Two AFM members of Local 802 (New York City) are among this year’s United States Arts (USA) fellows. Jazz saxophonist-composer Wayne Shorter and composer, conductor, educator Tania León will each receive unrestricted $50,000 cash awards. This year, USA selected a total of 45 artists from all disciplines who live and work across the US through its rigorous nomination and panel selection process. Founded in 2006 by the Ford, Rockefeller, Rasmuson, and Prudential Foundations, USA is among the largest providers of unrestricted support to US artists. To date, it has provided more than $22 million in unrestricted $50,000 rewards to more than 500 artists in every stage of their careers.
US workers continue to face uncertainty about health care and low $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage. However, 18 states gave minimum wage workers a raise for 2018 and several more have laws requiring sick leave and family leave.
At the start of 2018, minimum wage rates were increased by legislation or ballot initiative in Arizona ($10.50); California ($11); Colorado ($10.20); Hawaii, Rhode Island ($10.10); Maine ($10); Michigan ($9.25); New York ($10.40), Vermont ($10.50), and Washington ($11.50). In Alaska ($9.84), Florida ($8,25), Minnesota (9.65/$7.87), Missouri ($7.85), Montana ($8.30/$4), New Jersey ($8.60), Ohio ($8.30/$7.25), and South Dakota ($8.85) rates increased automatically based on the cost of living. Also, workers in Seattle ($15.45), and New York City ($13/$12) will start 2018 with a minimum wage increase. The cities of Portland, Oregon ($10.75), San Francisco, California ($15), and Washington, DC ($13.25) will see a raise July 1.
In 2018, larger businesses in New York City must pay $13 per hour, smaller businesses have to pay $12, and fast food workers will get $13.50. Minimum in other parts of the state are $11 (Westchester County) and $10.40. In New Jersey Governor Christie vetoed a $15 minimum wage bill passed by state legislature. Instead, minimum is going up 16 cents to $8.60. Several locations have legislation in effect that will gradually bring their minimum wage to $15 per hour: California (by 2022), Washington, DC (2020), and New York (2020+).
Laws requiring paid sick and family leave gained some ground. Connecticut (2011), California (2014), Massachusetts (2014), Oregon (2015), Arizona (2016), Vermont (2016), Washington (2018), and Rhode Island (effective 7/2018), plus Washington, DC have paid sick leave laws. Thirteen cities in New Jersey; Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota; Chicago, Illinois; New York City; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Montgomery County, Maryland; and the states of California (2004), Washington (2007), New Jersey (2009), Rhode Island (2014), New York (2018), and Washington, DC (effective 2020) have paid family leave laws.
Only three states—California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—currently offer paid family and medical leave. In Maryland, Republican Governor Larry Hogan vetoed the paid sick leave bill passed by state legislature. Meanwhile, large companies are asking congressional Republicans to shield them from state and local leave laws.
In a December 29 op-ed appearing in The Washington Post, singer Duke Fakir called on Congress for passage of the Classics Act to ensure digital radio cannot exploit artists by amending federal law to require the same digital royalties for all music, whenever it was recorded. Currently, payment for recordings made before 1972 are not covered under federal law but dictated by state law. This has allowed digital services such as SiriusXM to claim those laws allow them to use pre-72 music without paying royalties.
In the article, Fakir, founding member of the Four Tops, said, in part: “This digital rip-off has been a disaster for many older artists, diverting the fruits of their labors—funds that should be their lifeline—to the balance sheets of some of the wealthiest companies in the world … We’ve been stuck for a long time in the fight for fairness for music creators. And the Classics Act isn’t the end of the road. We need to finally ensure the payment of a fair performance royalty for terrestrial radio and close the loopholes that allow big companies to collect huge profits while paying next to nothing for music.”
Tip pooling is when employers require, or strongly suggest, that tipped workers put a portion of their tips into a common pool. In the past, such practices allowed employers to take control over employee tips and retain part of the money for themselves or distribute it to other employees. In 2011, under the Obama administration, the Department of Labor (DOL) passed a rule explicitly banning service industry managers from pooling and pocketing a percentage of their workers’ tips.
In December, the DOL announced its intention to reverse the rule in order to help “decrease the wage disparities between tipped and nontipped workers.” However, the rule change they propose has no requirement that employers distribute the pooled tips to bus boys and dishwashers. Employers would be free to pocket those tips as they have in the past.
“By allowing employers to take control of their employees’ tips, this regulation would push a majority-women workforce … further into financial instability, poverty, and vulnerability to harassment and assault,” says Saru Jayaraman of the union-backed Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) says allowing tip sharing would be disastrous for workers, allowing employers to legally pocket $5.8 billion in tips (16% of the employee’s tipped earnings).
Companies listed on the US exchange must disclose the ratio between a chief executive officer’s compensation and the pay of its median worker for any fiscal year starting on or after January 2017. A Bloomberg analysis of the data found that CEOs of the biggest publicly traded US company’s averaged $14.3 million in annual pay, 265 times more than average workers and the highest ratio of any country. The ratio is double that of Canada and 10 times greater than the country with the second biggest gap, India (229). Norway and Austria have some of the smallest margins. CEOs of companies in the Norwegian OBX Index got on average $1.28 million, roughly the income of 20 people.
The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has fined Sinclair Broadcast $13.4 million for running paid content more than 1,700 times as “either stories resembling independently generated news coverage that aired during local news, or as longer-form stories aired as 30-minute television programs.” According to the FCC, the programming “included 60- to 90-second sponsored stories made to look like independently generated news coverage and 30-minute paid television programs.”
The FCC received an anonymous complaint that Sinclair had aired paid programming about the Huntsman Cancer Center, but did not tell viewers that Huntsman had paid for the stories to air. The cancer center was founded by Jon Huntsman Sr., who has long been active in Republican politics and whose son is the US ambassador to Russia.
Though it is the largest fine ever imposed for violating sponsorship identification rules, Democratic FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel dissented from the decision because they thought the fine should be higher. Clyburn said the fine amounted to a “slap on the wrist” for the company that grossed more than $2.7 million in revenue last year. She noted that Sinclair has been fined repeatedly over the years, including a $9.5 million settlement in 2016 for violating other regulations, including children’s television rules. She said the FCC was offering “unreasonable and suspicious favor to a company with a clear record of difficulty complying with the law.”
Last month, Kelly Hall-Tompkins of Local 802 (New York City) was recognized in the New York Times as one of New York Today’s New Yorkers of the Year. Last year, the violinist earned praise for her performance as the fiddler in the Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof. But, she wasn’t recognized for that acclaimed solo performance. She was recognized for her monthly visits and performances of classical music in homeless shelters.
She first found herself performing at a shelter near Lincoln Center as she struggled to prepare for a solo performance following the death of a close friend in 2004. She felt she had reached her homeless audience of around 12 on a deeper level, affecting them more profoundly at a difficult time in their lives.
The following year she founded Music Kitchen—Food for the Soul, a program to lift the spirits of homeless people through live classical music performances. Since its inception, she has inspired around 200 other musicians to join her for performances in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and Paris.
According to its website (nlrb.gov), the five-member National Labor Relations Board is “an independent federal agency vested with the power to safeguard employees’ rights to organize and to determine whether to have unions as their bargaining representative.” In December, the board quickly overturned several union-friendly rules. This follows the Republican Senate confirmations of two nominees in August and September, and Trump’s selection of Republican Philip Miscimarra as chair. The decisions were quickly pushed through because Miscimarra’s five-year term on the board was to end December 16. Each of the rulings were decided 3-2, with Democrats dissenting. These NLRB decisions include:
- Overturning a 2016 rule requiring settlements to provide a “full remedy” to aggrieved workers.
- Reversing a 2004 decision bolstering workers’ rights to organize free from unlawful employer interference.
- Overturning a 2015 decision holding employers responsible for bargaining with workers if they have indirect control over those workers’ employment or have the ability to exercise control.
- Reversing a 2016 decision safeguarding unionized workers’ rights to bargain over changes in employment terms.
- Overturning a 2011 decision protecting the prerogative of a group of employees within a larger company to form a bargaining unit.
These new rules could affect millions of workers hoping to unionize.
Chicago planners have announced that they hope to open the first major gospel music museum in 2020. The planned $37.2 million National Museum of Gospel Music will be housed on a site once occupied by Pilgrim Baptist Church, known as the birthplace of gospel. Don Jackson, founder and producer of the Stellar Gospel Music Awards and former chair of the DuSable Museum of African American History is leading the project. The Gospel Museum has already been incorporated as a nonprofit. The proposed 40,000-square-foot design would include exhibitions, an auditorium, and a research library.
“Chicago is the birthplace of gospel music and the perfect home for the new National Museum of Gospel Music,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. “The museum will pay further tribute to the home-grown genre that’s given life to legends like Thomas Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson, Albertina Walker, Jerry Dixon, Shirley Caeser, and so many more.”
Workers at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California, accepted a new contract at the end of December that averted a strike. “The membership was not thrilled with the outcome,” says International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 947 President Sal Vasquez. They had wanted health care benefits extended to all full-time seasonal employees and for part-time seasonal employees to receive paid time off for bereavement and jury duty. The two sides met with a federal mediator on December 22.
The union represents 170 ride mechanics, stage technicians, electricians, welders, landscapers, painters, and other maintenance workers whose wages range from $12 to $35 per hour. Both sides were committed to avoiding an interruption in operation. The park launched a 365-day schedule for 2018.