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.

As an AFM member, you are part of a membership of more than 80,000 musicians. Experience has proven that collective activity on behalf of individuals with similar interests is the most effective way to achieve a goal. The AFM can negotiate agreements and administer contracts, procure valuable benefits and achieve legislative goals. A single musician has no such power.

The AFM has a proud history of managing change rather than being victimized by it. We find strength in adversity, and when the going gets tough, we get creative - all on your behalf.

Like the industry, the AFM is also changing and evolving, and its policies and programs will move in new directions dictated by its members. As a member, you will determine these directions through your interest and involvement. Your membership card will be your key to participation in governing your union, keeping it responsive to your needs and enabling it to serve you better. To become a member now, visit www.afm.org/join.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE AFM

Officers Columns

Here are the latest posts from our officers

AFMPresidentRayHairW

Ray Hair – AFM International President

Click here for more from AFM President

    The AFM-EPF and the Multiemployer Pension Crisis

    The United States currently faces a worsening multiemployer pension crisis. One recent report estimated that 114 multiemployer pension plans across the country will become insolvent over the next two decades. These plans cover nearly 1.3 million people and they are underfunded by more than $36 billion. The American Federation of Musicians and Employers’ Pension Fund (AFM-EPF, “the Fund”) is not immune to the forces driving this crisis.

    The AFM-EPF, like many other multiemployer funds, was a robust, healthy pension fund through the late 1990s. In fact, our fund was actually overfunded, meaning that assets exceeded liabilities (promised benefits to participants for service already performed). Simply put, the Fund had more money on hand than it was projected to need to pay out as benefits in the future. In 1999, the AFM-EPF was 139% funded.

    Because of this overfunding, the Fund’s actuaries at the time advised the trustees that the Fund could afford to increase the benefit multiplier. Based on this advice, the trustees approved several multiplier increases. By January 1, 2000, these increases resulted in a $4.65 multiplier for retirements at age 65, the plan’s normal retirement age. As was the case for multiplier increases going back at least to 1981, these increases applied not only to benefits that would be earned in the future, they also applied to benefits that all participants had earned in the past, including for retirees.

    At the time these decisions were made, the trustees were advised by their experts that the Fund could afford the benefits that it was promising. But the Fund, like so many others, was hit by a combination of negative developments in the first decade of the 2000s. First, there was the dot-com bubble burst; then, just as it had recovered from those investment losses, the 2008-2009 international financial crisis hit. By the end of that crisis, the fund had a huge gap between its liabilities and its assets.

    Following the dot-com crash, the trustees lowered the multiplier in 2004 and again in 2007. And after the financial crisis, the trustees lowered the multiplier twice more to its current level of $1.00 in 2010. However, under the law at the time, the trustees were not allowed to reduce benefits that participants already earned. Therefore, the $4.65 multiplier could only be reduced for benefits earned going forward. Thus, these reductions had a relatively small impact, given that the multiplier increases in the 1990s had been applied to all past service. The Fund is still obligated, by law, to pay benefits earned under the higher multipliers, including the $4.65 multiplier that is applied to all credited service prior to 2004.

    There has been some positive news since the financial crisis. This includes annual employer contributions to the Fund increasing from $51 million in 2010 to $67 million in 2017. It also includes strong investment returns overall since 2009. However, because the Fund experienced a significant loss from the financial crisis, those returns were based on a much smaller amount of assets.

    Unfortunately, the AFM-EPF doesn’t get the full value out of strong investment returns because, despite the increase in employer contributions, annual benefit payments continue to far exceed those annual contributions. Annual benefit payments have increased as more participants retire. At the same time, there has been a decline in the number of musicians working under contracts requiring employer contributions, including those who choose nonunion employment.

    Thus, for the fiscal year ending March 2017, while the Fund paid out $158 million in benefits (an increase of $77 million over 2004), it received only $67 million in contributions (an increase of only $22 million over 2004), creating a negative cash flow of $91 million for that fiscal year. As a result, the Fund needed a 6.25% return that fiscal year just for assets to stay flat.

    This negative cash flow is projected to continue—and worsen. Every year, if investment returns don’t make up for this shortfall, the Fund has to draw down assets, which leaves less of an asset base on which to generate investment returns the following year. Cash flow is projected to reach negative $159 million for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2023 and negative $200 million in 2028. The Fund is projected to need an 8.7% return to break even in 2023, and a 12.7% return to break even in 2028.

    Investment returns since the financial crisis have been strong, but because of the severe negative cash flow, they have not been strong enough to make up for the Fund’s loss in the financial crisis and for the Fund to climb back to financial stability.

    The Fund has been in “critical” status since 2010, which, simply put, means that it faces a significant funding shortfall between assets and liabilities. For the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017, the Fund had $1.8 billion in assets and $3 billion in liabilities. So, our present unfunded liability is $1.2 billion, and it is projected to increase.

    The Fund is projected to enter “critical and declining” status in the future, which would mean it is projected to become insolvent within 20 years. A pension fund becomes insolvent when it runs out of money to pay benefits.

    Because the Fund’s fiscal year ends March 31, the trustees won’t know until sometime after that date whether the Fund will be in “critical and declining” status for the fiscal year beginning April 1, 2018. After March 31, the Fund’s actuaries will conduct an analysis to certify the Fund’s status by the June 29 deadline.

    How have the Trustees responded? The Fund’s trustees—then and now—have taken a series of strong, necessary remedial actions to address the Fund’s situation.

    Reducing the Multiplier and Implementing a Rehabilitation Plan

    Right after the dot-com disaster, the Fund’s trustees reduced the multiplier for future service and eliminated early retirement subsidies for future service. They subsequently reduced the multiplier three more times until it reached $1.00 in 2010. Later that year, when the Fund was certified to be in “critical” status, trustees took new steps, some of which are only available to “critical” status plans. Those steps included the following:

    • Adopted a rehabilitation plan that reduced or eliminated certain benefits, such as the early retirement subsidy for pre-2004 service.

    • Froze the maximum annual pension benefit, so that it didn’t continue to increase with the legal limit.

    • Mandated a 9% increase in employer contributions.

    Improving Investment Returns

    The trustees have also taken and continue to take decisive actions intended to maximize investment returns:

    • In 2009, they changed the Fund’s investment advisor, and by March 2011, had terminated eight investment managers in an effort to reduce fees and improve returns.

    • The Fund invested in new asset classes with higher return potential, including increased international stock holdings, TIPS, emerging market bonds, and private equity.

    These strategies were developed based on expert advice from plan professionals, who advised that the Fund faced a deeply concerning outcome if it did not produce higher returns. 

    The trustees have also kept investment fees to a reasonable minimum. In 2016, the Fund’s active managers’ fees were lower than those for the average union pension fund in every asset class. Trustees also reduced investment fees by moving assets into passive index funds where that made sense.

    In the eight years since the end of the financial crisis, the Fund’s average annualized return is 9.8% before fees and 9.3% after fees. That’s good, particularly since, in three of those years, the Fund didn’t make its 7.5% assumed rate of return, and our international stock holdings did not achieve the expected higher returns until very recently.

    In late 2017, the trustees shifted to an outsourced chief investment officer (OCIO) model. Under this model, the respected firm of Cambridge Associates was engaged to oversee day-to-day decisions for the Fund’s investment portfolio, including the selection of asset managers. Cambridge will act within parameters established by the Fund’s investment committee and board of trustees. This new model is expected to provide the Fund with access to best-in-class managers and allow it to adapt to what we expect to be rapidly changing markets and the growing complexity of investment decisions.

    AFM Is Negotiating Increased Contributions

    The Federation has been actively generating increased contributions into the Fund by negotiating additional contributions including those associated with new media. It has also negotiated new sources of “unallocated” contributions—particularly when sound recordings are streamed on-demand—that aren’t attached to benefits for any particular participant, and therefore increase the Fund’s assets without also increasing liabilities. The AFM continues to encourage participants to seek and file covered work engagements that generate additional pension contributions.

    Controlling Expenses

    The trustees have also successfully worked with Fund staff to reduce administrative expenses in recent years. From 2009 through 2016, annual administrative expenses (excluding staff personnel costs, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) premiums, professional fees, and depreciation) actually declined on average by 3.8% per year as a result of moving to a new office with lower rent, performing employer compliance audits in-house, and slashing production and mailing costs. Staff personnel costs increased only a modest 2.16% annually (comparable to the consumer price index) from 2009 through 2016, despite an increase in the Fund staff’s health care premiums (over a period when health premiums generally increased on average by over 25%).

    So, how does the AFM-EPF stack up against other large entertainment industry funds with some similar characteristics? Based on an apples-to-apples comparison, the AFM-EPF fares very well compared to similar large entertainment industry funds, based on the number of employers, collective bargaining agreements, and participants in each fund.

    It should be noted that, when evaluating administrative expenses, a comparison to other funds is not always the best barometer, due to each fund’s unique nature and circumstances. Those comparisons can also be misleading when one cherry-picks particular numbers or doesn’t adjust to make the comparison apples-to-apples. To produce a useful comparison, one has to adjust expense figures from the different funds’ “Form 5500” annual reports to remove depreciation, PBGC premiums, and professional and investment fees. Comparisons must also account for the fact that, unlike other funds, the AFM-EPF does not have a related health or other fund with which to share administrative expenses.

    Further, all multiemployer pension funds experienced sharp increases in premiums paid into the federal PBGC, which is supposed to be the backstop for insolvent pension plans. Premium payments increased because the PBGC is itself projected to become insolvent in 2025, due to the national multiemployer pension crisis. Premium payments to the PBGC, which are reflected in our publicly reported administrative expenses, rose from $2.60 per participant in 2005 to $12 per participant in 2014. Since then, premiums have more than doubled to $28 per participant in 2017, which is where they will remain for 2018 under current law. The Fund’s total annual PBGC premium expense was $167,000 in 2005, $600,000 in 2014 and $1,350,000 in 2017. This per-participant premium is mandated by law for all multiemployer funds and is not based on the funding status of a fund.

    Unfortunately, all actions taken with regard to benefits, investments, contributions, and expenses have been insufficient to dig out of the deep hole created by the 2008-2009 financial crisis, significant demographic shifts, and huge liabilities from protected benefits earned in the past.

    What Does the Future Hold?

    Our actuaries’ projections show that, over the next several years, even if we make our assumed investment return, the Fund’s benefit liabilities will continue to increase faster than our assets (which will ultimately begin to decline). Therefore, our actuaries have advised that our Fund is projected to be in “critical and declining” status at some point in the future. What can be done to address this growing problem?

    In 2014, Congress passed the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA), which allows multiemployer pension funds in “critical and declining” status to reduce already-earned benefits payable at normal retirement age. Until a multiemployer pension fund enters “critical and declining” status, federal law prohibits fund trustees from reducing these benefits.

    If and when the Fund falls from “critical” status to “critical and declining” status, the trustees must decide whether to file an application with the Treasury Department for relief under MPRA, which would include benefit reductions for participants, including retirees—except those over the age of 80 and those receiving a disability benefit. Participants between the ages of 75 to 79 would receive partial protection from benefit reductions.

    Under MPRA, benefits cannot be reduced below 110% of the maximum guarantee provided by the PBGC. The PBGC is a government agency that insures pension benefits. If a participant’s pension fund becomes insolvent, the PBGC is supposed to pay that participant’s benefit up to a maximum level set by law. (For example, the maximum guarantee for a participant with 30 years of service is $12,870 per year—see the PBGC website for more information.) That means, if a participant’s benefit is currently below 110% of the PBGC guarantee, it cannot be reduced under MPRA. It also means that, if a participant’s benefit is above that level, even with a “worst-case scenario” under MPRA, the participant’s resulting pension benefit would still be higher than if the Fund became insolvent. However, due to the national multiemployer pension crisis, PBGC itself is projected to become insolvent by 2025. If the Fund and PBGC both become insolvent, participants’ benefits would be reduced to virtually nothing. 

    If and when the Fund enters critical and declining status, reducing benefits under MPRA may be the only viable course for the foreseeable future. This is because it will allow the Fund to remain solvent by reducing the high level of benefits that it once could afford, but now cannot, due to the factors already described.

    The trustees are currently working with the Fund’s actuaries to model different ways that benefit reductions could be implemented fairly. However, this modeling is very preliminary, and it is impossible to know now how benefit reductions could be structured. This depends greatly on the state of the Fund, if and when it enters “critical and declining” status.

    Other Legislative Possibilities

    At present, MPRA is the only federal law providing a way for the Fund to avoid insolvency. However, the trustees have supported and will continue to support legislation that addresses the financial issues facing our Fund, while also treating our participants fairly.

    In the past year, a few different legislative proposals have been discussed in Washington, all of which would provide low-interest government loans to multiemployer pension funds in “critical and declining” status. Some of these proposals would require no benefit reductions and others would require less benefit reductions than would be needed under MPRA.

    In November 2017, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced one of these proposals in Congress as the Butch Lewis Act. The AFM-EPF’s actuaries have confirmed that the Butch Lewis Act would address the financial issues facing the Fund by providing the financial support required to avoid insolvency should the Fund enter “critical and declining” status in the future. The Fund’s trustees have supported this legislation, and sent a letter to Congressional leaders in January conveying their support.

    While the Butch Lewis legislation was not included in the February 8, 2018 bipartisan Congressional budget deal passed and signed by the President, a Joint Select Committee was authorized to take a comprehensive look at the multiemployer pension crisis and develop legislation to address it before December 2018.

    While this Joint Select Committee deliberates in the coming months, the Fund’s trustees will remain as active and engaged with this process as possible. We will make clear to the appointed members of the committee that any solution they produce must address the financial issues facing our Fund, while also treating our participants fairly. There will be moments this year when it’s vital that members of Congress hear from participants. When that time comes, the Fund will help connect participants with their members of Congress so that they understand the importance of taking action.

    The trustees will continue to do everything possible under current law to improve the condition of the Fund, including considering benefit reductions under MPRA. It should be noted that some current legislative proposals—in addition to providing financial assistance—allow for benefit reductions imposed under MPRA to be rolled back.

    Again, the trustees won’t know whether the Fund will be in “critical and declining” status until after the end of the Fund’s fiscal year, March 31, 2018. The deadline for the Fund’s actuaries to certify the Fund’s status is June 29, 2018.

    Until that time, the trustees are exploring every possible avenue for protecting benefits by maximizing investment returns, bringing in new revenue, closely monitoring expenses, and supporting legislative proposals that provide relief in a fair manner.

    Read More

Sam FolioW

Sam Folio – AFM International Secretary-Treasurer

Click here for more from AFM Secretary-Treasurer

    AFM Updates Sexual Harassment Policy

    Sexual harassment is a form of illegal discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At the March AFM International Executive Board meeting, the board adopted an updated sexual harassment policy that is unambiguous and instructive. The policy applies to all AFM employees whether they work in our New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto, or Washington, DC, offices, as well as those AFM employees who work “on the road” (international representatives and negotiators/organizers).

    The updated policy is one part of a three-part initiative in response to heightened awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace. This initiative includes: (1) updates to the AFM sexual harassment policy, establishing zero tolerance for sexual harassment; (2) training on the new policy for all AFM staff, with an emphasis on preventing sexual harassment, recognizing it when it occurs, and reporting it to AFM leadership so it can be dealt with appropriately; and (3) providing guidance for AFM local officers who receive complaints from members about sexual harassment occurring in AFM-represented workplaces.

    sexual harassment

    AFM Director of Symphonic Services and Special Counsel Rochelle Skolnick is leading the training for US AFM employees. She has also created a training module for local officers and will be presenting it at AFM regional conferences this year. Skolnick observes, “We are at a moment as a society when there is less tolerance than ever before for the sexualization of workplace interactions, ranging from off-color banter to abuse of power in an attempt to attain sexual control. By providing these resources to all AFM staff and local officers, the AFM takes a strong stand against abusive behavior and in support of a workplace culture that values the full participation of all individuals.”

    The first staff training sessions took place April 4 in the AFM New York City office. Copies of the Sexual Harassment policy were distributed to those attending, followed by a 30-minute training presentation. Attendance at one of the two sessions was mandatory. Additional sessions will be held for the Los Angeles and Washington, DC, offices. There will be virtual training presentations (via GoToMeeting) for AFM staff who work on the road.

    The AFM Canadian Office staff attended a Toronto workshop entitled “Respect in the Workplace,” presented by Niagara Street HR Consulting Inc. on April 9. It covered legislation (anti-workplace harassment, sexual harassment, violence, and bullying), employer/employee reporting responsibilities, and how to report. The workshop also covered Ontario Labour and Employment law and gave an overview of the Canada Labour code.

    The AFM is firmly committed to a workplace environment that is free from sexual harassment. Training AFM employees serves to educate our staff and sends a strong and clear message that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. 

    Read More

awillaert

Alan Willaert – AFM Vice President from Canada

Click here for more from AFM Vice President from Canada

    We Negotiated What? Details of the Commercial Announcements Agreement

    Negotiations have successfully concluded with the Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA) and the Institute of Communication Agencies (ICA). A deal in principle has been reached, which will extend to April 1, 2020. Upon ratification, a more compact, up-to-date, and in some areas, radically different General Production Agreement for Commercial Announcements will be in effect.

    After decades of patchwork and “pilot” approaches to new media, we now have an agreement that recognizes digital media as a third—and equal—platform, along with television, radio, and nonbroadcast use. A simplified chart replaces the former hard-to-find fees, and much of the historic language relating to long obsolete advertising practices has been expunged. Following are some of the significant changes.

    Fees for the basic one-hour session for a 13-week cycle (26-week digital) grow from $191.80 to $250, representing an approximate 30% increase, leader double. Reuse for an additional 13 weeks (26 digital) is 50%, or $125.

    Sideline session rates have increased from $364.70 to $650 for an eight-hour day, representing a roughly 78% increase in fees. If the audio is recorded during sidelining, an additional 25% is added to bring the total to $815.

    A new “demo” fee is added to the leader’s compensation to assist with payment to musicians involved in demos.

    While the team worked hard for a significant bump in pension, we were able to achieve a 1% increase to 12%.

    Another unique change is that any stock music or library track used in the production of a commercial will be subject to a flat fee of $30, reported to and payable monthly to the Canadian Office. Half will be forwarded to the Musicians’ Pension Fund of Canada as an unallocated contribution to ensure the ongoing health of the fund, and the other half will be held in the CFM’s New Use account, for payment to musicians in special circumstances. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time a union has taken jurisdiction over library music, anywhere.

    It should be noted that both sides felt a need to increase flexibility of the agreement, as well as construct a more user-friendly document that would attract greater use in the low budget area, specifically in digital.

    I would like to thank my negotiating team, who were exemplary in their dedication, wisdom, and patience. Among them were Local 149 (Toronto, ON) Executive Director Michael Murray and Membership and Contracts Coordinator Rebecca Sinnaeve; and Local 149 Members Chris Tait of Pirate Toronto, Nicola Treadgold of Eggplant Music and Sound, and Jane Heath of Needle Drop Audio. I give special thanks to CFM Electronic Media Supervisor Dan Calabrese and Director of Administration Susan Whitfield. Without them the magic just doesn’t happen.

    Editing will take place over the next couple weeks, and if everything goes according to schedule, members can expect the ratification process to begin around the start of May. While the protracted negotiations stretched to two years, we feel that the major increases in fees and extraordinary gains in other areas should garner healthy approval.

    Read More

Other Officer Columns:

Advocacy and Pension Reform Take Precedence in Washington, DC

As AFM members are confronted with the uncertainties of both tax and pension reform, AFM President Ray Hair has refocused the work of the union’s Office of Government Relations to maximize its visibility and effectiveness relating to issues that impact our jobs and lives.

As I have stated previously, it is important for us to build relationships with coalitions that have similar interests. For some time now, the AFM has joined forces with nationally respected groups that come together to enhance our power of persuasion. One group we work with every year is Americans for the Arts, a nationally recognized organization that enhances the public policy voices of hundreds of national, state, and local arts organizations across the country.

For Arts Advocacy Day this year, in cooperation with the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees (DPE) Arts, Entertainment, Media Industries group (our primary coalition partner on most issues), American labor affiliates came together March 12-13 to make your concerns known to federal legislators who are recognized leaders on our issues. Seven meetings, attended by 12 union entertainment affiliates, worked both House and Senate offices on a variety of issues, including unreimbursed tax expenses; pension reform; support for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; music licensing; and arts education policy.

Through one collective voice, key legislators learned of the negative impact that the elimination or weakening of these programs will have on artists, American communities, and the overall national economy.

National Endowment of the Arts: This federal program is one of a few that actually pays dividends back to the economy. We emphasized that NEA grants are not frivolous giveaways of public dollars to elite arts groups. In FY 2017, the NEA’s $150 million budget generated more than $500 million in matching support in communities across the country. For each of the 16,000 communities in every congressional district served that takes advantage of the process, every dollar in grant money awarded generates a $9 (9:1) return. As for the artistic value of the NEA, between 2012 and 2016, NEA grant programing reached 24.2 million adults and 3.4 million children. Challenge America grants also supported projects in communities where the arts are limited by geography, economics, or disability.

NEA school and community-based programs supported adult and student programming, state arts collaborations, and programs between arts institutions and pre-K, college, and university educators. Art Works supports art that meets the highest standards of excellence, and inspires public engagement and lifelong learning in the arts to strengthen communities. Last but not least, NEA grants support military veterans and their families through the Creative Forces Program, in cooperation with the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

The NEA and NEH were not terminated and will each see a $3 million increase to
$152.8 million in the omnibus budget bill, which passed the Senate early March 23. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting received level funding at $445 million. This is a huge Congressional win for AFM members.

Taxes: For musicians suffering from shortcomings of tax reform changes in the new tax law, during lobbying visits the AFM and its affiliated unions made clear the disadvantages posed by the loss of itemized deductions. We took time with legislative staff to detail the effect of the shortsighted elimination of these deductions, specifically we listed items that will no longer be deductible for musicians working as W-2 employees. This issue also affects members of affiliate unions. Our concerted effort will help move this matter to the front burner when new tax negotiations begin.

As a tool to help understand the tax dilemma, in each office I left a copy of the article by Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX) member Scott Stratton, CFP, CFA, that appeared in last month’s International Musician on page 2. This useful tool was shared with each congressional member and his/her tax staffer to use as resource material. (We thank Stratton for his timely article and AFM President Hair for its prominent placement in the IM.)

Music Licensing and Protection of Intellectual Property Rights

As Congress prepares to introduce the comprehensive Music Modernization Act, affiliate unions joined in raising awareness in each legislative office about the importance of supporting new copyright reform/music licensing reform, which has not been updated in more than 30 years. Our primary ask was for members to sign onto one of the principal components of that bill, the Classics Act, which would require digital services to pay both rightsholders and artists for the use of recordings made before 1972. As the musicFIRST Coalition works closely with members of Congress to introduce the overall Music Modernization package, which includes the Music Modernization Act, the Classics Act, and the AMP Act (with willing buyer, willing seller language), the AFM and its affiliates continue to lobby legislators to increase cosponsorship of the Classics Act.

Overall, the DPE-coordinated labor lobbying group left a profound impact on staff and legislators. Many saw this as the first time organized labor made a concerted visit during Arts Advocacy Day to push their powerful arts and entertainment agenda. Though this lobbying group was organized by the DPE, it is our hope to reduce costs in 2019 in order allow more AFM Signature and rank-and-file members to join our lobbying efforts in Washington, DC.

Pension Progress

AFM President Hair, along with the AFM International Executive Board and the AFM-EPF trustees, has made it a priority to engage pension concerns on every level. Official word on AFM pension comes directly from the Office of the President in cooperation with pension plan trustees. However, Hair has instructed the AFM Office of Government Relations, after endorsing S.2147, the Butch Lewis Act of 2017, to monitor and report ongoing Washington, DC, multi-employer pension reform debate activities. Under the last continuing resolution, Congress inserted language that created a new Joint Select Committee to take up the issue of pension reform and solvency.

The comprehensive budget bill that passed February 9, formed the bipartisan-bicameral Joint Congressional Select Committee on Multi-Employer Pension Plans, comprising eight Democrats and eight Republicans from the House and Senate. It is governed by the rules of the Senate Finance Committee.

On process, the United Mine Workers of America reports on its website:

Committee members must be selected by February 23, and the committee must hold its first meeting by March 12 (which took place March 14). The committee is required to make a report to Congress by the last week of November 2018. If there is an agreement to take action, the committee will draft and submit legislative language as part of that report. Agreement to move forward will require at least five Democrats and five Republicans. Any bill they propose will go before the relevant committees in the House and the Senate, where it cannot be amended or voted down. The bills will get expedited votes in both chambers. There will be no amendments allowed. The committee will hold at least five meetings, of which at least three must be public hearings. The committee is encouraged to hold at least one field hearing, away from Washington, DC.

At the initial meeting, it was clear that there is a real need to come up with a solution to this issue. Failure to do so could have devastating consequences for all workers, retirees, affected plans, the public in general, as well as the national economy.

The responsibility of the AFM Office of Government Relations is to engage congressional staff, do real-time reporting of pension related events, and work directly with other AFL-CIO affiliated unions to coordinate information for the AFM President’s Office.

Now that the Select Committee is in full operation, the focus will shift momentarily to policy matters relating to the committee’s design on these troubled pension funds. Committee appointees include Republicans: Co-Chair Orrin Hatch (UT), Rob Portman (OH), Lamar Alexander (TN), Mike Crapo (ID), Virginia Foxx (NC), Phil Roe (R-TN), Vern Buchanan (FL), and David Schweikert (AZ); and Democrats: Co-Chair Sherrod Brown (OH), Joe Manchin (WV), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Tina Smith (MN), Bobby Scott (VA), Richard Neal (MA), Debbie Dingell (MI), and Donald Norcross (NJ).

Read More

Community Engagement Is Essential to Our Mission

by Dave Pomeroy, AFM International Executive Board Member and President of Local 257 (Nashville, TN)

dave pomeroyIn these complex times, it is more important than ever for all musicians and concerned citizens to remain engaged in our communities—and if possible, take things up a notch. We live in a world where so many people are hiding behind cell phones and iPads that face-to-face communication is becoming a lost art. If you are on social media at all, it’s hard not to notice that people will say things to each other on that platform that they would never say to anyone in person. This disconnect is a real problem in our society, and as technology marches on, it is up to those of us who care about each other to let voices of reason be heard and not drowned out by the background noise that surrounds us every day. What can we do to tear down this imaginary wall between us?

Let There Be Music

There was a time when music was the only entertainment option available. Today there is a glut of “entertainment” options, yet music survives as the universal language and a positive force in the universe. It has the power to unite, heal, and bring out the deepest and most real emotions that we have as humans. The self-expression and emotional release that musicians experience through playing is one of the things that is easy to take for granted, but its net effect can be bigger than we realize. Music is a subtle but effective way to get a message across that would get lost if it was just another rant on Facebook. Great music brings people together in many different ways, all around the world. The result is enjoyment and release, and the realization that we may have more in common than we realize. Many AFM members are also teachers and mentors, and are passing along the precious gift of music to the next generation.

It Takes a Village

In my time as president of AFM Local 257 (Nashville, TN), we have made an effort to be proactive members of our city and community in every way possible. For example, our rehearsal hall is not only used by members who are rehearsing, auditioning, or collaborating, it is the setting for a wide variety of activities. We hold our quarterly member meetings there, a weekly AA meeting, a monthly songwriter/musician jam, music therapy workshops for military veterans, networking events, and much more.

We recently hosted a “Musicians’ Guide to Buying a Home” seminar that was very much appreciated by our members who are beginning that process. We have hosted local neighborhood association meetings and have had memorial services and weddings in that space as well. We also open up our boardroom for our members who need to take a business meeting, write a song, or whatever helps them take care of their business.

We see our building as a community space. We are not in an ivory tower; our building is a living, breathing center of creativity and common goals that demonstrates what we do and what we stand for.

Solidarity Is Trending

I spend a lot of time and energy debunking the many myths of what a union does and how we do it. The many “thug” jokes I have endured are almost funny, but not really. That stereotype is not who we are or how we do things. Although an arts union has some unique qualities, we have much more in common with other labor unions than we have differences. It’s all about respect for workers. After many years of little or no interaction with local labor organizations and the AFL-CIO, we have increased our participation and involvement with our fellow unions. They are always glad to see us, and it gives us valuable perspective to learn more about what the labor movement is all about. Even though you may love what you do as a musician, you still deserve to be paid appropriately for what you do. There is no shame in standing up for yourself, in fact it is a necessary step in creating solidarity among our members.

There is no other organization looking out for professional musicians. It is an honor to serve and protect our members from what can be a very unscrupulous business. The AFM has your back and we are your first—and often last—line of defense. Let us help you help yourself. That’s what we are here for.

Read More

Solidarity

It’s Time for Solidarity

by Tina Morrison, AFM International Executive Board Member and Vice President of Local 105 (Spokane, WA)

How the world is changing, and so quickly, too! I’m writing this in December and who knows what January is going to look like. I, for one, am weary of reactionism. 

We know that making music is progressive. Learning the instrument, building muscle memory, and developing our “ears.” And then, using those skills, we create vibrations in the air that evoke emotions, enriching the lives of those who listen. Music flows like a river through the air—moving and changing, not always happy or pretty or predictable, reflecting life.

Taking what we’ve learned, we can choose notes, chords, and rhythms that work together to create melodies and harmonies. We can influence our audience to dance or to cry. It is a learned skill that comes with work, effort, and a plan. We train ourselves to react in some ways, listening to those around us to enhance the sound, and not allowing ourselves to be distracted by outside influences that could interrupt the flow. It takes discipline.

So, now is a time for great discipline. We need to trust what we know and not allow outside influences to distract us. We know that working together we have strength and can build. It’s a time for solidarity. So, let’s lean on our strengths and focus on our plan as defined in our mission statement, which you can find on the AFM website (afm.org) under the “About” section, by clicking on “Mission & Bylaws.” Use your voice meaningfully by being involved in your AFM local. Your knowledge and experience, blended with other member musicians, can help create or maintain a solid foundation for professional standards in your community.

I would be remiss not to take a moment and comment on the rise of women and women’s issues over the last year—pointed conversations, actions, and publicity unlike anything I can remember. How does all of this relate to musicians and our union? It’s been a work in progress for a long time and there have been successes. The drastic changes in our orchestras due to “blind” audition requirements that were negotiated into collective bargaining agreements are a testament to a thoughtful process. As proof, compare pictures of orchestras in the 1950s and 1960s with those of today.

The freelance world is more complicated. Generally, there is no collective bargaining process to provide influence. “Purchasers” of freelance music are less likely to consider the gender make up of the band they engage. Female band leaders can still run into discrimination. It’s very difficult to prove, much less change whether a band is hired or not. We can be part of the conversations to drive changes that will help erode old prejudices and open the door for more fairness and opportunity in musical work. Participation and developing consensus are keys to meaningful change.

Cultural changes such as what we are experiencing are very exciting. As we celebrate the new enlightenment empowering women, I suggest we also remain thoughtful so that the changes that come are the changes we want.

Read More

nightlight office

Nightlife Office and Advisory Committee

by Tino Gagliardi, AFM International Executive Board Member and President of Local 802 (New York City)

Across this country, musicians are playing in bars, clubs, restaurants, hotels, and other performance spaces in an effort to hone their craft, share their artistry, and make a living. American art, performance, and music have been born, bred, raised, and developed in the nightlife establishments of our cities. These musicians play an outsized role in shaping the cultural heritage of our nation. As a result, the nightlife that drives municipal economies and our nation’s culture, owes a great deal to the musicians and performers of our nightlife industry. Yet, does our society adequately support those individuals who make it vibrant and strong? No.

In New York City we are working on changing that. New York City Council Member Rafael Espinal (Democrat, District 37) recognizes the role that the city’s nightlife industry plays in its economy and began working on legislation that would create an Office of Nightlife and Nightlife Taskforce to address issues frequently faced by nightlife establishments and their communities.

Though this office was originally conceived as a combination industry liaison and issue resolution facilitator between the city, small businesses, and communities, we at Local 802, saw this as an opportunity to provide support for a frequently ignored community of workers that has traditionally been exploited, discriminated against, and undersupported.

With the council member’s support and partnership, we were able to expand the original scope of the office and taskforce, advocating for language in the legislation that would commit the office to addressing workforce issues like wage theft and misclassification, and require them to make policy recommendations that would benefit performers and workers by addressing some of the industry’s unique issues. On August 24, the bill passed. We are closer to the creation of an Office of Nightlife than ever before.

Advocates and performers who live and work in the nightlife scenes of other cities should pay attention—the Office of Nightlife could be worth replicating.

This Office of Nightlife could provide a new type of government partner for performer advocates to work with to address issues that countless musicians face on a nightly basis: exploitation, misclassification, pay-to-play schemes, and more. The challenge is providing the tools with which the office can effectively and efficiently do its job.

There are many agencies and offices that regulate small businesses and mandate specific employment practices and safety requirements. However, the tools available to these agencies often do not apply to the unique nightlife industry or are ineffective in addressing common business practices at bars, restaurants, clubs, and hotels. How do we mandate fair employment at a performance space where it is arguable who the employer legally is? This is just one example of how complicated the nightlife industry is.

If this office is to be impactful, and if other municipalities are to follow New York City’s example, the Nightlife Office must work with locally elected community leaders and administration to develop regulatory mechanisms that empower the director to protect performers who are otherwise unsupported and unprotected. Without impactful regulatory and enforcement frameworks, the city will lack the ability to prevent pay-to-play and unfair employment practices, and will be unable to help us in our work to ensure that all musicians have the opportunity to make a fair living that dignifies the contributions they make to our common cultural heritage.

Luckily, New York City is the perfect test case for such an office. Mayor Bill de Blasio has shown that he understands that the city’s nightlife is an important part of our economy. As a former consumer affairs commissioner, Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment Commissioner Julie Menin has experience developing both consumer and worker protections. Council member Espinal has shown sensitivity and appreciation of the challenges that workers and performers face.

These leaders must be applauded for their advocacy and vision. We are extremely hopeful that this office will soon play an important role in advocating for musicians. We will work closely with these leaders and this office to support our union’s agenda—raising the wage floor for musicians and ensuring that New York City remains a place where musicians are celebrated and where performers can live, work, and raise a family. This work is important, not just for New Yorkers, but for musicians across the US.

Read More




NEWS




Official Journal of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada