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August 1, 2023Rochelle Skolnick - AFM Symphonic Services Division Director
As I write this, I am still resonating—and recovering—from the AFM’s 102nd Convention. For senior staff, the convention envelope involves about 12 long days in Las Vegas, the first part of which is devoted to attending AFM International Executive Board meetings and other convention preparation.
Delegates begin to trickle in a few days before the convention, with Law and Finance Committee members at the vanguard, followed by those attending the various regional conferences that occur the weekend before the convention. By the Sunday before the start of the convention, traversing the distance from the Westgate hotel elevators to the convention meeting rooms involves innumerable encounters with local leaders who have become respected colleagues and dear friends through our work together. The excitement of assembling to do the work of our great union is palpable, especially after our collective COVID experience and isolation.
In addition to being the place where much of our official business takes place, the convention provides an opportunity for us to reaffirm our unity and solidarity with one another and, in some cases, to wrestle with our sincere differences. This was my second convention as an AFM staff member and I don’t think I will ever tire of observing the process as each resolution and recommendation works its way through a committee, is reported to the convention floor by that committee, and then is debated, often amended, and ultimately decided by the delegates. As heated as the debate can sometimes be, there is never any doubt as to the good faith of the delegates assembled and their dedication to serving our members.
Unity and solidarity are also at the heart of the articles in this special symphonic focus issue of the International Musician. The story of how the musicians of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic drove back their employer’s power grab illustrates how much strength musicians can build when they go about internal organizing in a structured, methodical way.
Their strike victory was sweet, but they did not get there, as Orchestra Committee Chair Campbell MacDonald observes, “by having tea with the right board member” or by having the right attorney or PR professional work some kind of magic. Rather, they prevailed by “taking care of business” themselves—the business of organizing and running a contract campaign.
If reading their story inspires you to undertake similar organizing work in your orchestra, articles from Symphonic Services Division (SSD) negotiators Jane Owen and Todd Jelen provide an excellent introduction to engaging your colleagues in that work and to the nuts and bolts of building a campaign. For even more inspiration drawn from outside our ordinary milieu, check out Adam De Sorgo’s exploration of some of the nonmusical labor happenings in and around the Chicago labor community this “hot labor summer.”
Our symphonic representational structure, in which the local union that holds the legal bargaining rights is assisted in contract negotiation and enforcement by an elected rank-and-file committee, creates especially interesting challenges for unity and solidarity. SSD Canada Director Bernard LeBlanc and Associate Director Richard Sandals provide a slightly tongue-in-cheek take on the importance of locals and committees (and of course the AFM) speaking with one voice when our employers come around asking “Can I have a cookie?”
Ensuring that employers can’t “opinion shop” for cookies, that standards of compensation are consistent, and that AFM agreements are uniformly applied is uniquely critical in the realm of electronic media. Employers are notably prone to seek special treatment when it comes to recording and it can be challenging to hold the line. In her article, Director of Symphonic Electronic Media Debbie Newmark explores how local officers and orchestra committees, with the support of the AFM, can help keep employers on the straight and narrow regarding electronic media. As she points out, we are in a period when staff turnover has been accelerated due to COVID furloughs and downsizing; current managers may have little to no experience working under our media agreements and they always benefit from our guidance. But it is imperative that we speak with one voice on electronic media or resign ourselves to an inevitable and destructive race to the bottom.
Finally, SSD Contract Administrator and Communications/Data Coordinator Laurence Hofmann has assembled an overview of the tools available to you in the SSD Resource Center. These materials are prodigious and if you have not explored them, please don’t delay any longer.
The greatest SSD resource, however, is not to be found on a website or in a documents folder. Our greatest resource is our endlessly hardworking and dedicated staff, always standing ready to support the work of our locals, orchestra committees, and symphonic musicians throughout the United States and Canada. These folks are amazing and I am immensely proud to lead this extraordinary team. Thanks for reading and enjoy this special symphonic focus issue!