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January 1, 2022Ray Hair - AFM International President
As I compose this month’s column, I’ve received notice from the American Arbitration Association (AAA) that musicians employed under the Federation’s Motion Picture Film and Television Film Agreements have ratified a one-year extension to those agreements, extending all provisions of the existing agreements together with a 3% increase in wages.
That extension preserves and protects the significant progress in key areas made two years ago in our negotiations with the producers. This occurred immediately prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the havoc it wreaked upon the livelihood of professional musicians.
The film agreement extensions with its economic improvements and the Pamphlet B and Short Engagement Tours extension, with its newly-bargained Health and Safety Handbook covering musicians performing in touring theatrical musicals, are positive outcomes in a largely negative environment endured over the better part of two years by musicians, whose lives and employment relationships were (and continue to be) disrupted by the pandemic.
These extension agreements, together with those implemented with the sound recording and commercial announcements industries (while negotiations for successor agreements are in process), temporarily postpone conflicts, which may naturally arise between industry representatives, employees, and the Federation in preparation for and during the bargaining process. The agreements also bind the employers to their existing relationships with the Federation and prevent any unilateral change in terms and conditions of employment.
With the Omicron variant surge putting the world on edge, there is a certain degree of safety amid the uncertainly at the start of 2022 with new Federation agreements and written extensions of existing agreements on hand, as we once again face the unknown effects of the pandemic and its unpredictable behavior, including the severity of the new variants and how vaccines perform against them.
When the pandemic shook the symphonic, electronic media, and live entertainment sectors in March 2020, the Federation sought to engage with its bargaining partners to develop work rule flexibility and help maintain relationships between employers, musician-employees (even with temporary work reductions), and consumers. Together with our bargaining best practice workplace safety protocols, we helped minimize short-term employment loss.
By the end of 2021, symphonic sector employment levels had recovered to 80% of prepandemic levels and they are projected to rise to 100% by the end of 2022. Employment in the electronic media sector had similarly recovered during 2021 and are also expected to return to full prepandemic levels by the close of 2022.
The touring theatrical musical sector had 22 covered shows on the road in March 2020, when the pandemic halted all live entertainment. Touring employment has risen to practically 100% of prepandemic levels as of January 2022, with 21 touring musical productions. The tours are expected to sustain that level of employment, absent another coronavirus surge that could sicken company employees and disrupt attendance, ticket sales, and routing.
It needs to be said here, pointedly, that the rise in return-to-work musical employment cannot mitigate the permanent damage inflicted by the pandemic by way of the deep and devastating job losses, interruption to the evolution of our musicality, and all the other adverse economic circumstances suffered by professional musicians over the past two years.
No one knows how long it will be before we can clearly see the total extent of damage the virus has wrought upon our artistic connections with other musicians and with our audiences. All of this has affected our personal musical trajectory and our ability to perform at the highest level, which surely affects how and whether we reach our potential as musicians.
Even where musicians continued working amid the shutdown—particularly in the film industry—the nature of our jobs certainly changed. In the early going during the crisis, the Federation temporarily allowed film and TV film sessions to be paid at the single session rate, when musicians were hired to record tracks singly, at home (to be combined with other tracks for a soundtrack). This was done in consideration of pandemic-driven, governmental restrictions on in-person group recordings.
New technology and confusing work rules were thrust upon recording musicians who had to adapt to the performance of their craft virtually, a distinct difference from what they were accustomed to do in-person. Suddenly, they had to be recording engineers and musicians rolled into one. The Federation’s flexibility allowed the content to be produced. But when governmental restrictions were relaxed and studios reopened for business, some producers continued to instruct musicians to record at home, alone, without proper payment, despite the Federation’s notice to producers that conditional remote recording flexibility had ended.
Undoubtedly, the producer’s use of technology to record single musicians remotely to track string, brass, and wind sections, which was normally and regularly done in-person, changed the nature of the work. Moreover, some efficiency- and profit-driven producers continued that change, failing to return to the prepandemic status quo as required. As a result, the Federation is now collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in delinquent payments owed musicians who recorded alone and were paid improperly by producers.
The remote recording situation in the film industry is an obvious example of a group of employers that attempted to turn a temporary workplace solution into a permanent one. The situation was favorable to producers but adverse for musicians because it would have resulted in permanent post-pandemic job loss.
Looking ahead to the first quarter of 2022 and beyond, if successive pandemic waves disrupt production in the live entertainment sector, and if tour producers request to meet and discuss pandemic-related work rule relief, care must be taken that the temporary measures considered do not become precedent for permanent regressive change in how our valuable work is performed.