Tag Archives: American Rescue Plan Act

Broadway Tour Discussions Begin as Pandemic Recedes

More than a year after the COVID outbreak prompted the lockdown of global population centers, halting public gatherings, darkening entertainment venues of all sizes, locking out musicians and performers, and eliminating thousands upon thousands of jobs, wheels are now in motion for the reopening of the live entertainment industry and a mid-summer return for concerts, festivals, and Broadway touring productions.

The advent of a return to the road for Broadway touring shows is a welcome development for musicians who travel with the tours and for local musicians who augment the productions in certain locations where the shows are booked.

Last year, during the week of March 15, 2020, a total of 23 AFM-covered touring productions were suspended—shutdown on the road—as a result of the raging spread of coronavirus and government imposed social distancing regimens. The Federation negotiated a shutdown agreement with the Broadway League that provided for cancellation payments and necessary expenses for musicians to return home.

We are now preparing to bargain a successor Pamphlet B and Short Engagement Tours Agreement that will cover musicians who become engaged as the tours resume. It will also impact local employment at certain venues along the tour. AFM touring agreements are administered by our Touring, Theatre, Booking Division, managed and supervised by Director Tino Gagliardi and Associate Director George Fiddler.

Discussions with League representatives during the pandemic shutdown concerning a timeline for a return to the road varied with each conversation. Estimates ranged from late 2020 to early 2021, then late 2021 to early 2022, but were never certain due to the alarming spread of infection, the severity of the disease, and changing expectations for relaxation of social distancing.

The current planned ramp-up for a comeback of Broadway tours coincides with an accelerated vaccination rollout and congressional stimulus money, spurring confidence in a more rapid pandemic recovery and improved economic outlook. Optimism from these developments has prompted performance venues to plan for a return of indoor, full-capacity productions. Regional arts centers want Broadway tours to resume as soon as possible, pointing to the tours as being critical to their recovery.

With vaccines available by mid-May to everyone, regardless of age, producers and venues hope that a safe return to full venue capacity can happen soon thereafter, pending any major problem caused by COVID variants. Arts center managers are indicating that a return to profitability cannot be accomplished unless they can sell 100% of the house. With profits from food and beverage sales still curtailed by pandemic regulations, selling only 80% of the house may not be enough.

Optimism that the resumption of tours can succeed is based on audience retention of pre-COVID tickets. Reportedly, a large percentage of ticket holders did not request a refund on tickets to canceled performances, holding on to their prepandemic tickets to use for rescheduled shows. Venues and presenters see the retention and volume of presold tickets as a sign that substantial consumer demand exists for the return of shows.

In April, theatrical presenters across the country were selling subscription packages and single tickets for 20 Broadway touring productions, some with engagements advertised as early as mid-June. An eight-show subscription series package pitched to theatergoers by a Dallas venue opens with a resumption of the Wicked tour on August 4, for five weeks, followed by touring productions of Hamilton, Hadestown, Frozen, Jersey Boys, Mean Girls, Oklahoma, and Jesus Christ Superstar.

In the Dallas package, the promoter has restricted its single ticket sales. Admission to the most popular shows, such as Wicked and Hamilton, is available only by purchasing a subscription package that includes access to a bundle of other shows. Popular shows are in control of the venues, with promoters using the hit shows to sell tickets to those that are less popular.

While tour producers, venues, and managers believe that demand for Broadway tours is robust and has not diminished during the pandemic shutdown, promoters are wary of taking any kind of hit when reopening their businesses. Negative publicity—increased health risks from COVID variants or press coverage of pending labor disputes—could provide a reason for attendees to avoid the shows, interfering with a clean return to the venues and creating additional financial risk during precarious times.

Despite the optimism from accelerated vaccine programs and economic stimulus, we might still be in limbo. The safety of our talented musicians who travel far from home, performing for diverse audiences, night after night, is of paramount importance. We are musicians. We do not produce the shows and we do not operate the venues. We will not assume the producer’s risk. But, as we all struggle to emerge and return to some sense of normalcy and security in our artistic lives and livelihoods, we realize that the day of absolute certainly may never arrive.

When we meet the League for our Pamphlet B discussions, our negotiating team will include members of the International Executive Board, Division Director Tino Gagliardi, Associate Director George Fiddler, a representative from the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) player conference­, led by TMA President Tony D’Amico of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA), together with the presidents of Local 5 (Detroit, MI), Local 6 (San Francisco, CA), Local 9-535, Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL), Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX), Local 149 (Toronto, ON), plus rank-and-file traveling musician representatives Susan French of Local 802 (New York City) and Elaine Davidson of Local 72-147.

As the Federation prepares for these negotiations, our team will meet to identify, articulate, and prioritize our members’ needs and develop plans of action to address those needs. To achieve our goals, we will compile and analyze necessary information. We will use every means at our disposal to focus, sharpen, and deploy union power.

We will employ every pound of leverage we have to obtain a fair agreement, not only for those who perform in the orchestra pits, but in the interests of patrons and the public as well.

The American Rescue Plan: In Unity There is Strength

As I write this column (March 12, 2021) the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, with its relief provisions for multiemployer pension plans, has passed the Senate, was approved by the House of Representatives, and was signed into law by President Biden. If there were ever a day to celebrate the power of collective action and concerted activity, to pay tribute to grassroots political organizing, to unionism and the determination by organized labor to protect and improve the lives of tens of millions of workers and preserve the dignity of retirees, today is that day.

When the Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Relief Act of 2021 was introduced by House Ways and Means Committee Chairperson Richard Neal (D-MA) and was included as part of the larger COVID-19 supplemental bill (now known as the American Rescue Plan), I huddled with Federation National Legislative Director Alfonso Pollard and asked him to head up an “all hands on deck” Federation-wide lobbying effort to help keep the pension provisions in the omnibus supplemental bill, and then push the final legislation across the goal line.

Alfonso and his team rose to the occasion. Our voices, and those of other union members, were heard. AFM members, active and retiree participants, and employers in the American Federation of Musicians and Employers Pension (AFM-EP) Fund will feel the positive effects of the American Rescue Plan for many years to come.

Despite the deeply divided partisan attitudes in Congress toward the American Rescue Plan, 61% of Americans supported its passage. It includes direct stimulus payments and supplemental unemployment benefits—all desperately needed by out-of-work musicians and performers who may be the last to return to work when the pandemic eventually recedes. It also sends billions in aid to hard-hit state and municipal governments to offset COVID costs and to provide help with delinquent mortgage payments, back rent, and utility payments for the jobless, including struggling gig workers.

Passed under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and their leadership teams of Richard Neal (D-MA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) in the House and Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in the Senate, the American Rescue Plan contains a number of provisions that provide substantial relief to multiemployer pension plans that have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the AFM-EP Fund. Employer contributions to our Fund have been decimated by job losses from government-imposed pandemic-related shutdowns caused by an abrupt halt in employment in the live entertainment industry last year.

The COVID crisis increased the urgency for pension relief. It has been estimated that absent this critical legislation, millions of Americans would have eventually lost significant percentages of their retirement incomes. Thousands of businesses would have been forced into bankruptcy costing tens of thousands of workers their jobs.

But for participants in our pension fund, the American Rescue Plan, with its embedded pension fund assistance, could not have been adopted a moment too soon because it eliminates the need for benefit reductions. The legislation creates a new special program of financial assistance at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) to provide troubled plans with funds needed to pay full, unreduced participant benefits for 30 years (until 2051).

We want to thank every senator and member of Congress that voted to adopt this important legislation. These lawmakers knew what we needed. They knew what we were up against, and they chose to help professional musicians and the working people of our country. We all also owe a huge debt of gratitude to all of our Federation officers and staff for their steadfast support, and particularly Alfonso Pollard, who designed and oversaw AFM’s massive lobbying effort that mobilized thousands of members and Fund participants to contact Capitol Hill during the crucial weeks leading up to final Congressional consideration. That effort brought together Director of Organizing Michael Manley, Lead Organizer Alex Tindal Wiesendanger, and player conference heads John Michael Smith (Regional Orchestra Players Association), Meredith Snow (International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians), Marc Sazer (Recording Musicians Association), and Tony D’Amico (Theatre Musicians Association), who together spearheaded a Zoom call outreach, targeting support from lawmakers in key congressional districts.

While we rejoice in this historic legislative success, we are also mindful of our responsibility as a union to protect the Fund from future shortfalls by negotiating increased employer contributions in successor collective bargaining agreements. To do that, we have to get back to work. Still, no one can say with any degree of certainty when social distancing restrictions will be lifted, or when our various communities will be deemed safe enough to risk reopening our performance venues so that professional musicians can begin to recover from the disruption of this pandemic.

But when you are back on the concert stage, in the theater pits, in the arenas, restaurants, and clubs, performing in venues of every size and shape, please remember that the American Rescue Act protected your pension. It happened because of Unity. We never took our eye off the ball. We elected lawmakers who cared about us, and they had the courage to act. Unity is our power. In Unity there is strength.

The AFM Directive that Brought Our Pension Efforts to Fruition

It was truly a remarkable moment in the history of this, our musicians’ union, when after four years of dedicated lobbying and political wrangling, AFM International President Ray Hair stood before the International Executive Board (IEB) and unequivocally pronounced to all senior staff and board members that it was time for “all hands on deck” when pension legislation came up in January 2021. If you were in that meeting when President Hair made that pronouncement, for sure, you immediately “clocked-in” to that singular, most important mission.

After years of frontline lobbying and more than 50 visits to the House and Senate, President Hair, members of the IEB including AFM Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal, Tino Gagliardi, Dave Pomeroy, Ed Malaga, Bruce Fife, and I, laid the foundation that kept musicians in this protracted game that eventually, years later, led to our members’ remarkable advocacy efforts resulting in final passage of HR 1319, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. This $1.9 trillion COVID-19 recovery reconciliation bill is the largest piece of legislation in the history of this nation and included long-fought-for multiemployer pension relief, among other labor essentials that our union musicians need and deserved.

Additionally, there are plenty of remarkable stories from our our union members, dedicated Player Conferences, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), the Recording Musicians Association (RMA), the Regional Orchestra Players Associations (ROPA), and the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA), and their constituent members, local officers, and even our “stand up” TEMPO Signature members who took on President Hair’s directive and pushed “the big win” right over the goal line. This win can only be compared to the July 20, 2019 event when the AFM was invited to sit in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s box in the House chamber to experience first-hand the passage of the Butch Lewis Act! This was the first time in my experience on Capitol Hill that members of Congress stood and applauded organized labor.

The collage that follows here is a compendium of four years of concerted work in Washington, DC, Columbus, Ohio, and other locations AFM leadership traveled to help secure the future of AFM-EPF pensions. Each move brought us closer to our affiliate brothers and sisters at the AFL-CIO, the United Mine Workers, the Teamsters, the United Steelworkers, the bakers and confectioners, and a host of other labor unions that participated in the battle to preserve our pensions. We also thank the League of American Orchestras for their unique partnership in this effort.

The Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021 is now the law of the land, becoming Public Law 117-2 on March 11, 2021.

March 28, 2017: Alfonso Pollard and IEB Member Ed Malaga attend House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) pension briefing on Capitol Hill.

May 9, 2017: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) launches his pension legislation plan on Capitol Hill with senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).

November 16, 2017: Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi roll out the original Butch Lewis Act with the Teamsters on Capitol Hill.
November 17, 2017: AFM International President Ray Hair went to Washington, DC to lobby the US Senate on the Butch Lewis Act.

May 10, 2018: AFM Legislative Director Alfonso Pollard and International President Ray Hair in the Hart Senate Office Building lobbying on behalf of AFM pension legislation. The pair made eight visits that day.

July 10, 2019: AFM Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal, Washington, DC and Baltimore local officers, and Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal posed for a photo before going to the House gallery—at Speaker Pelosi’s invitation—to watch the Butch Lewis Act pass the House.
July 10, 2019: AFM Members rally at the US Capitol Building in support of the Butch Lewis Act pension legislation, on the House Floor that day.

July 12, 2018: Alfonso Pollard with United Mine Workers of America President Cecile Roberts.
July 12, 2018: Alfonso Pollard and IEB member Dave Pomeroy with AFM Local 103 (Columbus, OH) President Douglas Fisher.
July 12, 2018: Pomeroy performs an original song written for the Teamsters, mine workers, and steel workers 13,000-strong pension rally in Columbus, Ohio.