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Home » Officer Columns » 2022 AFL-CIO Convention Supports Music Fairness and Artists’ Rights

2022 AFL-CIO Convention Supports Music Fairness and Artists’ Rights

  -  AFM International Secretary-Treasurer

The 29th AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 12-15. The AFL-CIO is a federation of 57 affiliated unions with 12.5 million members. Our AFM delegation to the convention consisted of AFM President Ray Hair; Lovie Smith-Wright of Local 65-699 (Houston, TX); and me. Preconvention events included an AFL-CIO Unity Summit and a Global Organizing Symposium. The convention’s slogan was: “Building the movement to meet the moment.”

With the sudden and unexpected passing of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on August 5, 2021, the AFL-CIO Executive Council elected Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler president on August 20, 2021, to complete Trumka’s term. At that time, Fred Redmond was elected to complete Shuler’s term as secretary-treasurer. On March 5, 2022, Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre resigned.

The normal in-person election by the delegates took place at the convention with Shuler elected president (the first woman to hold that office) and Fred Redmond elected secretary-treasurer (the first African American to hold the office).

The position of executive vice president, created to provide officer diversity and previously held by Gebre, was eliminated by vote of convention delegates. Proponents of this change stated that, with a woman and an African American holding the two top officer positions, the effort to create officer diversity had been achieved. Additionally, there would be financial savings by merging the executive vice president’s responsibilities into the secretary-treasurer’s responsibilities.

American Music Fairness Act (AMFA)

Many resolutions were adopted by the delegates, ranging from building worker power and healthcare for all to ensuring public education remains a beacon for democracy and retirement income security for all. However, more specific to musicians was the adoption of Resolution #39 —Supporting Music Fairness and Artists’ Rights. This resolution was co-sponsored by the AFM and SAG-AFTRA. AFM President Hair helped introduce the resolution to the delegates from the podium.

The full text of the resolution is:

Vocalists and musicians are not paid when their music plays on the radio. Thousands of union member artists are working all across America to build a thriving career by playing and recording the music they—and we—love. But the rules are rigged against them.

For far too long, our broken and unfair system has let AM/FM radio stations—many of which are owned by just a few massive media corporations—get away with refusing to pay artists when they play their music. While these big corporate broadcast companies gobble up billions upon billions in advertising dollars, the union vocalists and musicians, including session and background performers, whose work make all of it possible, receive no compensation whatsoever for their creations. It’s unfair, plain and simple.

And the COVID-19 pandemic has made things even worse. With many venues shuttered for months and live performances virtually nonexistent for more than a year, thousands of artists have lost one of their primary sources of income—exposing many to extreme financial hardship. For each blockbuster artist, there are countless working performers across the country fighting for a living with each song and every gig. They literally cannot afford to stand by and watch big corporate broadcasting companies make billions in profits off their uncompensated works.

It’s time to right this wrong, and the American Music Fairness Act (AMFA) aims to do just that. The AMFA will require corporate broadcasting companies to fairly compensate artists when they play their songs on AM/FM radio—because paying people for their hard work is the right thing to do.

Fairness and equity are bedrock American principles and yet, the United States is one of only four countries in the world that don’t pay artists for radio airplay. The other three are China, Iran, and North Korea.

As the country recovers from two years of tremendous personal loss and economic suffering, it is vital that Congress protects the livelihoods of those who create the music we know and love. And therefore, the AFL-CIO commits to continue working to pass the American Music Fairness Act to protect all performers, vocalists, musicians, and all music artists.

Finally, a warm welcome was extended to US President Joe Biden who appeared and delivered an inspiring speech to the delegates. Biden has proven himself to be the most pro-labor president in recent history. Also, Stacey Abrams, Georgia gubernatorial candidate gave a rousing and motivating speech to convention attendees. We owe so much to both Biden and Abrams because it is doubtful the American Rescue Plan (which provided funds for our AFM pensions as part of the plan) would have ever made it through Congress and been signed into law without their efforts.