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July 3, 2023Jay Blumenthal - AFM International Secretary-Treasurer
This month’s column (July 2023) will be my last as your AFM international secretary-treasurer since I will retire at the end of the month. I must admit to feeling somewhat ambivalent about my retirement. While I look forward to the free time retirement affords, the idea of not working (having worked all my life either as a professional musician or as a union leader) is antithetical to what my life has always been. I will however be able to address the many projects around our seasonal home that I’ve been putting off for far too long due to lack of time.
I’ve felt very lucky to have had a second chapter to my career. Serving as a union officer at Local 802 (New York City), and then as a Federation officer, has been one of the greatest joys of my life. I love this job and I love working for you, so it’s very hard to say goodbye.
I arrived in New York City as a young, aspiring musician nearly 50 years ago. The one constant over all the years has been my AFM membership. It is the one organization that always had my back and I will be forever indebted for all the times the union stood shoulder to shoulder with me. Local 802 negotiated the collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) that covered the live work I did over the 30 years that I performed as a professional musician in NYC. The CBAs had provisions for health insurance, pension contributions, designated rosters, job security, overtime payments, cartage (essential as a bass player) as well as grievance and arbitration. These were all very important benefits and protections for the work I did as a musician.
But there were other benefits beyond the contractual ones that also enriched my life. Over the years, I have benefited from my relationships with other union musicians who experienced the same challenges and frustrations and our ability to make positive workplace changes together, as a union. Also, announcements that would appear in the local’s monthly magazine (Allegro) provided union members with an early leg up on things such as quality affordable housing. That’s where I learned about a building that was about to open their application process for 1,700 newly constructed apartments (two towers) in the heart of Manhattan. At the time, I was living in a subterranean apartment on New York’s Upper West Side. (It was the kind of apartment you see in the movies with a view of pedestrians’ feet as they passed by my barred windows.)
A few weeks after applying for an apartment, I received a call saying they had one to show me. Within the hour, I was on site where I was greeted by a building representative. We stepped into the elevator, and she pushed the button for the top floor (45). What a change from my subterranean dungeon. She opened the door to the apartment and before me was a bank of sunny windows overlooking the Hudson River and New Jersey in the distance. The Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship (with the help of two tugs) was just pulling into its berth. As I stood there—stunned by the beautiful view—the building representative turned to me and asked, “Will this apartment do?” The building’s location was convenient to Broadway, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, not to mention Local 802 and the Federation offices. I’ve never had to commute, since everything was within a 10-minute walk.
In one way or another, all my good fortune is due to the union. That’s why I have been so protective of this organization that has done so much to improve my life. When the pandemic hit, we were all faced with the most serious challenges in the Federation’s 127-year history. AFM President Hair and I were determined not to let anything catastrophic happen to the Federation. In fact, our goal was to come through the challenging times even stronger than we were prior to the pandemic. I am pleased and relieved to say we have accomplished our goal. We have a beautiful new office (our headquarters) in the heart of Manhattan (Times Square) that I hope will make all of you proud, when you stop in to visit, or better yet, to help negotiate a Federation agreement.
Over the last seven years we have improved our financial position by nearly doubling the AFM’s unrestricted net assets from $9,170,316 in 2016 to $17,667,102 in 2022. (You can read the 2022 AFM Annual Report, which includes the audited financials, on the AFM website in the Document Library section.)
This positive result was not achieved through my being a financial genius. I can assure you that I have no special financial expertise. It was achieved simply through the application of commonsense best practices:
•Putting controls in place to keep expenses low.
•Enforcing financial policies, even when it’s difficult.
•Being a conscientious steward of union resources, particularly when threatened by outside forces.
After seven years, there are many I would like to thank. Thanks to the AFM staff whose dedication never wavered, even during the darkest days of the pandemic. Thanks to the AFM International Executive Board whose exemplary work was always guided by what was in the best interest of the membership. And a special thank you to President Hair. Though our personalities were quite different, we truly had great chemistry. There was never a cross word between us for the entire 12 years we served together—five as the AFM Symphonic Services director/assistant treasurer and seven as the AFM international secretary-treasurer. I always felt I had his support and respect, and I know he always had mine. And lastly, thanks to you, our membership, for allowing me the privilege of serving you. It has been the greatest honor of my life.