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April 5, 2014Alan Willaert - AFM Vice President from Canada
At the December general meeting of La Guilde des Musiciens et Musiciennes du Québec, Local 406, a motion was passed to conduct a referendum of the members to determine if they should disaffiliate from the AFM. Coincidentally, it was exactly 20 years ago that the exact same question was asked. In 1994, the count fell just short of the required two-thirds vote.
While there are distinct cultural differences between Quebec and the rest of Canada, the most difficult aspect for the Guild to deal with, and for English Canada and our US neighbours to understand, is the effect of three particular laws: the provincial Status of the Artist Act (Bill c.32.01), the Quebec Civil Code, and the French Language Act. The way these laws interact grants special perquisites to the local, as well as onerous obligations.
As the certified bargaining agent for musicians under Status of the Artist, Local 406 has the unique ability to compel employers to bargain with them—much as the CFM does under the bill, except that federally, the requirement to bargain reaches only to entities controlled by the government, such as the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC), National Film Board (NFM), and the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO).
But quid pro quo, the Quebec employers are also able to compel Local 406 to negotiate an agreement. There are hundreds of employers; the list of contracts to bargain is long and the price of representing the members astronomical. In addition, the local has had some setbacks—previous administrations that squandered money and an expensive strike at the Montreal Symphony Orchestra—that left its cupboards bare. Recognizing the need for assistance, the AFM has provided financial relief over the years, as well as placed a permanent staff person at the local to deal with symphonic negotiations, at no cost to the local.
At the last AFM Convention, Local 406 submitted a resolution to change its status from a chartered local to that of an affiliate, with reduced per capita, in order to meet the shortfall. That resolution was referred to the IEB, which subsequently found it to be impractical. Since then, proposals have been going back and forth between the local and the AFM in an attempt to find a solution that alleviates the financial pressure in Quebec, while not damaging the AFM in the process.
Apparently the discussions were not progressing quickly enough, and Local 406 members pulled the trigger to conduct a referendum on disaffiliation. From the CFM perspective, disaffiliation is disastrous. The musical landscape is quite different from 20 years ago, and has become global both as an industry and an economy. Our opposition is not only the neighbourhood bar owner, but also businessmen in Prague and Bratislava who put together recording packages to lure film scoring out of North America.
Then there are the services and benefits at stake—the AFM acting as petitioner to acquire P-2 work permits to perform in the US, special payments on sound recordings, the Film Musicians’ Secondary Market Fund, lucrative new use residuals, AFM Entertainment, GoPro services, possible inability for future engagements to be eligible for contributions to the Musicians’ Pension Fund of Canada, along with certain disqualification from the Strike Fund and from future contributions to the AFM-EP Fund. To me, and probably most members in the Province of Quebec, losing those benefits, plus not having representation of any kind outside the local’s jurisdiction, is a nonstarter.
There is also the matter of the AFM Bylaws, which state that if a local secedes, disaffiliates, or otherwise ceases to exist, the assets belong to the AFM. Should the referendum succeed in achieving the necessary majority to leave, how will those former members be represented? There will be no office, no assets, and no money to pay staff or officers.
One has to believe that the decision to hold a referendum was driven by frustration, and perhaps somewhat by the fact there is a PQ government in power, which always makes political emotions run high. Nevertheless, taking all things into consideration, maintaining membership in the AFM is still preferable by far. Taking a cue from the Canadian Labour Congress’ campaign, “Together—Fairness Works,” this is not a time to fragment the AFM. This is a time to be engaged full out in organizing, to increase the number of agreements, employers, and members.
At the time of this writing, I have just returned from meetings with the leadership of Local 406, and to their credit, they are still interested in finding a workable solution other than disaffiliation. At the beginning of 2013, the Canadian Conference Board visited the local in an effort to better understand the dynamics of operating as an AFM local in Quebec. After considerable study, their recommendation was that the AFM and Local 406 enter into a service agreement, whereby the AFM could partner with the local to achieve the necessary results to mutual benefit. Variations of that model are being looked at in the hope that a consensus is not far off. To keep apprised of progress, or better understand the issue, please visit www.CFMismyunion.ca, or www.FCMestmonsyndicat.ca.
Should time run out and a workable solution not be found before the referendum is called, I implore the members in Quebec to make their voice heard and vote “no” to disaffiliating. There is too much at stake, not only for those members but for the rest of the AFM. Together, we are stronger. Together, we can make it work. Together, we are the largest association of musicians in the world.