member versus member, part-time versus full-time routine, and the cycle of concessions goes on and on.

Strong opinions about Resolution 20 were certainly exchanged prior to the convention and also during the Measures and Benefits Committee caucuses. But, if it could be adopted by the delegates in some form, it would represent a step forward, away from a culture of divisiveness toward recognition that to win against those who exploit us, we are stronger when we stick together, when we are all at the table, because we are stronger together.

Fortunately, the proponents of Resolution 20, together with delegates from the AFM’s symphonic player conferences, reached a consensus on the following amended resolution that established a new provision in the policy section of the AFM Bylaws as follows:

“As a matter of policy, musicians who work for full-time orchestral employers and their Locals are urged to negotiate and/or maintain parity in wages and benefits for substitute and extra musicians performing with those orchestras.

Further, in accordance with fundamental principles of union democracy and the Mission of the AFM, musicians who work for full-time orchestral employers and their Locals are encouraged to explore ways that substitute and extra musicians may participate in the bargaining process.”

My thanks to the proponents of Resolution 20, committee members, and convention delegates for their deliberative efforts in the quest for fairness for substitute and extras working in symphonic collective bargaining agreements.

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