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Home » Officer Columns » Organizing and Recruitment: Striking a Balance

Organizing and Recruitment: Striking a Balance

  -  AFM IEB Member and President, Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)

For most of our union’s history, we have existed under a service model. Our leaders bargained legacy agreements, members ratified them, and locals administered those agreements. If a member had a claim or dispute on a job, a local officer or staff member (sometimes with the assistance of an AFM staff member) would pursue that claim, whether it be a failure to pay, an underpayment, or any other work-related issue.

Under the service model, union officers went out to “get” members gains. A “get” could be a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), discounted rental insurance, or low-cost health insurance. The rank-and-file musician paid their dues, and their union took care of their business. For the most part, our union, and many others, still operate solely under the service model and many may say that this model is what works best but, looking ahead, say five years from now, where do we want to be? I submit that our union needs to redefine who we are if we want to grow and thrive as an organization.

To spark growth, I see two possible pathways: either through organizing or by recruitment. The differences in these options may be striking. When attempting to grow a union through organizing, you identify opportunities to organize, be it a theater, orchestra, or other musical unit. You work with members of the unit to organize the rest of the group to support a union. From those first steps, you then go through a well-defined process, either working towards voluntary recognition from the employer or through an election through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Either option has its pros and cons, but ultimately the goal is to win and establish a union and negotiate a fair contract.

The other path to membership growth is through recruitment. Recruiting new members in my opinion is akin to running a “special”: You package up a list of services, programs, and/or benefits you can offer musicians, create some sort of marketing material (i.e. brochure, social media campaign, etc.), then off you go. Go to musicians’ gigs, music schools, music stores, wherever musicians congregate, and make the case for them to be part of the union by selling those services.

Now, some will say that you can or only should grow your union through organizing, and others will say only through recruitment, but in my opinion you can—and should—do both. Local unions can grow through traditional organizing and through recruitment. The challenge is to balance your “membership growth” program so that you do not lose sight of organizing opportunities while making the case for AFM membership to the non-union musicians. But any program and policy shifts require resources. You need support from your union officers, staff, and the national AFM.

To redefine our union for this new decade we need to turn this ship hard and create a new hybrid model that puts growth first, by organizing and recruiting members while we maintain and deliver services.

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