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


Home » Officer Columns » Post-pandemic, Unionism Is More Important Than Any Other Time in Our Lives 

Post-pandemic, Unionism Is More Important Than Any Other Time in Our Lives 

  -  AFM International President

It has been a treacherous road weathering the storm of the health crisis. People want to know if and when the pandemic will be over. Some think the pandemic is over when everyone acts like it’s over—no more masking or social restrictions—like we were doing before this all started.  

If that’s true, people tired of restrictions could ignore health recommendations and create the impression that the pandemic is over, despite the continued huge numbers of cases in the US, Canada, and around the world. That may be where we are right now.  

It is said that a pandemic eventually becomes endemic, where the infection is still present in a region or community, but the behavior of the virus is predictable, and the number of cases and deaths no longer spike. Health care workers say that an endemic virus is one that we have learned to live with, like the flu, but we may not be able to clearly see the transition from pandemic to endemic until after it happens.  

Whether we have morphed from pandemic to endemic, no one can dispute that the Federation, our locals, and our members are still tormented by the past three years of crisis. It is affecting our ability to organize and bargain, our relationships with employers, and our personal and musical relationships with each other. Our lives will continue to be affected by it for a long, long time.  

Over the past three years, Federation officers and staff worked hard to preserve the union’s ability to support and protect our locals and members from employer attempts to use the pandemic as an excuse to impose unjustified workplace concessions. Despite the virus, we are in a better position today than we were one year ago in some very significant areas.  

By the end of last year, symphonic employment had recovered to 100% of pre-pandemic levels and electronic media employment recovered to nearly 100%, except for sound recordings, which stood at 80% pre-pandemic. (Sound recordings are expected to rise to 100% by the close of 2023.) 

Federation-negotiated touring employment rose to 120% of pre-pandemic levels as of year-end 2022. This is despite last year’s Omicron surge that interrupted some itineraries, suspended some performances with layoffs, or delayed reopenings. 

Film musicians ratified an extension to the Motion Picture and TV Film agreements last year with a 3% raise on wage items, preserving the progressive provisions we won from the studios in 2019. That deal will expire November 14 this year, when full bargaining with the producers will commence.  

Touring theater musicians ratified a one-year extension with Disney and the Broadway League last year with a 3% raise in wage items applicable to the Pamphlet B and Short Engagement Tours agreements, which expires in August this year. Negotiations over all terms of those agreements will begin later this summer. 

Session musicians this month ratified a new three-year deal with the Sound Recording Industry—Sony, Warner, Disney, and Universal—featuring yearly increases of 6%, 3%, and 3% to wages, plus health and welfare increases, new provisions for audiovisual live and in-studio capture, and a bigger piece of the labels’ worldwide streaming revenue for our pension fund, the Special Payments Fund, and the Music Performance Trust Fund.  

As explained in last month’s column, on March 11, the AFM-EP Fund applied for $1.5 billion in special financial assistance, under the provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) needed to pay benefits through 2051, without any reduction to participant benefits. The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation has 120 days to review the application and will pay approved plans their financial assistance in a lump sum within 60-90 days of approval. The ARPA payment is not a loan. It is a grant that does not have to be repaid. 

Yes, we are better off this year than last, but COVID consequences have reordered the economy. That may have resulted in a labor shortage and higher wages for essential workers but did not result in a shortage of musicians. It’s entirely the opposite. Coronavirus strengthened the power of our employers.  

The immediate risk for musicians is coping with fear against a background of uncertainty used by employers to exploit us. It happens even in good times, but more so now, in the aftermath of this health crisis. Unionized workers are in much better shape to weather the post-pandemic economy. Pressure from the union is the only reason employers don’t behave worse.  

We can better cope with these difficult post-pandemic days by moving away from patterns of individualism, promoted by our employers and by self-serving dis-unifiers within the union, who push for more for themselves or for a smaller part of the union at the expense of the whole. The antidote is unified collective action, which employers hate.  

Patterns of individualism have plagued unions from their earliest days. Employer relations must be approached as a collective and as an institution, united toward making employers do better for us. You get that through collective bargaining agreements that can be improved, and by dovetailing disparate workplace interests. Organizing during this post-pandemic environment is challenging. The reality is that, with uncertainty and unemployment, fewer of us are willing to take chances when we are worried that we can’t find another job.  

Generally, employers don’t give you things because they like you, or have a heightened sense of benevolence or moral responsibility. You get things when employers are afraid of what will happen if they don’t give them to you. Unions exist because the power of the employer to control your fate demands an organized response. Unionism is more important now, post-pandemic, than any other time in our lives. A better world for professional musicians depends on all of us sticking together because we are stronger together. 

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