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.

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Secretary-Treasurer

jay blumenthal

Jay Blumenthal – AFM International Secretary-Treasurer

    Much Accomplished—And Much Remains to Be Done!

    Happy holidays to all. I don’t know about you, but every passing year seems to go by more quickly than the one before. Where did this past year go?

    We experienced some legislative successes in 2022 but there is still much work to be done in 2023. The mid-term elections have resulted in the Democrats holding onto their majority in the Senate (with a Warnock/Walker runoff election taking place on December 6) and the Republicans winning a majority in the House. It remains to be seen whether Democrats and Republicans can work together during the new Congress. There is some legislation affecting musicians that has some bipartisan support, so progress may be possible.

    Legislative bills and other goals remain works in progress:

    The American Music Fairness Act (HR 4130/S 4932) would establish a performance right for musicians when their music is played on terrestrial radio. This is key legislation that, if passed, will not only address fair payment to musicians for the use of their creative product, but it is also a necessary step to begin opening the door to payment from some foreign collectives when our music is played in other countries.

    Performing Arts Tax Parity Act (HR 4750/S 2872) would re-establish the deductions for unreimbursed work-related expenses incurred by performing artists, which were lost during the Trump administration.

    Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, if passed, would restore the right of workers to freely and fairly form a union and bargain together for changes in the workplace. Over the years, anti-union forces have eroded unions’ ability to organize workplaces free from employer interference.

    The AFM has joined with other US Fish and Wildlife Service and US Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) stakeholders to address Brazil’s proposal to raise Pernambuco wood species from Appendix II to CITES Appendix I. At the 19th Conference of the Parties to CITES meeting in Panama, which recently concluded, US stakeholders hoped to devise a more reasonable international solution to Brazil’s proposal. Pernambuco wood is used globally to make bows for string instruments. Questions about the meeting can be directed to AFM Legislative-Political Director Alfonso Pollard, (apollard@afm.org).

    A significant achievement that occurred this past year was the confirmation of the first African American woman to the United States Supreme Court. This historic moment was long overdue. Though the court remains predominantly conservative, this confirmation is an important milestone. The newest associate justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, has already made it clear that she will be an important and outspoken voice on the court.

    Stubborn inflationary pressures are caused in part by government spending (used to ease the pandemic hardships on families); the sustained disruption of supply chains causing demand to outpace supply; and the high cost of fuel resulting from sanctions on Russian oil due to the invasion of Ukraine, as well as recent Saudi oil production cuts. The higher energy costs create increased transportation costs, which are passed on to consumers when they purchase goods and food. The Fed’s efforts to curb inflation by raising interest rates raises borrowing costs, including credit cards and mortgages. We seem to be experiencing an inflationary “perfect storm.”

    This year saw musicians continuing their return to work. Broadway shows are open, touring shows are traveling, and the symphonic season is well underway. That said, the post-pandemic economic recovery remains agonizingly slow. The hope is that we will see economic improvement in 2023. Even perfect storms pass, eventually.

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    Membership Decline, a Vexing Problem

    A vexing problem that has been, and continues to be, a challenge is the slow but steady decline in AFM membership. At one point in our history, the AFM had over 300,000 members. Of course, those were the days that many radio stations had entire symphony orchestras on staff, theaters had orchestras to accompany the vaudeville acts, big bands were ubiquitous, nearly all night clubs had live music, and the idea of playing recorded music at a wedding or important family event was preposterous.

    When I began my career as a professional musician in New York City, I remember morning orchestra rehearsals ending and the more established players rushing to pack up their instruments in order to grab a cab to get to jingle dates. They often had several. Then, in the evening, they would perform the music we had been rehearsing that morning in the symphony, opera, or ballet. Having a three- or four-service day was common, rather than the exception.

    Local 802 (New York City) used to have an exchange floor where musicians and contractors would gather each week. Contractors looking to hire musicians for a gig would announce what instrument or who in particular they needed. That’s how many musicians found work. And there was a ton of work to be had.

    There were only two or three requirements needed to get this work: You needed to play well, be able to get along with your colleagues, and you needed to be a member in good standing of the AFM. (If you want to get a taste of what the Local 802 exchange floor was like, take a moment to watch the opening scene from the movie Love with the Proper Stranger, starring Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen.)

    If you were playing a gig in a club, it was common to have a visit from a union rep asking to see your paid-up union card! You had better have it on your person because failure to produce it could get you kicked off the bandstand and facing charges resulting in fines for breaking the union’s bylaws.

    This was simply the way things were done back in the day. So much has changed since the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Today, it’s a different world. Laws were passed to weaken unions. Many states adopted right to work laws, which allowed some musicians to decide not to join the union, even though they enjoy the contractual gains achieved by the union. These non-union workers are aptly referred to as “freeloaders.” They benefit from the contract improvements negotiated by the union but do not join the union to pay their fair share.

    So I ask, what are you doing to convince non-union musicians in your orchestra to join? Engage them. The labor movement is about justice, inclusion, and workplace dignity. Aren’t these important values that all musicians should support? And, if some of your colleagues are not union members, shouldn’t we take an active role in trying to convince them?

    But, I digress. I began by saying declining membership is a problem that has not gone away.

    Paid-up membership at the end of 2021 was 57,181, but the down slide continues in 2022. In order to attend the AFM Convention, locals must have their per capita dues paid up. The bylaw states, in part, “… a local in arrears one quarterly payment of Federation per capita dues or in arrears three months in reporting and /or forwarding Federation work dues and/ or Federation Initiation Fees collected to the International Secretary-Treasurer shall not be allowed representation at the Convention …”

    Looking at the membership numbers over the last 20 years, the only increase in membership came in 2019. It was a modest gain, which we believe resulted from the officer training and organizing workshops the Federation was able to hold. However, the membership slide resumed (not surprisingly) in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, which put many musicians out of work.

    Let’s renew our efforts to convince musicians to join the AFM. Every musician who is not a member weakens us and every musician who becomes a member strengthens us at the bargaining table.

    Your Vote Is Your Voice!

    US national elections will be held on Tuesday, November 8. During this midterm election year, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate will be contested. Thirty-nine state and territorial gubernatorial elections, as well as numerous other state and local elections, will be contested.

    Find everything you need to know to vote at Vote.org. Should anyone try to prevent you from voting, call the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-687-8683.

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    What’s in the Inflation Reduction Act?

    The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act has been in the news recently but what does it do?

    Here are a few of the urgent issues this act’s provisions attempt to address:

    1) Climate change increasingly impacts all of our lives. Storms have intensified bringing flood and wind damage that leaves death, destruction, and broken lives in its wake. Huge storms or devastating wildfires thought to be a once in a century occurrences are becoming more frequent. Large parts of the country (and the world) have experienced severe droughts.

    The current water level in Lake Mead says it all. If the Colorado River fails to provide water to the southwestern states, agriculture will be severely affected. If you think vegetables have gotten more expensive at your local grocery store, imagine how the prices will increase if Southern California runs out of water! And global warming is causing unprecedented melting of glaciers around the world, creating an eventual rise in sea level. Low lying coastal areas will be the first affected, leaving major cities like New York, Miami, and New Orleans vulnerable.

    The burning of fossil fuels has been, and continues to be, a major contributor to global warming. The Inflation Reduction Act is an important first step toward reducing our dependence on fossil fuels by creating incentives for the domestic production of clean energy like solar, wind, and clean hydrogen power, as well as carbon capture incentives.

    The act also establishes “Make it in America” provisions for the use of American made equipment in the production of clean energy. There are also tax credits (up to $7,500) for the purchase of new electric vehicles and up to $4,000 for the purchase of used electric vehicles. These incentives will help create good paying union jobs in the clean energy and automotive sectors.

    2) Health care costs and high prescription drug prices are addressed in the Inflation Reduction Act as well. It protects seniors on Medicare from large drug costs by a phase-in of a cap for out-of-pocket costs. For the first time, Medicare will be able to negotiate prices for certain high-cost drugs. Also, health insurance premium subsidies will be extended for those who avail themselves of the benefits found in the Affordable Care Act.

    3) The Inflation Reduction Act addresses tax fairness. It implements paying a minimum corporate tax of 15%. Many very profitable corporations have been paying little or no federal income tax for a very long time. There is also a 1% surcharge on corporate stock buybacks.

    These are a few of the many provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act. A tightening Federal Reserve is struggling to curb inflation. Higher interest rates are beginning to cool a red-hot housing market. It will take time for the provisions in the act to have the desired effect, but it is an important step in the right direction. There will be new clean energy jobs that pay prevailing wages and penalties for companies that say they pay prevailing wages, but don’t. Workers could receive the difference, plus interest! Now that would be a breath of fresh air!

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    Nascent Signs of Recovery

    While it’s still very early to make predictions regarding AFM finances, there are some early indications that we are at the beginning of a recovery. Though only a small percentage of new members join online, the online joins are showing a return to pre-pandemic levels. This is not necessarily a reflection of a similar return for new members who join an AFM affiliate local in the traditional way, but it is reassuring nonetheless. We are reviewing paid per capita forms submitted by locals to the Federation to see if the broader membership numbers are bouncing back as well.

    Another positive indicator is the increased number of requests for visa consultation letters. This is indicative of an increase in touring. At one point during the height of the pandemic, these requests were down by 70%. Recently, requests for visa consultation letters have increased to pre-pandemic levels.

    Live performances for symphonic musicians seem to have stabilized. Most orchestras have ended their regular season and are scheduled to resume in the fall. Pamphlet B musical touring seems to be holding up after an initial bumpy start. The recent BA.5 variant of the coronavirus has created issues due to its ease of transmissibility. The good news is that hospitalizations remain low.

    As we enter the colder months, the concern is that indoor activity may cause a spike in the number of people who contract the virus. One potential mitigating factor might be the creation of a new COVID booster that is formulated to respond more effectively to the BA.5 variant. The booster may be ready sometime around November or December.

    The potential increase in revenue comes none too soon since the need to travel for in-person conferences and negotiations has already begun. This is all happening during a period of high inflation. Until recently, coast-to-coast plane fares were commonly found in the $450 to $500 range. Today, the same flights cost over $1,000. Similar increases in ground transportation, hotel, and restaurant prices all contribute to an increase in the AFM’s operating costs.

    We recently filled two openings at the Federation. Michael Epperhart has been engaged to handle visa consultation letter applications since Paul Celentano, who currently works in this area, will be leaving in September. Epperhart has been touring as a musician with Beautiful: the Carole King Musical. He has a practical understanding of our business. He also participated as a musician representative in the recently ratified Broadway League negotiations over revised COVID protocols. We wish Celentano all the best as he pursues the next chapter in his life and we welcome Eppenhart into the AFM family.

    We have hired Jonathan Mercado as an IT assistant to work with Michael Ramos. This position opened when Walter Lopez left and Ramos moved up to fill the information systems manager position. We are now better positioned to address hardware and software issues that were postponed during travel restrictions at the height of the pandemic.

    Our hope is that the work environment for musicians continues to stabilize, and the pandemic recedes to a point that it no longer affects member employment. Fingers crossed!

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    Perseverance in Organizing Leads to Power for Employees

    One of the most challenging tasks we have as a union is to organize. It takes commitment, resources, patience, perseverance, and tenacity. Organizing is the life-blood of a strong union. Without new members and new bargaining units, there is a slow trickle of declining membership. As a union loses members, there is a loss of union density in the workplace. Consequently, a loss of density reduces a union’s power. Negotiations with an employer are all about power. Without it, there is little or no leverage at the bargaining table.

    Employers often have an aversion to unions organizing their workplace. They will do whatever it takes to keep the union out, sparing no expense. A divided workforce with dissension among the workers is fertile ground for an employer to fight unionization. Often, an employer will go so far as to hire a union-busting law firm with special expertise in fighting unionization.

    Recently, I have seen a spate of advertisements touting the wonderful salary and benefits that one employer provides. Employees highlighted in the ads say their hourly salary went from $10 to over $17 and that the employer provides up to 20 weeks of paid family leave after the birth of a child.

    All this is not so much due to the largess of the employer, but it allows them to tell the workers that there’s no need for a union in their workplace. “Look what we give you! A union will only take your dues and give you little in return.”

    But there are many needs that go beyond salary and benefits. What about job security and due process? What about a safe workplace? What about a voice in what happens in the workplace? How about a requirement to negotiate changes that affect the employees? And what about showing respect for the employees whose labor enables the employer to make huge profits for the company? And what about a pension plan that allows employees to retire with dignity?

    On April 8, workers at three Starbucks locations in Ithaca, New York, voted to unionize. It was a huge victory, however, Starbucks recently announced its plans to close Ithaca’s Collegetown Starbucks. Many of the Starbucks employees affected by the potential closing believe it is in retaliation for their desire to unionize. Is the closing being used to discourage other Starbucks employees who may harbor a desire to unionize?

    The above examples are just a few of the employer tactics used to dissuade workers from organizing.

    Nevertheless, employees must have the courage of their convictions. They must fight their fears if they are to achieve a collective bargaining agreement that will help prevent unilateral decisions by the employer that are simply imposed on the workers. If job safety is an issue, a collective bargaining agreement can address the issue. And if you want a more level playing field, forcing an employer to sit across the negotiating table to negotiate a fair contract is one way to achieve it.

    Important reminder: Never cross a picket line. Doing so will severely undercut the workers who are risking everything in their attempt to achieve a fair contract. Support other workers in their struggles to organize.

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