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Home » International Musician » 2021 YEAR IN REVIEW — In Unity, There Is Strength

2021 YEAR IN REVIEW — In Unity, There Is Strength



The Riot on Capitol Hill

On January 6, a violent mob of President Donald Trump supporters sought to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election by disrupting the joint session of Congress assembled to formalize President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

On January 7, AFM President Ray Hair issued this statement: “The American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada condemns in the strongest terms the mob assault upon the US Capitol building, which was an attempt to subjugate our democracy and the peaceful and constitutional transfer of power after a lawful presidential election. The attack resulted in desecration, injury, bloodshed, and death in a place that is a symbol of hope and unity.”

Inauguration Day

January 20, union leaders welcomed the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Union leaders optimistically looked forward to working with President Biden to enact a pro-worker agenda to advance the livelihoods and futures of working people and communities across the country.


AFM Coalition Comes Together to Fight for Pension Reform 

The Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Relief Act of 2021 was introduced by House Ways and Means Committee Chairperson Richard Neal (D-MA) to be included as part of the larger COVID-19 supplemental bill (known as the American Rescue Plan). AFM President Hair asked for an “all hands on deck” Federation-wide lobbying effort to help keep the pension provisions in the omnibus supplemental bill and push for final legislation.


The Power of Organizing: The American Rescue Plan and the Butch Lewis Act

Federation and AFM-EPF staff, local officers, and player conference officers mobilized thousands of members and fund participants to petition Capitol Hill. The new bill, renamed the Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021, was included in the American Rescue Plan, which passed the House on February 27.

President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on March 12. The legislation would reduce high levels of hardship, help school districts address student learning loss, and bolster the economy. AFM President Hair paid tribute to grassroots political organizing, unionism, and organized labor to protect and improve the lives of tens of millions of workers and preserve the dignity of retirees. “If there were ever a day to celebrate the power of collective action and concerted activity, it’s today,” said Hair.


House Passes The PRO Act: Labor Law Reform 2021

With a focus on fortifying and updating the important fundamentals of labor law, the Biden Administration took immediate steps to strengthen the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB general counsel was replaced. Labor leaders and their affiliate unions then began to work with the new majority Congress to bring relief to the single and multiemployer pension plans that union plan participants and retirees deserve.

On March 6, the House passed Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PROAct). The legislation would restore the right of workers to freely and fairly form a union and bargain together for changes in the workplace. It would repeal state laws that undermine unions, institute fines for employers who violate workers’ rights to organize, and recognize gig workers’ right to collectively bargain.


Rally to Support Fort Wayne Philharmonic Musicians

On May Day, Fort Wayne Philharmonic musicians and community members rallied outside the Allen County Courthouse to restore symphony music to Fort Wayne. Musicians were furloughed in 2020, during the pandemic, but the Philharmonic has been negotiating with orchestra management for a new contract since 2019. 

AFM President Hair, who stood alongside orchestra musicians, said, “The majority of American symphonic institutions saw their obligations to their communities to sustain their orchestras and continue to care for musicians while the pandemic raged and ravaged all of our lives.” He pointed to Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s managing director James Palermo’s salary as an outlier for an orchestra of its size. In 2019, Palermo’s salary accounted for 3.3% of the Philharmonic’s overhead.

The musicians and Fort Wayne Philharmonic management finally reached a contract agreement at the end of May. The new agreement provides seven weeks of work starting June 21, 2021 and 28 weeks of work during the regular 2021-2022 winter season.

Union Wins Gold with Contract

In a win for musicians working on the period drama The Gilded Age, Home Box Office (HBO) agreed to cover the musicians under the AFM’s TV Film Agreement. According to AFM President Hair, “When our musicians realized they were not working under an AFM contract, they stood up to a global media company and made them do the right thing. HBO will now be prevented from bullying musicians into accepting substandard wages, benefits, and conditions.”


Bipartisan American Music Fairness Legislation Introduced

On June 24, the American Music Fairness Act (AMFA) was introduced on Capitol Hill. Joining key Congressional representatives were MusicFIRST Chairman Joseph Crowley, Dropkick Murphy bass player Ken Casey of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA), veteran singer Dionne Warwick, and R&B legend Sam Moore. The bipartisan bill would establish a performance right for artists, creating a fair market value for recordings broadcasted on AM/FM radio. It also contains important protections for small and nonprofit broadcasters to ensure that local and community supported radio stations can continue to be diverse and thrive.


Pamphlet B Touring Theatrical Musicals Extension Reached

After a shutdown of more than a year, Broadway League producers raised the curtain on touring musical productions. Wicked was the first show to return to live performances, opening in Dallas, Texas. Touring productions of Hamilton resumed soon after in Atlanta and San Francisco. Other Broadway tours were scheduled to open or resume touring itineraries in the fall, with bookings through 2022. The Federation completed negotiations with the Broadway League and Disney Theatrical Productions for an extension to the Pamphlet B Touring Theatrical Musicals and Short Engagement Touring (SET) Agreements, including a comprehensive Health and Safety Manual—and a mandate that all members of any touring company (including musicians) be fully vaccinated.


Labor Lost a Powerful Leader: Passing of AFL-CIO President Trumka

On August 5, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka died unexpectedly at the age of 72. AFM Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal remembered the labor leader as a tireless advocate for working men and women who earned worldwide recognition as an admired labor leader. During the four terms he served as president, he built a strong AFL-CIO leadership team and developed productive relationships with Washington politicians to move labor’s agenda forward.

On August 20, longtime trade union leader Liz Shuler was elected to succeed Trumka as the new president of the AFL-CIO and the first woman to hold the office.


IATSE Members Vote to Authorize a Strike

The AFM stood in solidarity with members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) in their fight for a fair contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Over 98% of eligible members from 36 locals voted to authorize a strike in the momentous contest for the union—which bargains on behalf of more than 150,000 crew members internationally, including cinematographers, operators, grips, editors, costumers, and writers assistants.

Congress Offers Overdue Tax Relief for Artists

Congress proposed to restore tax deductions for performing artists. The Performing Artist Tax Parity Act (PATA) legislation would provide much-needed tax relief to working artists by updating the Qualified Performing Artist (QPA) tax deduction that allows performing artists to deduct the cost of expenses incurred through their employment—which for decades industry employers refused to reimburse. The legislation, which has bipartisan support, is endorsed by the AFM, Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO, Actors’ Equity Association, Recording Academy, and Nashville Songwriters Association.


125 Years of Solidarity

The AFM celebrated its 125th anniversary. In 1896, members of the National League of Musicians wishing to ally with the general labor movement broke with the League and called a convention of their own at the Hotel English in Indianapolis, Indiana. The American Federation of Musicians was born and officially recognized by the American Federation of Labor. Drawing on the phrase, “In unity there is strength,” the AFM’s first standing resolution was: “That any musician who receives pay for his musical services shall be considered a professional musician.”

Workers Hit Picket Lines in “Striketober”

As a surge of pro-union action hit US companies, October was officially designated “Striketober.” More than 100,000 US workers went on strike or threatened to strike. In nearly every industry, workers said no to their working conditions and demanded change.

At John Deere, 10,000 workers walked out over pay and pension rights. Some 60,000 IATSE workers were set to strike, until an agreement was reached in the last hours before a walkout. Thousands of other union workers went on strike, including 700 nurses in Massachusetts, 2,000 New York hospital workers, and 1,400 Kellogg factory workers in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. In Plymouth, Minnesota, Allina WestHealth closed its emergency room and urgent care as nurses seeking fair pay and benefits went on strike. More than 20,000 California health care workers (of UNAC/UHCP) overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike against the health care giant Kaiser Permanente.

San Antonio Symphony on Strike

The last offer proposed by San Antonio Symphony management prompted a unanimous strike vote by musicians. The offer would have eliminated four positions, reduced the 72-member orchestra to 42 full-time core positions, and included 26 part-time, “per-service” positions. Feeling beaten down after years of accepting pay cuts with promises of restitution, musicians refused to be complicit in destroying the orchestra and betraying colleagues by removing their jobs and benefits.

Striking Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony (MOSAS) received an outpouring of support from the community. As of mid-November, 48 orchestras from around the US and Canada had contributed to the MOSAS strike fund, so far totaling $220,000, with an additional $40,000 from individual donors.


IATSE Ratifies Contract

On November 15, IATSE announced the ratification of two contracts with AMPTP studios that address the union’s call for better working hours, safer workplace conditions, and improved benefits. Fifty-six percent of the delegate votes from the 36 locals voting for the basic and area standards agreements were in favor of the deal, while 44% voted “no.”

“From start to finish, from preparation to ratification, this has been a democratic process to win the very best contracts,” said Matthew Loeb, IATSE’s international president. Bargaining teams for all 36 local unions involved had endorsed passage.

Years of poor working conditions and low pay were tipping points for grips, gaffers, editors, designers, and other crew members. If talks did not result in new contracts for 60,000 film and TV workers under the Basic Agreement and the Area Standards Agreement, the strike would have been the first in the union’s 128-year history.

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