Now is the right time to become an American Federation of Musicians member. From ragtime to rap, from the early phonograph to today's digital recordings, the AFM has been there for its members. And now there are more benefits available to AFM members than ever before, including a multi-million dollar pension fund, excellent contract protection, instrument and travelers insurance, work referral programs and access to licensed booking agents to keep you working.

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Home » Officer Columns » In Unity, There Is Strength

In Unity, There Is Strength

  -  AFM International President

Last month, I announced that I would not be a candidate for International President during the election of officers at the 102nd AFM Convention, scheduled for June 26-29 in Las Vegas. After more than 40 years of service—28 years as president of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth) and 13 years as your international president, I have decided to step away from the calling that has followed me my entire adult life—improving the welfare and interests of the Federation, its locals, and its members.

When I decided to run for AFM president 13 years ago in 2010, I knew how rough the road would be. Our Federation was in the middle of its worst financial crisis ever. The board-restricted Relocation Fund, held in reserve to provide money to move Federation offices upon lease expiration, was owed $1.2 million, borrowed by the General Fund. The Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF) was in trouble and preparing to wind down. Stress at the Pension Fund had led to the reduction of its benefit multipliers. Federation relationships with two of its player conferences had fallen to an all-time low.

When I accepted the call to run in 2010, I did so to end the bad politics and the confrontational policies that pitted country against country, local against local, member against member, and had us blaming each other for the expensive internal turmoil at a time when we needed leadership and change. I wanted to do more than just beat back that kind of politics in the short term. I wanted to end it once and for all. In 2010, we changed things for the better because we believed in the unlimited potential of the union.

I’ve studied the history of our union, and our story has never been an easy one. It’s been about rising to the moment when the moment was hard. It’s about rejecting division for unity of purpose. That’s how we came together as a union back in 1896. That’s how we bargained the theater pits in the 1920s, radio in the 1930s, records in the 1940s, and television in the 1950s. That’s how we won MPTF and our pension fund to begin with. That’s how we overcame dual unionism in the 1960s. That’s how we won intellectual property rights in our performances on satellite radio and webcasting. That’s how we won streaming residuals in live television. And that’s how we will win streaming residuals from producers of motion picture and television films.

If we want to meet the challenges of the moment and those of the future, we need to continue to heed our past and stay beyond the old divides between player and union. We need to reject the self-centered path of individualism and uphold the values of unionism—that an injury to one is an injury to all.

Thirteen years ago, a new AFM administration did all of that and more. As your president, I went through the Federation’s budget line-by-line, cutting useless expenses and making necessary programs work better and cost less. We returned to fiscal responsibility and civility. The changes made during those first few years led to smart decisions that set the foundation for the strength we needed to preserve the pension fund, renew MPTF, restore fiscal health, and survive the deadliest health crisis in our lifetime. We came together, and we changed this union for the better.

But change doesn’t come from leadership alone—it comes from each of us doing our part, looking after our Federation, our locals, and our members. I’ve seen it happen throughout my decades of service as your president, and as a local officer in North Texas, where I had the privilege to book gigs, confront employers, organize the unorganized, bargain contracts, settle grievances, win arbitrations and lawsuits, and collect the claims.

I’ve loved being part of what is best about our union. I’ve seen it in the faces of the thousands of musicians I’ve recruited into membership, who spoke of their struggles but also of their hopes and dreams. Countless times, by working together, we overcame adversity to improve the lives of professional musicians and their families.

There will be excitement, new energy, and better days ahead for our union. But we will have to work like our future depends on it, because it does. In a few short weeks, there will be new leadership and a new International Executive Board. I hope you will join them to build a new unity of purpose for professional musicians everywhere. And please don’t forget, members who love their union can change it.

In unity, there is strength.