Tag Archives: covid

Low Friends in High Places—How Union Solidarity and Lobbying Helped Get Political Support for Canadian Musicians

When the pandemic effectively demolished live music in mid-March of last year, the AFM Canadian Office immediately dispatched letters to whomever in government was in a position to be of assistance, as identified with the aid of our knowledgeable lobbyist, Isabel Metcalfe. While I’m sure our plea to recognize the severity of the situation did not fall upon deaf ears, I can only imagine how many similar documents were received from a variety of sectors. How, then, to stand out in the crowd?

It was only a day or two later that I received a communication from IATSE International Vice President and Director of Canadian Affairs John Lewis, as well as Arden Ryshpan, executive director at Canadian Actors Equity Association (CAEA). The plan was to form a coalition to brainstorm and lobby government, framed within these strange circumstances. Added soon after was Ken MacKenzie, president of the Associated Designers of Canada (ADC). A decision was made to keep the coalition small and nimble, yet the combination now represented 50,000 members—a significant enough number to attract attention. Our noble group was dubbed the Creative Industries Coalition, and almost immediately had an effect.

We began gathering data on just how many performers and crews were idle, as government loves to have arithmetic for backup evidence. It was not difficult to demonstrate the level of despair in our members, as the cancelled contracts quickly tallied into the millions of dollars. In support of the submissions, Zoom calls were arranged with Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault and Minister of Employment, Workforce Development, and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough, among others. Similar virtual meetings took place with folks like Simon Brault, chair of the Canadian Conference of the Arts.

Results were favourable and speedy, as the government soon announced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), designed specifically for the self-employed and others who would normally not qualify for relief under the federal Employment Insurance programme. Two thousand dollars per month was made available to those who applied. However, a glitch soon emerged, whereby one of the criteria was that any ancillary income would result in the claim being disallowed. Now, for musicians (and other performers) who may have had random cheques arrive for royalties and New Use, or were teaching a few students, this was devastating. The coalition organized another round of calls, explained the issue, and was successful in having the requirement amended.

As the spring came to an end, it became apparent that COVID was going nowhere, and, in fact, was worsening, thus necessitating some additional meetings for a CERB extension, which was successful. By then, the government had sufficient time to temporarily restructure the Employment Insurance to include the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), along with some additional tweaks, which made that universal programme available to the self-employed. The timeline was limited, however, with expiration in early summer.

Sometimes nothing is simple, and so was the case when the government suddenly imposed new criteria—that the $5,000 earning threshold was net, not gross. This would have had a debilitating effect on musicians, since expenses are often high as well as tax-deductible. The bottom line: Many performers from all disciplines would have had to pay back the subsidy. Once again, our coalition made submissions and arranged meetings to object to that decision, especially since that condition had not been specified in the rules. This time we were joined by our friends at The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), as their membership was critically affected as well.

As I write this, an announcement is being made by Carla Qualtrough which reverses the government restriction, due to their error in not being clear about gross versus net. Those who received the subsidy will not be required to pay any back, providing the other qualifications are met.

So what is my point in rehashing all this? By maintaining solidarity with the other performers’ unions, we became stronger together and the difficult situation for performers was acknowledged and addressed relatively quickly. While our coalition may have not been the only voice, we have heard from insiders that ours was both the most respected and effective behind being granted the necessary support in a timely manner.

As musicians, solidarity is even more important within our own union. As we have proven time and again with both government and employers, one voice is simply ignored, while many voices command attention. Now more than ever, value your AFM membership; it brings strength through unity, and it’s the right thing to do.

Petits amis hauts placés — comment la solidarité syndicale et les pressions ont contribué à obtenir du soutien politique pour les musiciens canadiens

par Alan Willaert, vice-président de la FAM pour le Canada

Lorsque la pandémie a terrassé le marché de la musique vivante à la mi-mars l’année dernière, le Bureau canadien de la FAM a immédiatement fait parvenir des lettres à toutes les personnes au gouvernement qui étaient en position de nous aider — notre  bien informée représentante, Isabel Metcalfe, nous a été d’une aide précieuse à cet égard. Bien que nos appels à reconnaître la gravité de la situation ne soient sûrement pas tombés dans des oreilles de sourds, je ne peux qu’imaginer combien de documents similaires ont été envoyés aux mêmes personnes par toute une variété de secteurs. Comment, donc, pouvions-nous ressortir du lot ?

Ce n’est qu’un jour ou deux plus tard que j’ai reçu une communication du vice-président international et directeur des affaires canadiennes de l’IATSE, John Lewis, de même que d’Arden Ryshpan, directrice exécutive de la Canadian Actors Equity Association. Le plan consistait à former une coalition  pour brasser des idées et exercer des pressions auprès du gouvernement dans le cadre de ces étranges circonstances. Peu après s’est ajouté Ken MacKenzie, président de l’Association des désigners canadiens. Nous avons pris la décision de nous en tenir là afin que la coalition reste agile, d’ailleurs nous représentions déjà quelque 50 000 membres, certainement un assez grand nombre pour attirer l’attention. Notre noble groupe, que nous avons appelé la Coalition des industries créatives, a eu un effet presque immédiat.

Nous avons commencé à recueillir des données quant au nombre d’artistes et d’équipes techniques qui étaient sans travail, car le gouvernement aime beaucoup justifier ses intervention avec des chiffres. Il n’a pas été difficile de démontrer la détresse de nos membres puisque les contrats annulés que nous avons retracés ont vite atteint les millions de dollars. En complément de nos soumissions au gouvernement, il y a eu des appels sur Zoom avec Steven Guilbeault, ministre du Patrimoine canadien, et Carla Qualtrough, ministre de l’Emploi, du Développement de la main-d’œuvre et de l’Inclusion des personnes handicapées, entre autres. Des rencontres virtuelles similaires ont également eu lieu avec Simon Brault, président de la Conférence canadienne des arts.

Nous avons rapidement obtenu des résultats positifs, le gouvernement annonçant peu après la mise en œuvre de la Prestation canadienne d’urgence (PCU), conçue spécifiquement pour les travailleurs autonomes et les autres qui ne sont pas normalement admissibles au programme fédéral d’assurance-emploi. On donnait deux mille dollars par mois à ceux qui en faisaient la demande. Toutefois, un problème s’est présenté, car selon un des critères du programme, tout revenu d’appoint entraînait le refus de la demande. Pour les musiciens et les autres artistes de la scène qui reçoivent de temps à autre des paiements de droits d’auteur, pour de nouvelles utilisations ou qui font un peu d’enseignement, c’était catastrophique. La coalition a organisé une nouvelle ronde d’appels pour expliquer l’enjeu et a réussi à faire modifier ce critère.

À la fin du printemps, il est devenu clair que la COVID n’allait pas disparaître de sitôt, elle s’aggravait même, d’où la nécessité de réunions supplémentaires pour obtenir le prolongement de la PCU, qui a été accordé.  Rendu là, le gouvernement avait eu le temps de restructurer l’assurance-emploi de façon temporaire pour y inclure la Prestation canadienne de la reprise économique (PCRE) et faire quelques autres ajustements qui permettraient aux travailleurs autonomes d’avoir accès à ce programme universel. Toutefois, ces dispositions devaient prendre fin au début de l’été.

Les choses ne sont pas toujours simples, comme lorsque le gouvernement a soudainement imposé de nouveaux critères, notamment en précisant que le seuil de revenu de 5000 $ devait être net et non brut. C’eût été débilitant pour les musiciens, parce que leurs dépenses sont souvent élevées et déductibles de l’impôt. En bout de ligne, beaucoup d’artistes de la scène de toutes les disciplines auraient eu à rembourser leurs prestations. Encore une fois, notre coalition a fait des représentations et organisé des rencontres afin de s’opposer à cette décision, surtout que ladite condition ne figurait pas dans les règles d’admissibilité. Cette fois, nos amis de l’Alliance des artistes canadiens du cinéma, de la télévision et de la radio, mieux connus comme l’ACTRA, se sont joints à nous, car leurs membres auraient été gravement affectés eux aussi.

Au moment d’écrire ces lignes, Carla Qualtrough annonce le retrait de cette restriction en reconnaissance du manque de clarté des règles d’origine à ce sujet. Ceux qui ont reçu la PCU ou la PCRE n’auront pas à la rembourser en autant qu’ils répondent aux autres critères d’admissibilité.

Pourquoi est-ce que je rappelle tout ça ? Pour illustrer que lorsque nous sommes solidaires entre syndicats d’artistes, nous sommes plus forts. Notre situation difficile commune a été reconnue et traitée plutôt rapidement. Notre coalition n’a peut-être pas été la seule voix à se faire entendre, mais d’après les commentaires que nous avons reçus d’acteurs au sein de l’appareil gouvernemental, la nôtre était à la fois la plus respectée et la plus effective pour obtenir en temps opportun le soutien dont nous avions besoin.

Comme musiciens, la solidarité est encore plus importante au sein de notre propre syndicat. Comme nous l’avons démontré encore et encore, avec le gouvernement et avec les employeurs, on ignore facilement une voix unique tandis que plusieurs voix retiennent l’attention. Maintenant plus que jamais, appréciez la valeur de votre adhésion à la FAM; elle est source de force de par l’unité qu’elle représente. Rester membre, c’est la chose à faire.

Hall of Ghosts (for Solo Piccolo)

Hall of Ghosts was composed in 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown period; it was inspired by piccoloist Gudrun Hinze’s video for Harberg’s Prayer Project filmed in the hauntingly empty Gewandhaus Chamber Music Hall. Evocative of imagined spirits in the empty hall, the music pits dramatic silences, amid searching and plaintive phrases of the piccolo, against a lively middle section—a dialogue between the ticking of time and an instrument striving to make itself heard.

Hall of Ghosts (for Solo Piccolo),
by Amanda Harberg, Theodore Presser Company, www.presser.com.

San Francisco Ballet Ratifies 2-Year Extension Agreement

On November 26, 2020, the musicians of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, members of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA), ratified a two-year extension agreement of their 2015-20 agreement that runs from December 1, 2020, through November 30, 2022. The musicians and management had steady communication from March until reaching agreement in late November; a mediator was engaged for the final two months of negotiations.

The orchestra agreed to approximately 77% of the 2019-20 base salary, plus an additional lump sum payment of $3,925 each year, in the form of either an IRS Section 139 Disaster Relief Payment (as long as the disaster declaration is in force), or a 403(b) employer contribution. The Disaster Relief Payment is not considered “wage replacement.” Nevertheless, such payment, coupled with the season guarantee, results in annual compensation equal to approximately 83% of the 2019-20 annual guarantee.

All orchestra members, contracted substitutes, and extras were paid fully through the end of the 2019-20 season. The 2019-22 IMA and COVID-19 Side Letter, which qualifies them for Tier 4, were ratified along with this agreement.

Freelance Musicians Need Economic Relief

Freelance musicians working in live entertainment venues have been among the hardest hit by the effects of the pandemic. Although the nature of this work has always been precarious, the pandemic has exposed structural problems that have long existed and that leave freelancers exceedingly vulnerable—the recent difficulties in accessing unemployment benefits is only the latest example. We simply cannot afford to go back to doing business as usual.

An increasing concern among freelance musicians was for the future of the venues themselves, and when the National Independent Venue Owners was formed to lobby for venue relief legislation, many were eager to offer their support.

As I listened to these discussions among musicians here in Washington, DC, I recalled the complaints I’d heard over the years regarding many of these same venues, complaints that primarily focused on the lack of a fair wage. Here was an opportunity to ask directly of these venue owners, “What are you willing to offer us in return for our support?” It is a paradox that the very musicians who are responsible for creating the content by which these businesses base their existence often feel powerless to advance their own economic interests. There is a Polynesian saying, “Standing on a whale, fishing for minnows.”

The opportunity remains at hand. The great venue relief effort is now underway. The federal Save Our Stages Act, through an intensive lobbying campaign, has been included in the recent Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and been renamed Grants for Shuttered Venue Operators (SVOG).

In my home state of Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan has approved a $30 million relief package for music and entertainment venues, including many who will be eligible for SVOG. What has been noticeably missing from these efforts is the assurance that any of this money will make its way into the hands of the musicians on whose performances these venues rely. Economic relief will be available to employees of these venues—the promoter, booker, stage manager, etc.—but not the musicians who perform there and make these other jobs possible.

I believe that musicians performing in these venues deserve a guarantee of fair wages and benefits, including access to SVOG relief funds. The pandemic has provided an opportunity to reset the fundamentals of this relationship. Under current labor law, venues are not required to sign contracts as the employers of musicians, but that doesn’t mean they cannot.

I have participated in Zoom meetings with an ad hoc group of musicians here in Washington, DC, both union and non-union, addressing the concerns related to this work. The conversation has started about what progress needs to be made on these issues. We can accomplish this if we work together and support each other. This is an opportunity to organize around these issues.

Now is the chance to position ourselves for the reopening that will inevitably occur. Once it becomes possible to safely congregate in public, audiences will flock to those spaces where they can once again enjoy live music—and they will do so in record numbers. Our performances will be an important part of the recovery story, and we deserve to share in that success.

Now is the opportunity to improve the standards for live music venue employment, which will value the work of musicians, compensate them fairly, and provide access to the benefits that have been so urgently needed.

Dallas Symphony Ratifies One-Year Agreement with COVID Modifications

On March 24, 2020, the musicians of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, members of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX), ratified a one-year extension of the agreement that had been set to expire on August 31, 2020. The financial terms of that extension, which covered the 2020-21 season, were identical to those for the 2019-20 season.

On September 1, 2020, the musicians ratified a COVID-19-related modification of that one-year extension, that implemented a 10% pay cut for the 2020-21 season with a “snap back” to the original wages on the final day of the agreement, August 31, 2021.

The musicians are encouraged by the way DSO management and CEO Kim Noltemy have navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. The pay cut for the 2020-21 season is minimal; the safety protocols have been comprehensive; and from the beginning, management has been committed to resume performances as soon as possible, safely.

The CBA requires orchestra size to be 94, but there are currently only 85 filled positions due to resignations and three deaths. No positions will be restored during the 2020-21 season.

Organizing to Reset: Utilizing Lessons from the Past

en français

“Schools closed, church services cancelled, restaurants, shops, theatres, and venues shuttered, public gatherings limited and then banned, and a $5 ‘civic duty’ fine levied against those refusing to wear a mask,” was how it was reported. Sound familiar?

Interestingly, those events took place between 1918 and 1920, when the so-called “Spanish Flu” claimed 55,000 lives in Canada, the hardest hit being people between the ages of 20 and 40. That particularly virulent strain of H1N1 did not originate in Spain, however. It was first reported in Spanish newspapers, as the country had no press censorship during the war. The outbreaks first occurred in Europe, the US, and parts of Asia, and ultimately caused a worldwide death count that is still unknown, but estimated between 50 and 100 million. In Canada, soldiers returning from war were the likely carriers. In Alberta, for example, an arriving troop train contained a few infected soldiers. Within 10 days, the disease had spread so rapidly that universal quarantines and closures were ordered.

Last year, Labour in Canada marked the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. While it remains the largest labour uprising in the country’s history and led to reforms for fair and safe working conditions across the nation, the impact of the pandemic is largely overlooked. Closer scrutiny of that time reveals the role organized labour had in finding a path out of that crisis, and indeed, perhaps the one we are currently embroiled in.

As Canadian historian, Esyllt W. Jones writes in her book, Influenza 1918: Disease, Death, and Struggle in Winnipeg, “Influenza was not democratic in its effects, those lower in the social hierarchy suffered greater hardship. Influenza threatened the fragile framework of survival for many working families, but it also created among immigrant and working-class communities a heightened awareness of their mutual reliance and their ability to sustain themselves in a time of crisis.” That mutual reliance would inspire workers to unite in a meaningful way, eventually leading to the Winnipeg General Strike.

The divide between workers and the upper class was growing, and was made infinitely worse because of the health emergency. The resulting demands made of employers and the government led to the creation of the Department of Health, which later became Health Canada. Witnessing the violence on “Bloody Saturday,” when police fired upon workers and arrested strike leaders, was Tommy Douglas. Forever changed and motivated by what he saw, he would later become the father of Canada’s universal health care system.

The gains achieved through collective bargaining led directly to social programmes for health, safety, and poverty, which today provide insulation against the worst-case scenarios of COVID-19. Yet, the current pandemic has underscored remaining inequalities and imbalances, especially burdensome on women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) workers. Once again, it is organized labour that must rally for social change from employers and governments, as those entities continue to avoid the issues for the sake of austerity and the economy, i.e. corporate profits.

The current crisis, if nothing else, has highlighted the fact that too many workers in Canada are often living paycheque to paycheque, and while there are improvements necessary throughout our communities in the health care system, such as with pharmacare, affordable housing, childcare, support of the unemployed, and a plethora of other social necessities, it has in particular exposed the vulnerability of the performing arts sector. As the first to collapse and likely the last to be restored, the live music scene, and in particular the gigging musician, is symbolic of what happens when any kind of precarious employment is disrupted.

Those of a particular age remember fondly the music scene of the 70s and 80s, when six- and seven-night stands in one club paid a living wage, and significantly more for those who rose to the top of the food chain in that genre. Where did that disappear to? When did it change from live musicians being in high demand to fill the vast number of packed venues, to the new crop of players being pitted against one other for a place to put on a show for a handful of Facebook followers, only to split $100 or less?

The Spanish Flu brought a workforce together as an organized unit, forcing a reset, if you will, of wages, benefits, and working conditions. To emerge intact from the crisis of 2020, we had better pay attention to the lessons that history contains. This is not a time to lose sight of the fact that we are stronger together, and that we will desperately need that unity to survive and push back against the inevitable economic pressure brought to bear as we struggle through recovery. Maintaining AFM membership and using your local as the conduit to find strength with our musician brothers and sisters is vital. We are in this together.

S’organiser en vue d’une mise à niveau : nous devons tirer les leçons du passé

par Alan Willaert, vice-président pour le Canada de la FAM

« Écoles fermées, services religieux annulés, restaurants, boutiques, cinémas et salles de spectacle fermés, rassemblements publics limités et ensuite interdits, et une amende de cinq dollars pour “devoir civique“ imposée à ceux qui refusaient de porter un masque » écrivait-on. Cela vous semble-t-il familier ?

Il est intéressant de noter que tout cela s’est passé entre 1918 et 1920, lorsque la grippe dite espagnole a coûté la vie à 55 000 personnes au Canada; les plus durement frappées étaient celles âgées entre 20 et 40 ans. Cette souche particulièrement virulente de la H1N1 n’est toutefois pas issue de l’Espagne. Elle a d’abord été rapportée dans les journaux espagnols parce que la presse de ce pays n’était pas censurée pendant la guerre. Les premières éclosions se sont produites en Europe, aux États-Unis et dans certaines parties de l’Asie et, ultimement, ont causé un nombre de morts encore inconnu, mais qu’on estime à entre 50 et 100 millions. Au Canada, les soldats qui revenaient de la guerre en ont sans doute été les premiers porteurs. En Alberta, par exemple, un train qui ramenait des troupes comptait quelques soldats infectés à son bord. En l’espace de 10 jours, la maladie s’est répandue si rapidement que les autorités ont dû imposer des quarantaines et des fermetures universelles.

L’année dernière, le mouvement ouvrier du Canada a souligné le centième anniversaire de la grève générale de Winnipeg de 1919. Il s’agit du plus important soulèvement ouvrier de l’histoire de notre pays. Il a mené à des réformes en matière d’équité et de sécurité du travail à l’échelle du pays, mais le rôle qu’y a joué la pandémie est souvent occulté. En effet, un examen plus approfondi de cette période révèle le rôle qu’a joué le mouvement syndical dans la sortie de cette crise de santé publique, et peut-être, qui sait, dans celle de la pandémie qui nous occupe actuellement.

Comme l’écrit l’historienne canadienne, Esyllt W. Jones, dans son livre Influenza 1918: Disease, Death, and Struggle in Winnipeg,
« La grippe espagnole n’a pas affecté tout le monde également, ceux qui se trouvaient au bas de l’échelle sociale en ont souffert beaucoup plus que les autres. Elle a ébranlé la fragile structure de survie de nombreuses familles ouvrières. En revanche, elle a rehaussé chez les immigrants et les communautés ouvrières la conscience de leur capacité à s’entraider et à se soutenir mutuellement en période de crise. » Ce soutien mutuel a inspiré les ouvriers à s’unir de façon significative, ce qui, ultimement, a mené à la grève générale de Winnipeg.

L’écart entre les ouvriers et les riches s’accroissait à l’époque, et l’urgence sanitaire a énormément aggravé la situation. Les demandes qui en ont découlé, tant auprès des employeurs que du gouvernement, ont mené à la création du ministère de la Santé, devenu plus tard Santé Canada. Témoin de la violence du « samedi sanglant » où les policiers ont tiré sur les travailleurs et mis les dirigeants de la grève sous arrêt, Tommy Douglas a été marqué à jamais par ce qu’il a vu, et motivé aussi. Il deviendra le père du régime universel de soins de santé du Canada.

Les gains obtenus par l’entremise de la négociation collective ont mené directement à la création des programmes sociaux de santé, de sécurité et de lutte contre la pauvreté qui procurent aujourd’hui une protection contre les pires scénarios en matière de COVID-19. Pourtant, la pandémie actuelle fait ressortir des inégalités et des déséquilibres qui perdurent, et qui affectent particulièrement les femmes et les travailleurs autochtones et de couleur. Encore une fois, c’est le mouvement syndical qui doit se rallier afin d’obtenir que les employeurs et les gouvernements effectuent des changements sociaux, eux qui continuent d’éviter ces questions au nom de l’austérité et de l’économie, c’est-à-dire des profits des entreprises.

À tout le moins, la crise actuelle aura permis de constater qu’un trop grand nombre de travailleurs au Canada vivent d’un chèque de paye à l’autre, et bien que des améliorations soient nécessaires dans nos collectivités en matière de soins de santé comme l’assurance médicaments, d’habitation abordable, de services de garde, d’aide aux chômeurs et d’une pléthore d’autres besoins sociaux, elle a exposé en particulier la vulnérabilité du secteur des arts de la scène. Le premier à s’effondrer et vraisemblablement le dernier à se relever, le milieu de la musique vivante, et particulièrement le musicien pigiste, illustre ce qui se passe lorsque n’importe quel type d’emploi précaire est perturbé.

Les personnes d’un certain âge se rappellent avec affection la scène musicale des années  1970 et 1980 où des engagements de six ou sept soirs par semaine dans un même club permettaient de gagner sa vie ou beaucoup plus pour ceux qui se hissaient au sommet du genre. Où est allé tout cela ? À quel moment la scène est-elle passée d’une forte demande de musiciens pour de nombreuses scènes faisant salle comble à la situation actuelle, où les musiciens sont montés les uns contre les autres pour obtenir une place où donner un spectacle à l’intention d’une poignée de fans Facebook, et finir par se séparer 100 $ ou moins ?

La grippe espagnole a uni la main-d’œuvre en un syndicat qui a pu obtenir une mise à niveau des salaires, des bénéfices et des conditions de travail. Pour sortir intacts de la crise de 2020, nous avons intérêt à tirer les leçons de l’histoire. Ce n’est pas le moment d’oublier que l’union fait la force.Nous aurons désespérément besoin d’unité pour survivre et résister à la pression économique qui sera inévitablement exercée sur nous pendant que nous tentons de récupérer. Il est essentiel de maintenir votre adhésion à la FAM et de vous servir de votre section locale pour trouver la force avec vos confrères et consœurs musiciens. Nous sommes tous dans le même bain.

Washington Government Roundup

At this writing, Congress is now operating in a lame duck session. Also as of this writing, Hawaii is the final state to certify its presidential election results, making President-Elect Joe Biden the clear winner with 306 electoral votes to Donald Trump’s 232 electoral votes. This cleared the path for certified electors to meet in their states and cast their final votes on Monday, December 14, 2020. The Trump administration continues to file lawsuits across the country, leading up to a final Hail Mary pass to the US Supreme Court behind a case filed by the state of Texas.

Pandemic Relief

Debate about an extended pandemic relief plan has finally come to a point where Dems and Reps may be about to compromise and vote soon on a $908 billion aid relief package. The compromise proposal would include a temporary liability shield for businesses to allow states to develop their own liability reforms. It includes $160 billion in state and local aid, $180 billion in additional unemployment insurance (which includes an additional $300 per week supplemental unemployment benefit), and $288 billion for small businesses. The deal has yet to be finalized as of press time.

Budget, Government Funding, and Key Dates

Lawmakers must pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government and avert a shutdown. From there, an omnibus appropriations bill is expected to be in place. House and Senate appropriators reached a deal in early December on the top-line funding levels for the 12 spending bills. Here are some important deadlines in the political process:

  • December 8, 2020—Government funding deadline.
  • December 14, 2020—Presidential electors meet in their respective states and cast their votes.
  • December 31, 2020—Student loan relief and rent moratorium both expire.
  • January 3, 2021—New 117th Congress convenes.
  • January 5, 2020—Georgia Senate runoff that will determine control of the US Senate. Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler face competitive challenges from Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.
  • January 6, 2021—Congress certifies Electoral College votes.
  • January 20, 2021—Inauguration Day, President-Elect Biden sworn in.

The AM-FM Act

The musicFIRST coalition is focusing on passage of its performance rights bill. In addition, the coalition has vetted several major law firms in Washington to help get the AM-FM Act across the finish line in the 117th Congress. I have had the privilege of sitting in on all candidate presentations on President Hair’s behalf and reported the outcomes to him. A final decision will be announced soon.

The HEROES Act

The AFM, along with other labor affiliates, continues to push for Congressional passage of the House-passed HEROES Act. For the AFM, the bill contains pension relief, the Save our Stages Act (supporting grant money to independent venues negatively impacted by COVID-19), additional funding for the NEA, NEH, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which broadcasts almost daily, public programming and house musicians operate under an AFM collective bargaining agreement), additional Unemployment Insurance funding, rent relief, and a host of other policy perks that help musicians get back on their feet.

AFL-CIO

AFL-CIO hosted three Zoom calls with Biden transition team officials in December, on transportation, pension, and trade issues. A meeting with the US Department of Labor Agency Review Team staff focused on pensions to hash out an agreed-upon strategy so that on January 21, 2021, President Biden can hit the ground running. Marc Perrone, president of United Food and Commercial Workers and chair of the AFL-CIO Multiemployer Pension Taskforce, and his Multi-Employer Co-Chair Ken Cooper led the talks for us. They gave background on bankruptcy shortcomings, labor’s opposition on the Grassley-Alexander proposal, support for the partition components in the HEROES Act, and Biden’s immediate passage and signing of the Act.

Department for Professional Employees

AFM Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal has taken the lead on crafting a racial justice package that all AFL-CIO Arts, Entertainment, and Media Industry Coordinating Committee (AEMI) affiliates have signed off on. The package talks about supporting careers in the entertainment industry, increasing federal arts funding and establishing equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) objectives for grant recipients, and leveraging federal tax incentives to encourage diverse hiring. A fact sheet has been developed and approved by Blumenthal and President Ray Hair.

Diversity

The AFM Diversity Committee has been very active organizing a standardized national policy that will serve as the platform for locals and other AFM affiliate organizations to build local diversity committees. This is timely as the diversity committee is working directly with AFM Vice President Bruce Fife and AFM Organizing Director Michael Manley to develop a curriculum. Several diversity subcommittees have been formed to work independently and bring back written subscripts on how to build membership in casual, rock, pop, jazz, and symphony activities. It is important to prepare for growth while the pandemic is raging so as not to be left behind when the economy reopens.

TEMPO Drive

Our two-month-long TEMPO drive, which ended December 31, 2020, has netted some result. President Hair’s $1,000 challenge has netted approximately $3,563, comprising slightly more than a two-to-one match by AFM members. A summary of the campaign was emailed to each of you late last month. We continue to monitor the campaign, as we are reaching out to TEMPO contributors to thank them for their hard-earned contributions.

Building Resilience in the Face of COVID-19

The coronavirus has altered our lives and caused significant stress that challenges each of us in different ways—emotionally, socially, financially, and psychologically. The key to maintaining emotional stability and a positive mood state while meeting these challenges is to enhance coping by building resilience. Here are some basic definitions to ground our understanding of our reactions to the pandemic and how we can best respond.

Coping

Coping is the ability to self-regulate cognitive and mood states through conscious intention in order to manage stress. Coping can be adaptive (for example, positive thinking) or maladaptive (using alcohol or drugs to medicate feelings). Coping also can be either reactive (in response to the consequences of the pandemic) or proactive (anticipating higher stress levels and engaging protective factors going forward).

Protective factors include healthy eating, adequate sleep, cardio exercise, and social connection, all of which strengthen our resistance to stress and illness. Perhaps the most important protective factor is resilience.

Resilience

Resilience is a process of adaptation to stressful events. Resilience is about learning to rebound from adversity and take action in some purposeful way and emerging as a stronger, more resourceful person. To build resilience, you must learn and deploy particular tools, skills, and strategies.

The pandemic is stressful because it forces change, threatens our health, and creates uncertainty. Uncertainty causes anxiety. Research has shown that the brain is vulnerable to getting “captured” by anxious thoughts and fears and holding you hostage in a negative mindset that undercuts your functioning and sense of well-being. If you stay in this anxious state too long, you are at risk for depression.

So, what can we do to respond to the challenges imposed by the pandemic? Simply put, we must “raise our mental game” to enhance coping and build resilience, first by taking better care of ourselves and second, by adopting new ways to manage our response to the pandemic.

Below are seven tools, techniques, and strategies drawn from several sources, including the paper “The Road To Resilience” (American Psychological Association, 2020):

1. Avoid Seeing the Pandemic as an Insurmountable Problem

Negative perceptions about anything—especially the pandemic—can trigger negative mood states and lead to anxiety. Perceiving the pandemic as an insurmountable problem can feel like objective truth but, in reality, our reactions are highly subjective and often vulnerable to unconscious biases especially when under stress.

Remember that unstable times can breed more extreme reactions. Be more aware of how you interpret challenges brought on by the pandemic. Try not to automatically see them as threatening. Reframe it as a challenge that you can adapt to.

2. Reach Out to Other People and Build Social Connections

Accepting and giving help to others builds resilience through social connection. Biologically, we are programmed to gain strength by connecting with others. Know that social isolation puts us at higher risk for depression. After 10 months of the pandemic, we need each other now more than ever, but “sheltering in place” makes it harder because face-to-face contact is risky. So, we have to adapt.

Fortunately, we can use Zoom and other video platforms that makes reaching out and connecting with others safe. No, it is not the same as live interactions, but it is better than nothing. Using the available technologies to adapt to the pandemic illustrates the essence of resilience.

3. Revise Your Goals When Necessary

The pandemic might require that we postpone or even let go of some of our immediate goals. You might have to adjust your expectations for yourself or others in the new pandemic world. Coping day after day with the challenges saps our energy, which can reduce motivation to take action, complete tasks, or realize ambitions.

Try to be realistic on what you can and cannot accomplish. If pushing forward with your goals is causing too much stress, make the necessary adjustment. You might have to back off and take care of yourself first.

4. Take Decisive Action Where You Can

The pandemic imposes restrictions that can lead to a loss of control. One way to claw back some of that control is to find ways to take action rather than just resigning yourself to the situation. Try new things. Be creative and flexible. Think outside of the box more. Adopt a can-do approach to life. Taking some action that you can control within your more restricted life can still be meaningful. Even small actions like cleaning out your closet or fixing a broken hinge on a cabinet door can offer a sense of meaning, purpose and control that will build resilience.

5. Keep Things in Perspective

Even during stressful times, try to consider the situation in a broader context. Hold a longer-term perspective alongside the immediate pressures of daily life. Times are hard right now, but they will change. What you fear today will more likely resolve itself over time.

6. Engage in Active Coping

Active coping requires that you push back against the tendency to feel defeated by all the hardships tied to the pandemic. There are a few simple techniques to enhance your coping in the moment. “Thought stopping” involves shutting down negative thoughts by recognizing—in the moment—how they are upsetting us. Stopping negative thoughts is the first step. Next is to practice letting go of these negative loops. Simply observe the thoughts without attaching to them. Let them come and let them go. A second technique involves mentally projecting yourself back to a better time or forward to a better future. 

7. Find Things to Do That Give You Joy

Recognize that the pandemic has taken away many things that allowed us to enjoy life. These losses add up and erode our happiness over time. So, we must do things that restore that joy. Try simple things such as taking a warm bath, having a cup of tea, going for a walk, doing a home project, etc. Be intentional, take the initiative and engage in purposeful actions. You will be the better for it.

National Symphony Orchestra Agrees to Modifications and Extends Contract

Musicians of the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) ratified the second of two “COVID agreements,” in September, addressing issues brought about by the pandemic.

Under the first COVID agreement, which was ratified in April, base salary was reduced to 75% through August 10. In addition, terms of the 2019 CBA—originally a four-year agreement—were extended for a fifth year, through September 2, 2024. Salary increases that had been negotiated for the second, third, and fourth years of the contract were delayed by one year.

The latest COVID agreement, which went into effect September 8, reduces base salary, seniority, and overscale to 75% for the 2020-21 season. In addition, 2% of wages will be earmarked as an Electronic Media Guarantee.

Orchestra size remains at 96 musicians plus two librarians, but one position in each section may be left vacant for the 2020-21 season. Participation in chamber music, education, and fundraising events will be voluntary through December 31, 2020.

As part of both COVID agreements, management agreed not to invoke Force Majeure through specified dates.

NSO musicians are represented by Local 161-710 (Washington, DC).

Performance Preparation and Enhancement During COVID

Musicians are facing a struggle during 2020 and into 2021. Gigs are gone. Bars are closed. Tours have ended. Teaching Zoom lessons is the new norm. Everything about the gigging life has been disrupted, and for some, that may mean a disruption in self-care. How do you maintain your body condition while enduring the pandemic? The pandemic is temporary and there will be a time when you perform again. (I know, it seems like that will never happen, but it will.) Will you be physically ready for that day, or will you be totally out of shape and at risk for injury? This is the time for preparation. Let’s talk about what you can do now to train your body using your own body weight along with low cost items you can buy online or may already have at home.

What is Your Goal?

When considering a training program, the first thing you must contemplate is your goal. Why are you considering exercising? Do you see those “love handles” growing at a rapid pace? Do you feel like a slug and have little energy? Do you just feel deconditioned after the long haul of the pandemic? All of those are great reasons to get started, but the desire must come from within. You must really want to achieve a better level of health and wellness. There is no carrot at the end of the stick. You must make that inner decision to change yourself, and then make it a ritual for a month. If you get through the first month, you are unstoppable. If you slip up, then start again.

How Do You Start?

Performing music is a full-body sport. You use the muscles of your core, your back, your legs, your arms, your neck, your feet. Every muscle group of the body is integrated into performing music. Each instrument has its associated major muscle groups that need to be well developed. You are an Olympic athlete in training, and that time is coming when your opening ceremony will occur again, when theaters, bars, and performance locations reopen to the public. Let us empower the body now in preparation. We will focus on four main regions of muscular development: the core (which includes lower back, abs, pelvic muscles, and even hamstrings and quads), the upper back and chest, the extremities (arms, legs), and enhancing heart function.

The Core

Every musician needs core strengthening. Having strong core muscles allows you to express yourself with more strength, finesse, and power into your instrument. Exercising the core group of muscles, like the abs, lower back, oblique abdominals—I would include the diaphragm and pelvic muscles as well—is really simple. There are two easy ways to exercise the core at home. The first is by doing planks. If you are not familiar with planks, go to YouTube and type it into your search screen. There are many forms of planks, but keep it simple: 30-45 second planks, repeated two or three times, performed daily, will greatly enhance your core strength—and make you less susceptible to back injury. More importantly though, it will develop those muscle that allow you to enhance your musical style, whether you are on the drums, piano, strings, or woodwinds.

Another great tool to work the core is an exercise ball. These come in different sizes based on body size. Exercise balls integrate core muscle strength, arm and leg strength, brain coordination, equilibrium, and balance. They are fantastic for developing great, balanced muscle tone, enhancing brain connections to muscles, and creating better stability. You can find them online and in stores such as Target and Walmart very inexpensively, for around $20. YouTube has a plethora of instruction videos for exercise balls, and many exercise balls come with a chart of the different forms of exercises.

The Upper Back and Chest

If you can purchase a small free weight dumbbell set or some exercise resistance bands, you can perform many forms of upper body workouts. But again, let’s keep it simple. Push-ups are one of the best chest exercises you can perform using your own body weight. Push-ups involve core strength, chest, arms, and upper back strength. You should always balance the back muscles and the chest wall muscles. Therefore, for the upper back, I recommend either band exercises where you attach the resistance band to a non-movable object, and perform rowing type movements, bringing the arms back and shoulder blades together. Or you could use free weights to do this same exercise. Again, go to YouTube and type in “upper back resistance band exercises” and you will learn many ways to enhance your upper back strength right in the comfort of your own home.

The Arms and Forearms

If you have been not performing regularly over the past eight months, I guarantee that you have lost some strength in your arms. Unless you have purposefully practiced your craft with dedication every day, your muscle mass will have decreased due to less demand. One of the most injured areas I see as a chiropractor is to the structures of the forearms and hands. These injuries are typically caused by inadequately strengthened forearm and hand muscles in relation to the demand placed upon them by the thousands of movement repetitions involved in a performance and in practice.

In fact, the most common time to see injuries is when ramping up rehearsals and practice time just before performances. The COVID pandemic may extend through spring/summer 2021, and we all pray that music, theater, and the entertainment industry will be restored at that time. The worst thing you can do with your arms and hands is to begin ramping up practice and rehearsals just months before returning to the stage. You will make yourself highly susceptible to injury. Now is the time to prepare.

The forearms and wrists can be exercised easily with some free weights, or even with some objects around the house, like a used plastic container for bleach or laundry detergent that you fill with water. This simple solution can give you an immediate five-to-seven-pound object to use for strengthening. You can use this weight to do arm strengthening—lateral and forward arm raises will work the shoulder muscles very nicely. Do this three times weekly.

Wrist flexion and extension exercises (again, just YouTube that topic) also should be done at least three times per week. These exercises strengthen the flexor and extensor muscles that attach up into the elbow. I can’t state strongly enough how important these exercises are for every musician. I would also recommend purchasing a finger flexor/extensor exercise strengthener—but you can keep it simple by squeezing a tennis ball and using rubber bands around your fingers and extending them against resistance. You can perform these finger toning exercises every day.

The Legs

Depending upon your instrument, your legs serve as your stability and send force up into your upper body for performance. Pianists are constantly working the muscles around the ankles for pedaling, and of course for drummers, the strength of your legs, ankles, and feet are crucial for performance. Consider string instrument players also—although the legs are not typically moving, they create the foundation of your upper body movement. If you doubt this, try playing your instrument without your feet touching the floor. You will notice how difficult it is to create the force and tonality you enjoy on the instrument.

For leg strength, you can simply walk more. I do not recommend a treadmill as you do not get the propulsion needed to fully strengthen the calves, ankles, and feet. Walking in your community, up and down hills, up and down stairs, or to and from work are some of the best things you can do to enhance leg, ankle, and foot function. For drummers and other instrumentalists that may have enhanced needs for strength, I recommend ankle and toe raises on the stairs. You stand on a stair (hold on to a railing) and place only your toes on the tread of the stair. Then slowly lower and raise the heel so you are working the calf and anterior leg muscles along with the foot muscles. Doing three sets of 10 repetitions for each of these exercises three days per week will keep your ankles and feet powerful.

The Heart

Your heart is a muscle and it also must be kept in great shape. Again, walking at a moderate to fast pace for a half-hour will greatly enhance heart function. Of course, other aerobic exercises like running, swimming, and biking are also fantastic. Choose the one you enjoy the best and maintain a regular routine to elevate your heart rate purposefully three to five times a week.

Summary

I hope you realize how much you can do right in your own home with very little cost to enhance body function during COVID. As I stated at the onset, it takes a decision, commitment, and an inner desire for excellence of your craft to begin and maintain an exercise program. I am sure many of you are already involved in some sort of exercise. But if you are not, then this is the rally call to begin the process of empowerment, because COVID will not last forever, even if it feels like it has already. There will be a day when you are releasing that inner joy of performing music once again. Prepare now so you can enjoy that moment without risk of pain and injury.

Dr. Timothy Jameson is a chiropractor and Certified Chiropractic Sports Practitioner in Castro Valley, California. He specializes in the treatment of repetitive strain injuries in musicians and runs the website
www.musicianshealth.com.