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Home » Recent News » 2023: Year in Review

2023: Year in Review


In 2023, union leaders were buoyed by a robust National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that empowered organizing nationwide. Though less than the surge of actions in 2022, filing of petitions for union representation in FY 2023 ticked up 3% (after a 53% spike in FY 2022). Union representation petitions for elections were up 3% over FY 2022. Unfair Labor practice (ULP) charges increased 10% over FY 2022 totals, which reflected a 19% increase.

Fueled by activism, the wave of organizing continued to spread across the US. Television and film production was all but shut down by strikes of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), who sought satisfactory contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Musicians gathered in support of these striking workers, while continuing to prepare for their own contract negotiations with AMPTP. Other labor actions across the country empowered nurses, education workers, autoworkers, hotel workers, and musicians.


New SRLA Brings Significant Gains

The AFM resumed in-person bargaining sessions with the recording industry in January 2023 for a successor Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA). The Predecessor agreement expired in January 2020 but was extended by written agreement just prior to the pandemic. The new agreement, valid until January 31, 2026, brought significant gains in upfront session payments, including a 6% increase in scale wages in the first year and 3% in the subsequent years. New provisions provide for per-tune payments from live location and studio audiovisual recordings. The agreement also ensures that residual funds will continue to share in streaming revenue.

Orchestre Symphonique de Québec Ratifies First AFM Agreement in 15 Years

On January 27, musicians of the Orchestre symphonique de Québec (OSQ) ratified a new AFM collective bargaining agreement (CBA). It was the first contract negotiated in 15 years with Local 406 (Montreal, PQ), after the symphony severed ties with the AFM in 2008. Prior to the new contract, the musicians’ base salary had been frozen since 2015. The new agreement, which runs through 2024, provides a 16.9% wage hike, retroactive to the expiration of the 2020 agreement. The CBA also contains improvements to sick leave, pension contributions, overscale, and services scheduling.


MPTF Marks 75th Anniversary

The Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF) celebrated its 75th anniversary. A special supplement in the February International Musician detailed its history and some of its most prominent programs. From free, live community events to Music in the Schools, MusicianFest, and scholarships, MPTF has distributed more than $620 million since its founding in 1948. In September, the Recording Industry Association of America presented the MPTF with an award recognizing the fund’s work in enriching lives and uniting communities through the power of music.

AMFA Reintroduced to Congress

The American Music Fairness Act (AMFA) was reintroduced in both chambers of Congress on February 2. The proposed bill would require corporate broadcasters to fairly compensate artists, session musicians, and vocalists when their music is played on AM/FM radio. AMFA came close to passing in the previous congress. AFM Legislative, Political and Diversity Director Alfonso Pollard again called on AFM members to contact their representatives in support of AMFA.

AFM Opposes Visa Fee Increase

In a February 8 letter to Congress, the AFM strongly opposed an O and P visa fee increase proposed by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In the letter, then AFM President Ray Hair called the increase of more than 251% short-sighted, saying that international touring artists and American businesses who are still recovering from the worldwide pandemic shutdown cannot bear the burden of such fees. The USCIS later announced it would delay the rate hikes until at least March 2024 and is considering lowering the rate of increase.


Fort Wayne Musicians Prevail in Strike

Following a three-month strike, the musicians of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, members of Local 58 (Fort Wayne, IN), prevailed and signed a new four-year contract on March 8. The contract preserves all bargaining rights and will extend the philharmonic’s season to 30 weeks by 2023-2024. Base salary will rise an average of 3.75% per year to $33,694 by 2026. This positive result is attributed to the musicians’ and the AFM’s careful preparations and astute messaging.

FIM Presidium Visits AFM Headquarters

For the first time ever, the International Federation of Musicians (FIM) Presidium visited the AFM’s New York Office during the AFM’s board meeting on March 27. Technology and globalization have made it imperative for musician unions around the world to work together. Guests included FIM President John Smith (United Kingdom), General Secretary Benoít Machuel (France), Vice President Edith Katiji (Zimbabwe), Vice President Beat Santschi (Switzerland), Vice President Anders Laursen (Denmark), and Vice President Horace Trubridge (United Kingdom).

AFM & SAG-AFTRA and FMSMF Funds Wrap Up Record Fiscal Years

Marking 25 years of distributing royalties to backup musicians and vocalists, the AFM & SAG-AFTRA Fund has distributed $650 million in royalties to date. AFM and SAG-AFTRA Fund marked the end of its fiscal year having distributed a record of over $91 million in royalties to session musicians and vocalists during the past year.

The Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund (FMSMF) collected a record of over $141 million in residuals for musicians in FY 2023, surpassing the previous year’s record of $130 million. As of June 2023, it had processed payments for approximately 18,000 musicians and beneficiaries as part of its annual distribution.


Equity Strike Threat Nets Contract Gains

On April 13, Actors’ Equity Association, representing 51,000 actors and stage managers working in live theater, reached a three-year agreement with the Broadway League and Disney Theatrical governing touring productions. The agreement, ratified two weeks later, narrowly averted a strike. Members made gains around equity, diversity, and inclusion; paid sick leave for all; reproductive care; wages; and improved per diem to cover rising costs.

MPTF Sponsors Jazz Appreciation Month Events

In honor of Jazz Appreciation Month, the MPTF co-sponsored more than 400 free jazz concerts and livestreamed events across the US and Canada. Jazz Appreciation Month has been a significant focus for the fund over the years. MPTF wrapped up its fiscal year in April, which was marked by a leap in grant distribution from $2.5 million to more than $3.7 million.


WGA Strikes for Streaming and AI Protections

On May 2, more than 11,000 television and movie screenwriters of the WGA went on strike over fair pay in the streaming era. The forecasted months long shutdown came to fruition as they negotiated with AMPTP over reduced compensation under streaming. Priorities included concerns about studios potentially using artificial intelligence (AI) to create scripts. AI poses the same threat to musicians. Musicians showed solidarity with the writers by joining their picket lines.

AFM Leaders Announce Retirement

As candidates for the AFM Convention published their statements of candidacy in the May issue of the IM, longtime AFM President Ray Hair, Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal, and International Vice President Bruce Fife announced that they would not seek re-election.


National Music Council Honores Ray Chew

At the convention’s gala celebration, the National Music Council honored music visionaries Ray Chew of Local 802 and Vivian Scott Chew with the 39th annual American Eagle Award. The award honors those who have made career-long contributions to American music culture, promoting music education, and supporting the protection of creators’ rights locally and internationally. Chew was also presented with an AFM Lifetime Achievement Award.

AFM Convention Unites Members

The 102nd AFM Convention took place June 26-29 at the Westgate Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. The theme of “In Unity There Is Strength” was reflected in the discourse of delegates and echoed by many guest speakers. Among the topics discussed were musician replacement technology; union growth and building relationships with a wider variety of genres; mental health training; assistance to small locals; and investment in organizing and education.

The convention’s election included 212 delegates, representing 132 locals. Re-elected and new officers who took office August 1 include AFM President Tino Gagliardi of Local 802 (New York City), Vice President Dave Pomeroy of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert of Local 149 (Toronto, ON), and International Secretary-Treasurer Ken Shirk of Local 99 (Portland, OR). The AFM’s elected International Executive Board are John Acosta of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), Luc Fortin of Local 406 (Montreal, PQ), Dusty Kelly of Local 149 (Toronto, ON), Ed Malaga of Local 171-610 (Washington, DC), and Tina Morrison of Local 105 (Spokane, WA).


SAG-AFTRA Joins WGA on Strike

In mid-July, SAG-AFTRA went on strike, joining WGA in calling for better pay and job security, and drawing attention to disparities in the film and television industry that have grown wider in the streaming boom. The SAG-AFTRA strike came after weeks of fruitless negotiations with the AMPTP. It is the first time in over 60 years that both writers and actors have gone on strike at the same time. AFM musicians across the country continued joining picket lines to add support to their sister unions.

IATSE and Broadway League Reach Agreement

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and Broadway League reached a tentative agreement on the pink contract just as IATSE was preparing for a strike authorization vote. The contract covers 1,500 IATSE members who work across 45 theatrical shows, with 28 productions on Broadway and 17 on tour. A strike would have shut down Broadway and touring productions, as other unions joined in solidarity. Progress was made in maintaining health care and housing for touring crews, increased wages on Broadway, and setting rest periods.


Player Conferences Gather In-Person

For the first time since the pandemic, all AFM symphonic player conferences held in-person gatherings this year. The Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) held its 40th conference in Atlanta, Georgia, July 25-27. The Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) held its conference August 14-17 at Hotel Ruby Foo’s in Montreal, Quebec. On August 23-26, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) gathered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In addition, the Theatre Musicians Association conference, its best attended ever, was held August 20-22 in Milwaukee.

AFL-CIO Organizes Historic Day of Solidarity

On August 22, a historic day of solidarity took place across the nation as AFL-CIO affiliates from all industries joined in rallies with members of the SAG-AFTRA and WGA. The streets echoed with support for the striking actors and writers who were joined by musicians, teachers, teamsters, nurses, and retail and hotel workers. The day marked the 113th day on strike for WGA members and the 40th day for SAG-AFTRA members.

New NLRB Rules Strengthen Worker Rights

A flurry of late August National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) decisions made it easier for workers to form unions in their workplaces and harder for employers to thwart those efforts. NLRB created a new pathway to union recognition without an election where the union has demonstrated, through signed cards, that it has majority support of employees. NLRB election rule changes making the process quicker will diminish opportunities for employer interference. Trump-era board decisions were reversed, resulting in better protection for workers engaged in concerted action.

Meanwhile, a recent Gallup poll showed a record 88% of people under 30 view unions favorably, and 71% of Americans support unions across party lines.


UAW Stands Up to Big Three Automakers

United Auto Workers (UAW) went on strike against General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis (parent company of Jeep and Chrysler), marking the first time in history that the UAW went on strike against all three companies at the same time. Using a new approach called a “stand-up strike,” the staged walkouts began just after midnight on September 15 at three assembly plants: a Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan; a GM plant in Wentzville, Missouri; and a Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio. In November, UAW workers ratified new contracts with all three automakers. The agreements deliver one of labor’s biggest wins in decades, including raises of 25% over four and a half years.

In Canada, Unifor, representing Canadian autoworkers, reached an agreement with General Motors in early October, hours after 4,300 workers launched a strike. Unifor had already reached a deal with Ford. New contracts include wage increases, improvements in pension plans, retiree income support, additional paid holidays, and a process for full-time temporary workers to become permanent employees.


AFM Takes Part in FTC Generative AI Discussion

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hosted a virtual roundtable discussion in early October to better understand the impact of generative AI on creative fields. AFM Electronic Media Services Division Director John Painting represented musicians in this important discussion. He described the existential fights musicians face as they approach the potential dissolution of their livelihoods.

WGA Reaches Agreement, While Actors’ Strike Continues

Members of the WGA overwhelmingly ratified a new three-year agreement with the AMPTP, officially ending their 150-day strike. WGA successfully achieved increased regulations around the use of AI, minimum staffing, viewership-based streaming bonuses, and data transparency. They gained higher health and pension contribution rates, a boost in streaming residuals, as well as a 5% wage increase this year, followed by 4% and 3.5% increases in the two following years. At the time, SAG-AFTRA members remained firmly on the picket line. Meanwhile, SAG-AFTRA video game workers were considering a second strike.

Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Declares Bankruptcy

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony (KWS), renowned as one of Ontario’s major orchestras, filed for bankruptcy and canceled its 2023-2024 season just four days before its scheduled start. Founded in 1945, KWS is its region’s largest employer of cultural workers. KWS musicians, members of Local 226 (Kitchener, ON), set up a GoFundMe account to raise funds to support symphonic music and its musicians.


Theater Contract Negotiations Commenced

AFM negotiations with producers for a new theater (Pamphlet B) contract continued November 20-22. The AFM is seeking better economic terms and protections against reduced orchestrations resulting from technology, nonunion tours, and streaming. In addition, the new agreement should solve wedge issues related to the number of local musicians employed to augment a given production.

Actors Strike Ends and Tentative Agreement Reached

Picket lines were suspended as SAG-AFTRA reached a tentative agreement with AMPTP, officially ending the 118-day strike on November 9. The agreement includes the first-ever protections for actors against AI as well as a historic pay increase with most minimums increasing by 7%. The deal also includes a streaming participation bonus and pension and health benefits increases. Prior to this strike, the longest actors strike ran for 95 days in 1980.

AFM Prepares for Negotiations with AMPTP

On November 9, the AFM’s theatrical and television film contracts with AMPTP were extended by six months. They were originally set to expire November 13. The AFM Fair Share for Musicians campaign was created by musicians who record motion pictures and television shows in preparation for negotiations of the AFM’s Basic Theatrical Motion Picture and Basic Television Motion Picture agreements.

“As major film and television studios have shifted their content to their own streaming platforms, the AMPTP must come to the table and offer a fair deal for the creative professionals who work for them,” said AFM President Tino Gagliardi. Musicians are the only performers who do not receive residuals for their work on made-for-streaming productions. The AFM is committed to fighting for the rights and well-being of members and improving industry wages, working conditions, and residual payments for made-for-streaming content. The AFM’s first negotiations with AMPTP are set for January 22-31, 2024, in Los Angeles. This date is later than planned in part due to AMPTP’s prolonged labor disputes with WGA and SAG-AFTRA.

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