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Home » Officer Columns » A Month in the Life of a Union Officer

A Month in the Life of a Union Officer

  -  AFM International Vice President

As musicians, we all live in a world that has us running constantly. If you work in the symphonic world in an orchestra, just that “one” job can be incredibly busy, but it is still often not your only gig: You teach, and you still probably have gigs outside of the orchestra. If you’re a freelancer, in whatever style of music or part of the industry you’re in, well, the word says it all—you’re running from gig to gig, maybe all on top of a “day” gig as well.

In the 25 years that I performed full time, it was clear that few outside our realm have any idea how hard we work, all to be on stage for those few hours, performing at a level that we are proud of and that our audiences go away appreciating. It’s some of the hardest, but most fulfilling work I’ve ever done.

That said, now that I’m a union officer at both the local and international levels, the work can be just as exhausting and daunting, but fulfilling as well. I’m often asked what it is I do, by both members and non-members, and while I could go down the rabbit hole on any single activity listed here, I’m going to try and give a “snapshot” of the activities, for both the local and Federation, that I’ve been involved in over the last month.


• A meeting between myself, accompanied by a rank and file musician, with one of our US congressman and staff, to request support for our TV/Film negotiations. The congressman followed up with a letter to the companies, urging support for a fair contract for the musicians. A win!

• Two trips to Los Angeles for separate rounds of bargaining with the networks and film companies. We’re getting their attention, but we have a long way still to go.

• As chair of the education committee, I attended a three-day AFM officer training in Silver Springs, Maryland. Another great group of local officers left the training with organizing campaigns in hand. A win!

• Conference call with DC staff of Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) to discuss his concerns with the CASE Act, legislation that the Federation has endorsed, with a follow up appearance at a Wyden town hall event, speaking directly with the senator and staff on this issue, as well as the Butch Lewis Act.

• Worked with the IT department at the Federation to finalize work on our new Officer List Serve that should be live by the time you read this.

Local 99:

• Mediation based on a grievance filed with one of our employer CBAs. Mediation failed, leading to threats of an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) and/or going to arbitration. After rounds of negotiations, we ended up with a settlement that got all musicians paid per the terms of the contract. A win!

• Committee meeting focused on round two of our musician loading zone initiative. The trial period has been a total success, so we will be expanding the number of locations available for musicians. A win!

• The Library Project, which I wrote about a year or so ago, that, unfortunately, provided free permanent downloads of music for library card holders, announced their round two for submissions in which the free download component has been removed. A win!

• Portland Opera Orchestra committee meeting and full orchestra meeting to discuss the significant changes to the leadership of the employer organization and how we can play a role in building a more positive management/union relationship.

• Two Local 99 Executive Board meetings and budget approval for 2020.

• New member orientation.

• Two days of auditions at the Oregon Symphony.

• Representation meeting for a musician in the Oregon Symphony.

• Jobs with Justice annual dinner and the monthly steering committee meeting.

• Meeting with local industry advocacy group, focused on our relationship with city hall and the creation of a new Policy Council, which will have a direct line to city hall on musician issues. Local 99 is a key participant on the council. 

• Four MPTF project requests processed.

• AFL-CIO political coordinators meeting.

• Dealt with Oregon Ballet Theatre management issues, as well as personnel issues.

• Got up on the local’s roof and cleaned out the gutters before the Oregon rains are unleashed.

• And lastly, on this non-comprehensive list, got out to listen to great music in our community performed by Local 99 members.

All this in between the daily routine of answering the onslaught of phone calls and emails, member and non-member drop-ins, planning for future negotiations and organizing plans, etc.

This is not the workload of every local officer, given the Federation duties I have, but there is never a shortage of work to be done by any officer. While some of these duties are just handled directly by the officer, many of them require member participation to be successful.

As a member, you must remember that you are the union, and when your local leader is working on a project that needs your support, please step up and lend that hand, because when we all work together, we can achieve so much. Trust me, I see it every day!

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