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May 15, 2019Bruce Fife -
One of the themes presented at our AFM Officer Training programs that take place just prior to our regional AFM Conferences is the importance of the relationships we create with our communities and our elected officials. In the last several months in Oregon, Local 99 has had the opportunity to deal with the trifecta of our legislators: city, state, and federal. I thought it worth sharing the stories as they highlight what can be accomplished with the help of those relationships.
Let’s start with the Music Modernization Act (MMA). For those that followed this legislation through the US Congress, you know that it is the most significant change to copyright law in more than 20 years. Amazingly, the music industry was able to put their differences aside and work together to bring this bill forward. They knew that it needed to pass with unanimous consent to have any chance at becoming law. Because of the work done ahead of time, the MMA did pass the House with unanimous consent. However, when it got to the Senate, our Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) inserted himself with a competing bill that threatened to undo all the industry’s good work and the future of the MMA.
We immediately made phone calls to Wyden’s Washington, DC, legislative staff and rallied as many local allies as we could. I have worked with Wyden in the past on various issues and bills, especially net neutrality. It wasn’t the first time we’ve engaged on issues together, though this time, we were clearly not allies. One of my favorite actions against Wyden that drew much public attention to this issue was created by the Songwriters of North America who put up a billboard asking, “Senator Wyden, why do you hate music?” In addition to that action, Local 99 and a large group of local industry folks were able to meet with his staff here in Oregon and make it very clear why his constituency did not support his position on his bill.
Of course, there was no single action that made Wyden change his mind, but in the end, certainly as a result of the many pressure points applied by Local 99 and others, a compromise settlement with some minor changes was negotiated. This allowed the MMA to pass in the Senate with unanimous consent, get sent back to the House for approval, and then get signed by the president.
In the Oregon State Legislature, we had a unique circumstance that completely played out in about 24 hours due to the extreme pressure applied. A state senator had dropped a bill, with virtually no input from anyone in the entertainment industry, which would have changed the employment status of musicians in a way that had already been settled by a group of us in 2008.
Within a couple of hours of the bill becoming public, the same group that worked on this before were in contact with each other and starting to apply pressure to the senator from multiple directions. While I didn’t know this senator personally, I was able to leverage my relationships within the state AFL-CIO, who reached out to the senator (historically a champion of labor) and quietly, behind the scenes, communicate our issues with the bill. Based on clarifying critical points and averting the “misstep” of not knowing the details and history of the prior legislation, the senator withdrew the bill less than 24 hours after its introduction. Simple, direct communication from trusted peers resolved the issue quickly and quietly.
Lastly, let’s talk about city hall. Historically, we have had a very strong relationship with many of our city commissioners. Recently, because of our relationship, the commissioner that oversees the arts asked to attend a Local 99 board meeting to find out what our current issues were. During that conversation, we once again brought up the idea of musician access to loading zones for equipment load in and out of venues. We had been working on this for years, and for one reason or another, we had been unable to get it past the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). The commissioner thought this was a “no brainer” and put one of his staffers, a musician who also loved the idea, to work on it.
Once again, we ran into many of the same roadblocks as before, but working in conjunction with another local music group, other commissioners, and never letting up the pressure, we got it done. We rolled it out with a great press conference that included Local 99 officers, two city commissioners, representatives from PBOT, a live band, and even a half-dozen parking enforcement staff, getting up to speed on the new guidelines. Since the announcement and availability of the new, free, loading zone permits, we have distributed more than 400 as a part of this pilot program. If all goes well, we will be able to expand to more locations in the future.
In each of these stories with positive outcomes, the central theme is the importance of the relationships we cultivate and establish with our elected officials. You may be thinking that I’m directing this story at just local officers, but nothing could be further from the truth. All musicians, as members of your local, know people and have connections that can help propel our issues forward. Let your local know who you know. Be a resource for all the musicians in your local. I encourage local officers to reach out to their members and do “asset mapping” to create a list of member connections that might be of value the next time an issue comes up.
At its best, this is what a union does. We pool our knowledge, our resources, our connections, and our drive, all for the betterment of our working world. Make your relationships work for everyone in our union.