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June 1, 2023Jay Blumenthal - AFM International Secretary-Treasurer
For those of you who have not heard, I have made the decision to retire at the end of my term, which will be July 31. Therefore, this will be my penultimate column for the International Musician. This is the 83rd column I have written for the IM and my final column next month (July), will make a total of 84 columns over the seven-year period that I have been your secretary-treasurer.
Having had the IM “bully pulpit” has truly been a great honor. The honor also came with important responsibilities. The IM, being the official journal of the AFM, required some of my columns be devoted to official business. However, there were many occasions that allowed me the privilege of writing on any topic I desired. When the subject was of my own choosing, I tried not to get too political. Our membership is politically diverse, and I wanted everyone to feel comfortable reading my column. However, from time to time I made an exception, when it was important for the membership to know about specific legislation in Congress that was supportive of labor (and helpful to musicians) and which legislators were sponsoring it.
My initial IM column appeared seven years ago in the August 2016 issue. It was titled “What You Can Expect.” It outlined in general terms how I intended to operate as your new secretary-treasurer. I’ve always believed the secretary-treasurer’s position to be “hands-on,” requiring close attention to detail. I have always felt the job requires a daily physical presence in the office. I have done this all these years and I hope it has produced some good results that you, as members, deserve.
There are a lot of moving parts running the day-to-day operations at the Federation that require consistent oversight, not the least of which are the AFM finances. I have been keenly aware that AFM revenue is derived in large part from the work you do as a musician. Having made a living as a professional musician for over 30 years, I experienced the same daily challenges you face. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that every dollar of your dues ultimately goes toward improving the lives and protecting the livelihoods of AFM members. I’ve heard the expression, “It’s the members’ money” indicating that special care should be given to the spending of your dues.
AFM President Ray Hair and I have always been on the same page when it comes to judicious spending of your money, and we have made every effort to “walk the walk” rather than just “talk the talk.” Having a healthy financial position is important because we need to have the ability to fight necessary battles when recalcitrant employers violate our contracts. Conserving our financial resources is critical so that the funds are available when needed for the unavoidable labor disputes that occur. Litigation can be expensive, but when all else fails, it is an important tool to have in the tool kit. It can send a very powerful message.
Over the seven years I’ve served as the international secretary-treasurer (from mid-2016 to mid-2023), the Federation’s unrestricted net assets grew over 92% (audited results at end of year 2022) from $9,170,316 to $17,667,102 (an increase of $8,496,786), in spite of three pandemic years which, presented unprecedented financial challenges for you and the AFM. As you can see, we came through it successfully by managing our expenses.
Other areas requiring oversight and guidance include AFM office operations, computer/IT functions, communicating with and assisting our local affiliates, Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) compliance, negotiating various contracts we have with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), which represents some of our employees and contracts with outside vendors who provide services to the AFM.
Maintaining the smooth and efficient running of the Federation office allows the international president to focus on representing AFM members on the world stage. The president also negotiates contracts that improve wages, benefits, and working conditions of the bargaining units that work under Federation agreements. He also supports bargaining units during labor disputes and litigates disputes with employers, when necessary, and performs many other critical tasks too numerous to list.
One goal President Hair and I were unable to achieve was the purchase of property that would allow us to own our AFM office space. We came very close, but in the end, we were unable to close a deal that was beneficial for the AFM. This, however, had a silver lining. Instead of purchasing, we were able to sign a 15-year lease and build out new and (I might add) beautiful office space on the ninth floor of the Paramount Building, centrally located in Times Square. Looking back, it was a blessing in disguise because the large expenditure for the purchase of a property would have left us cash poor and ill equipped to handle the financial challenges of the pandemic, which lay just around the corner.
Finally, we made it through the pandemic together. There were many nights we lost sleep not knowing what new curveball the pandemic was going to throw at us. When music venues were closed and musicians had little or no work, the AFM continued to function. Among other tasks, during the pandemic we sent out “new use” checks, assisted locals, advocated for supportive arts legislation in Washington, DC, and Ottawa, and fought for much needed expanded unemployment.
Managing AFM expenses conservatively was key to our survival. The experience has made us stronger and your union is well prepared to take on whatever challenges tomorrow may bring. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of serving as your secretary-treasurer all these years.