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Home » Officer Columns » Executive Board Members » All Theater Musicians Should Be Protected by AFM Contracts

All Theater Musicians Should Be Protected by AFM Contracts

  -  AFM International Executive Board Member and President of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC)

The musical theater theme of this issue happens to dovetail nicely with my focus during much of this year, negotiating local theater agreements as the president of Local 162-710 (Washington, DC). Our local administers a number of contracts with area theaters. This year, we were able to add a new agreement to that list, which is an encouraging development for our members. I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve had as a result of our recent theater negotiations, with the hope that they may be of benefit.

The participation of a theater orchestra committee in the negotiation process is invaluable. I know I am stating the obvious here, but I think it is important to reinforce this point. Ideally, every theater that has an agreement with an AFM local has an elected orchestra committee in place. Their representation is essential during the negotiation process and throughout the term of the agreement. That is not always the case in the theaters where we have agreements. The seasonal nature of the work and the shifting personnel hired for these productions don’t always lend themselves to the kind of identity you might find in other workplaces.

Nevertheless, when it comes time to bargain, there is no substitute for the perspective that an orchestra committee provides during the negotiation process. This element of rank-and-file participation is one of the most important aspects of union membership. A unified, collective voice will result in member empowerment through the collective bargaining process.

In the agreements that we administer in Washington, DC, the positions of music director, assistant music director, conductor, and copyist are not covered, with just one lone exception among our contracts. I have recently learned that our local is not alone in this regard. Conversations with Theresa Couture, principal theater business representative of Local 802 (New York City), have been extremely helpful in shedding light on the issues that these musicians face when they are contracted to work on productions at our area theaters.

Appropriate compensation, along with the protections and benefits of AFM contracts, should be available to these deserving members. That, unfortunately, is not always the case. As a result, Local 161-710 will be seeking to address this issue in future negotiations. I am grateful to Couture for sharing information about how Local 802 agreements cover this work.

Technological developments such as Keycomp, which have the ability to utilize the recorded tracks of live musician performances in their programming, pose a new threat to musician jobs and the future of the live performance experience. In each of our theater negotiations, we have sought to raise awareness of this issue by proposing language prohibiting the use of this technology, while at the same time reinforcing the commitment to live performance—a concept which tends to be one of the easier points to reach agreement on.

Based on the changes we’ve seen in the orchestrations of theater productions in recent years, it seems logical that we should be engaging with employers to ensure that future audiences will not be denied the authentic live performance. It is my sincere hope that, by creating a united front against this technological abomination, we will chart a new future for our musicians and for our art form.

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