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Home » Organizing » Activating Our Contract Action Team (CAT)

Activating Our Contract Action Team (CAT)


by Rahul Neuman, AFM Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) Organizer

My start date as the organizer at AFM Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) coincided almost exactly with the start of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike last year. On that first day of the WGA strike, I went out with a small group of AFM members to the writers’ picket at Warner Bros., all donning our bright turquoise Local 47 T-shirts. Thus began our journey of the hot labor summer and fall in LA, attending multiple pickets, marches, and rallies every week until the strikes ended.

Initially we were greeted with warm welcomes, inevitably followed by questions, “What is AFM?” and “Really? There’s a musician’s union?” By the end of summer this sentiment would change to celebratory cheers—other unions recognized us immediately, associating AFM and our t-shirts with the musicians union.

When it came time for our own contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), we had 300 members show up to our kickoff rally in the pouring rain, members and leaders from all of our partner unions: Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), WGA, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), Teamsters, and others.

What Is a CAT?

Our ability to mobilize and increase our visibility is owed in large part to our Contract Action Team (CAT). A CAT is an organizing network that builds a community of coworkers and collective power. This network is the basis of a democratic, organizing union, one that is driven by the members and supports a narrative that reflects its voices. Most of us are familiar with and/or experienced older service-model unions, where “the union” is third partied and the staff and elected officers are expected to provide all the support necessary for the members to thrive. The problem with this approach is that it ignores the participation of the membership. Successful unions thrive by building member-driven collective power, and a CAT is one of the main structures that helps build this power.

How Does a CAT Work?

Its simple building block is a member who has a list (or turf) of five to 15 other musicians they communicate with regularly, maybe at a gig, while carpooling, meeting for coffee, or just via phone or text. The main point is listening to each other, learning how things are going, what issues there are, what questions or updates there are (e.g., the next contract campaign actions, questions about contract terms), and what ideas or solutions they have. These communications are shared with local rank-and-file organizing committees where we can get a sense of what issues and ideas are widely felt, present those to leadership, and then strategize around actions.

Musicians are quite isolated from each other, kept in silos just by the nature of our work. A CAT networks our members, breaks down communication barriers, and builds participation and solidarity. We were able to build upon all the mobilizing actions of the writers and actors strikes last year by supporting them at their pickets and rallies. The similarities between our musicians’ needs in the studios and the contract demands of the actors and writers (streaming residuals, artificial intelligence protections) and just the sheer immensity of the pickets helped grow our numbers from 30 to 300-plus under the umbrella of the CAT.

AFM members were easily recognizable in their bright turquoise Local 47 T-shirts during last year’s WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.

The participation and solidarity raised by the CAT is central to the success of a contract campaign—it provides leverage to our bargaining team. We saw this at the contract negotiations with the AMPTP in the beginning of the year, where we won streaming residuals for the first time, as well as artificial intelligence protections and other firsts, like a performance bonus for successful shows. Studios and employers notice when there is significant solidarity and participation by members.

Long-Term Goals

Even though a CAT mobilizes members during a specific contract campaign, its main function is more long term and broader. Member participation and solidarity become the public face of a union. This representation is propped up by our participation in other actions, actions of other sibling unions, as well as legislative actions that help support common goals between unions. We help ourselves when we help others.

A contract campaign allows us to agitate and mobilize around specific contract demands, but a CAT connects those of us who work under different contracts and in entirely different workplaces. Musicians who don’t do studio work participated a great deal during the last AMPTP contract campaign by coming to pickets and rallies and helping with phone banks. And they had their own lists of musicians for outreach, all toward the end of increasing the number of members participating and building power. Contract Action Teams that are fortified during a contract campaign don’t disband after the campaign; they continue to build out and are meant to be activated when it’s time to start up other campaigns.

Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) hosted organizing training to gear up for the AMPTP contract campaign.

These expanded CAT networks also serve to inoculate against outdated narratives and misinformation that are perpetuated in closed environments. When more musicians are connected and talking to each other and are tuned into updates about what’s happening in their industry, accurate narratives can then replace older stories of events and outcomes from decades ago, a different time and historical context. The bonds and unity between AFM and other sibling unions are much stronger than they were 40 years ago.

Becoming an organizing union puts us side by side with partner unions. Utilizing our CAT during the last year of labor activity put us on a path toward working as a coalition of entertainment unions. We are building real collective power and need to always be organizing.

If you are interested in learning more about building a local CAT feel free to reach out to me or AFM Director of Organizing Gabe Kristal, or any AFM organizers.

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