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Home » Officer Columns » President's Message » Bargaining Hard in the Jingle and Orchestral Media Industries

Bargaining Hard in the Jingle and Orchestral Media Industries

  -  AFM International President

As previously reported in this column, the Federation recently opened two sets of industry-wide media negotiations for the purpose of concluding successor agreements for musicians working in two distinctly different sectors. On December 16, 2013, we exchanged proposals with an association of symphonic, opera, and ballet employers toward the goal of updating and improving our Integrated Media Agreement (IMA), which covers the media-related services of all musicians working under local symphonic collective bargaining agreements for projects other than local radio and television broadcasts. On February 4, we swapped proposals and began discussions with representatives of the jingle industry to amend and enhance our Television and Radio Commercial Announcements Agreement.

Both sets of negotiations pose difficult problems to resolve that are unique to the particular industries and workplaces affected. For example, the jingle producers and their advertising clients depend upon efficient acquisition of short musical tracks to embed under vocals in broadcast or Internet radio, or to synchronize to video in TV and Internet spots, all designed to shape consumer behavior. While jingle recording is done primarily by freelance musicians, symphony, opera, and ballet musicians are employed on a seasonal basis to present live performances for guaranteed employment expressed in numbers of weeks, productions, or services. Media services performed by the Chicago Lyric Opera or Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, for example, are typically intended for projects that exclusively feature the respective orchestral institution.

In both settings, our negotiating teams spent many hours developing reasonable proposals and vetted through premeetings, conference calls, and caucus meetings that spanned several months. Our opening IMA proposals were designed to obtain needed economic adjustments, together with improvements in the project-by-project consultation and reporting process, and a clarification that the IMA is not available for use by nonprofit orchestral employers to circumvent the Federation’s other, more lucrative agreements with the jingle, television, sound recording, and motion picture-TV film industries.

For the jingle industry, we noted a marked decline in employment over the past decade due to the trend toward licensing of pre-existing and new sound recordings in lieu of producing new tracks under the existing agreement. Accordingly, the Federation proposed a short-term contract with economic increases and requested a commitment to meet quarterly to identify and discuss structural contract modifications to discourage licensing and facilitate an improvement in new employment. Industry representatives had indicated that the structure of the agreement—not its economic terms—were responsible for producers’ drift toward licensing.

We were not amused when, in both cases, our bargaining partners introduced extremely regressive opening proposals that sought to reduce compensation and drastically rework our existing agreements. The symphony, opera and ballet employers’ proposal aimed to blur the line between capture for legitimate institutional recording projects and capture for news and promotional purposes. They seek to capture essentially all rehearsal and performance services, which could number into the hundreds, with permission to release content with drastically reduced upfront payments and without third party licensing restrictions. Such an arrangement could jeopardize the integrity of other Federation media agreements. In one instance, the employers demanded that a musician’s upfront payment of $53.05 for a national radio broadcast be reduced to $2.47.

The jingle producers, on the other hand, after an opening monologue extolling the virtues of collaboration and transparency, went on to propose a wholesale revamping of use and residual cycle payment schedules to conform with provisions recently obtained from SAG-AFTRA. Problem: the wage scales applicable for actors and lead vocalists working under the SAG-AFTRA commercial announcements contract are significantly higher to begin with than those payable to musicians under the AFM’s agreement. When wading through the producers’ document, we identified one significant proposal that would cut yearly use/re-use rates in half.

As for the employer’s stated intention to maintain a relationship based on transparency and collaboration, we noted that an extensive Federation request for information regarding the industry’s licensing history, which we made to top US ad agencies in August 2013, had been ignored.

As usual, our friends on the other side of the table are intimately familiar with their business and their respective workplaces. They should be. They control them. In their labor negotiations with the Federation, those who control the money naturally seek to develop and capitalize on any workplace practice that can create an advantage for themselves at the expense of our members. If they can’t be bargained legitimately, sometimes they are imposed illegitimately.

Employer conduct can sometimes reveal patterns of workplace behavior that can work in favor of the union during contract negotiations. It is our duty to be vigilant in that regard. Professional musicians are tired of making all the music, while everybody else in the business makes all the money, whether it’s the nightclub owners, the booking agents, the recording producers, the managers of symphony, opera, and ballet companies, or Pandora.

With a new attitude, new energy, and a realization by our team that building unity of purpose allows us to focus union power, we are creating the circumstances to enable the Federation to bargain as long and as hard as necessary, not only to resist the unjustified concessions demanded by employers in the jingle business, orchestral media, and other sectors, but to achieve the progressive contract solutions that professional musicians rightly deserve.

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