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Home » Officer Columns » A Year in the Life of a Pandemic

A Year in the Life of a Pandemic

  -  AFM International Secretary-Treasurer

We are approaching the one-year mark since the onset of the COVID pandemic, which resulted in authorities declaring a public health emergency and a lockdown requiring the closure of our AFM New York City office from March 19 through June 24, 2020. The AFM Los Angeles and Washington, DC offices were closed similarly. These closings necessitated switching from normal office operations to working remotely. During this past year, the Federation staff has been busier than ever providing assistance, guidance, and support to members and local officers as well as advocating for legislation that provided needed federal and state assistance to musicians.

Although we have entered a more hopeful phase as multiple COVID-19 vaccines are making their way into the healthcare system for distribution, broad vaccinations, which are just now ramping up, will be a crucial step towards our lives returning to a “new normal.”

Over the past year, surging numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations threatened to overwhelm the healthcare system, leaving hospital workers exhausted and critical care beds filled to capacity. As of February 8, 2021, there have been 443,445 US and 20,760 Canadian deaths from COVID-19. Thankfully, we are just beginning to see the number of cases and hospitalizations drop. Until COVID-19 is brought under control, a return to work for musicians will remain elusive.

AFM Finances

After several years of surpluses, AFM finances were on track to do well in 2020 until the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted all of our lives. The need for social distancing to stop the spread ended audience attendance, causing the shuttering of music venues around the world. The music industry was immediately affected, halting live musical performances and, consequently, musicians’ ability to go to work. Even now, after a year has passed, there is still no firm date for musicians to return to work in a significant way. As a consequence, Federation revenue streams, particularly work dues, have been severely compromised for the past year. Some employers were able to receive governmental support through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that enabled them to keep some musicians on their payroll (mostly at reduced wages). While this was definitely helpful, only a fraction of musicians benefitted from this program.

During the past year, travel has not been possible, so touring in the US and Canada ended. Foreign musical groups no longer traveling had little need for the consultation letters (provided by the Federation for a fee) for their visa applications. Consequently, the number of fees received for consultation letters were significantly reduced. And finally, a reduced membership count has resulted in fewer dues payments to locals and, consequently, fewer per capita fees paid to the Federation.

With all these revenue streams compromised, it was necessary to reduce expenses. While most AFM staff members were able to continue to work remotely, those few AFM staff members who could not were furloughed indefinitely. This was a particularly painful decision to have to make. Health benefits, however, have been maintained for all AFM staff, including furloughed employees. We have experienced additional economies from attending virtual meetings rather than incurring hotel, transportation, and meal expenses.

Legislation – Washington, DC

Until January 20, presidential pandemic leadership from Washington, DC was confusing and inconsistent at best. Wearing masks, proven to impede the spread of the virus, was politicized, resulting in many citizens refusing to cover their faces, causing huge spikes in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. This was indeed unfortunate since the longer it takes to get the virus under control, the longer it will be before musicians can return to live performance.

Last year ended with the US presidential elections resulting in a Biden-Harris win, with Democrats retaining control in the House of Representatives and gaining a razor-thin margin of control in the Senate (50/50 split with Vice President Harris being the tie breaker vote). Since January 20, Biden has made clear his support for labor through the signing of executive orders favorable to labor. Harris’ use of her ability to break tie votes in the Senate has resulted in a budget bill that paves the way for passage of Biden’s coronavirus relief package.

An important priority for the AFM during this past year was leveraging our power by working closely with the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees (DPE) and the Arts, Entertainment and Media Industries (AEMI) cohort on federal legislation, bringing needed relief to AFM members. Working with AFM International President Raymond Hair, Jr. and AFM Diversity, Legislative, and Political Director Alfonso Pollard, we were able to achieve in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act broad protections that included language providing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to “gig” workers.

Director Pollard and I (with other AEMI unions) attended a virtual meeting with US Representative Chellie Pingree (Arts Caucus co-chair) hosted by DPE. We discussed the pandemic’s impact on the arts and entertainment industry and the relief needed by our members. In addition, several meetings on the topic of racial justice were attended with the goal of developing a racial justice policy agenda for the current Congress.


Slowing the decline and then actually increasing the membership count in 2019 was evidence that the AFM’s organizing efforts, local officer training, and membership drives were having a positive effect over the last several years. Unfortunately, since the pandemic shutdowns began in April 2020, we’ve seen a reversal in the membership count, erasing the gains of the prior year and then some. It has not been unexpected considering musicians have been out of work for the past year. In fact, it could have been much worse. We are hopeful that once the pandemic subsides and musicians can return to normal activities, we will see a rebound in AFM membership numbers.

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