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Home » Officer Columns » It’s Been Quite the Year!

It’s Been Quite the Year!

  -  AFM International President

Just four months into my AFM presidency, I can say that it has been quite a year. At the beginning of the year, I was honored to be designated a “Labor Power Player” by the news sites amNY and PoliticsNY, perhaps this was foreshadowing as to how busy I was about to become.

As Local 802 (New York City) president, I began 2023 focused on local contract negotiations, including for the musicians of the Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) orchestra, who finally won their first union agreement this October after four long years of negotiations. Separately, the jazz music faculty of the New School began their negotiations for a successor agreement at the start of the year. At the conclusion of those negotiations, they saw substantial wage increases and other enhancements to their contract. Local 802 also achieved a club date scale increase of almost 14% over the last three-year contract, along with other improved travel and scale benefits.

In the spring, we also battled David Byrne’s show Here Lies Love, which was set to open at Broadway Theatre on June 20, without a single live musician. The show was to rely entirely on a recorded soundtrack, undermining the 157-year history of live music on Broadway. We saw Here Lies Love as a direct attack on Broadway audiences, professional musicians of New York City, and the long tradition of live music on Broadway. I called Byrne to task. After a long career as a successful artist, he let his AFM Local 802 membership lapse and was now putting working musicians—his colleagues—out of jobs.

In the end, the public outrage was too much. He agreed to the show employing 12 members of Local 802, nine orchestra musicians plus three actor-musicians playing music onstage. Because seats had been removed to accommodate a dance floor, the venue capacity was small enough to warrant consideration of the smaller orchestra.

In May, I officially announced my intention to run for AFM international president, calling on my more than 40 years of experience in organizing and strong commitment to education. This year’s AFM Convention felt special as all the delegates were at last together in person. I visited with colleagues I had not seen in four long years and met others for the first time. I was truly humbled and honored when delegates from across the country selected me to lead the American Federation of Musicians for the next three years.

Upon return from the convention, things ramped up quickly as the player conferences were just around the corner. As your president-elect, I traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, in late July for the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) conference. Then, two weeks after I officially took office on August 1, I was off to Montreal, Quebec, for the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) conference. Toward the end of August, I traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) and International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) conferences.

As this issue goes to press, I am involved in negotiations for a new Pamphlet B theater contract. We are determined to stand up to producers to secure better economic terms and protections against employment erosion due to reduced orchestrations and technology. We are working together with locals, local musicians, and touring musicians to develop a comprehensive plan that also resolves existing workplace tensions between touring and local musicians.

I’ve been busy building coalitions with many of our partner unions, including AFL-CIO Department of Professional Employees (DPE), International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), Actors’ Equity Association, Teamsters, and especially the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). We supported them during their strikes and negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), as our own impending negotiations with AMPTP for the Basic Theatrical Motion Picture and Basic Television Motion Picture agreements have been top of mind.

My work with the AFM Fair Share for Musicians campaign had already begun as president of Local 802. Many Local 802 members continue to take an active role in the campaign, as do other musicians and locals all across the Federation. The campaign was created by musicians who record for motion pictures and television shows in preparation for our AMPTP negotiations. Throughout the summer and fall, I have been meeting with the AFM Fair Share for Musicians steering committee in Los Angeles.

The AMPTP has unfairly exploited musicians’ labor and shut musicians out of millions of dollars of streaming profits for over a decade. It’s past time for a fair contract for current and future generations of musicians. Those negotiations begin January 22 in Los Angeles.

As we move into 2024, I wish all members and their families a happy and successful new year.

In Memoriam

Tragically, I lost a dear friend this past year. Local 802 Financial Vice President Tom Olcott left us suddenly in September due to complications from a chronic illness. Not only was Tom my dear friend and colleague, he was also my brother-in-arms. I first met Tom in the bowels of the Radio City Music Hall cranking out sometimes as many as six “Christmas Spectacular” shows in a day. Besides working at the hall, Tom could be found performing at Lincoln Center, and we both could be found in many Broadway pits together.

Tom was a staunch union advocate and was active on the Radio City Orchestra Committee, Broadway Theatre Committee, and a longtime elected member of the Local 802 Trial Board. In 2009, Tom was elected to the Local 802 Executive Board. Shortly after that, he was elected financial vice president, where his talents for negotiation, practical reasoning, and financial oversight really showed through. He served our union with unwavering dedication and acumen. As a delegate to the AFM Convention, he was a vocal contributor on the convention floor and served on the Law Committee. All musicians of the AFM have benefited from Tom’s contribution. I will miss you, brother.

In November, we mourned the loss of Cass Acosta, a former AFM International Representative who received a Lifetime Service Award at the AFM’s 101st Convention in 2019 and retired from the AFM the same year. He previously served as president and secretary of Local 116 (Shreveport, LA), as well as secretary-treasurer of the AFM’s Southern Conference of Locals.

When I was elected to the AFM International Executive Board in 2010, I came to appreciate Cass’ work and unwavering ability to build strong relationships with locals and their leaders in the Southern Territory. His wisdom, experience, and knowledge have benefited our union greatly, and his witty remarks and matter-of-fact reasoning will be dearly missed. Cass’ legacy of service to the Federation, its locals, and our members will be remembered for years to come. Cass, we love you and you will never be forgotten.

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