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.
July 1, 2019IM -
by Meredith Snow, ICSOM Chair and Member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)
As our Pension Fund heads into critical and declining status, it is important to remember that many multi-employer pensions in America are in the same boat. Public-sector state and local government pensions are in even worse shape. Hindsight is 20/20—if it were possible to turn the clock back 50 years, knowing what we do today, we would be looking at a different financial landscape.
As far back as the early 1970s, raises to our benefit multiplier—which looked reasonable at the time given actuarial assumptions and projected rate of return on investments—began to accelerate in the mid 1980s. Changes to the federal tax code, given actuarial assumptions and projected rate of return on investments, seemed to justify increasing the benefit multiplier all the way up to $4.65. Over the following decades, benefits paid out became increasingly greater than contributions.
Because of the steady drain on capital through benefit payments, the AFM-EPF never had a chance to right itself in the aftermath of the 2001 dot-com bust and the 2008 global financial crisis. We could have replaced every trustee, fired the plan employees, and moved to Omaha, but that would not have made a dent in the money-in/money-out imbalance, which is on a far larger scale than management expenses or investment fees. At this juncture, there is no feasible formula of investment returns plus contributions, allocated or not, that will return the fund to financial health. So here we are, along with millions of other Americans, with a pension plan that is turned on its head.
We have two options: drain it and allow the fund to collapse on the heads of our younger members—along with the solidarity of this union—or change the benefit payment through the only avenue available to us at this point in time: the Multi-Employer Pension Reform Act (MPRA). As painful as it is to accept, the only path to solvency is a restructuring of our benefits.
It is easy to forget that the pension trustees are not nine in number, but 18. Every decision made relative to the pension is a negotiation between the employer trustees and our union trustees, along with paid investment advisors and actuaries. Each Fund trustee undergoes fiduciary training on a regular basis, including accounting, actuarial, and investment studies, through the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEPB).
Having served nearly 20 years in ICSOM, as delegate, member-at-large, and now chair, I have worked side by side with each of our union trustees in one capacity or another. I know them to be intelligent, capable, dedicated, honest people who have spent their lives in the service of others and of our union. I trust them to find the most equitable solutions available as they craft the application to the treasury department under the guidelines of the MPRA.
As required by MPRA, our trustees have appointed a retiree representative, Brad C. Eggen, currently president of the Twin Cities Musicians Union, Local 30-73. Eggen is charged with communicating with our retirees and terminated vested participants throughout the application and approval process under MPRA. He has taken this one step further in creating an Equitable Factors Panel, composed of four additional plan participants, to assist in communicating with our AFM membership. For more information, visit http://afmretireerep.org.
The financial woes of our AFM Employer Pension Fund have created a serious challenge to our union solidarity. It is understandable that the uncertainty of promised benefits has created apprehension and anger among our AFM-EPF participants. Sacrifices will be necessary. But we must not give in to the anger at the expense of our unity. Solidarity is the heart and soul of a strong union—it means that we see each other not as rivals or statistics, but as brothers and sisters.
We must recognize that the burden of sacrifice needs to be borne equitably by the entire membership. We need to make the pension whole so that our younger members are not unduly burdened nor discouraged entirely from union membership. By setting aside our fear and anxiety, acknowledging that we are in this together, we can maximize the potential for solutions that will preserve our pension, our union, and our solidarity.