First of all, I am pleased to report that the renewal agreement negotiated by the Canadian Office of the American Federation of Musicians (CFM) with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has been ratified by the members who worked under the previous agreement over the last three years. This General Production Agreement represents a new benchmark in broadcast contracts for Canada and will be in place for the next four years. The language contains a clause requiring regular “joint committee” meetings between the CFM and CBC, which represents an opportunity to address issues not contemplated during negotiations, or aspects of the agreement which, for whatever reason, do not function as anticipated.
Vice President Bruce Fife and I fulfilled the AFM obligation to attend the International Federation of Musicians (FIM) conference on freelance musicians. The event took place in Denmark, just prior to the AFM’s 101st Convention. We were participants on two of the eight panels, which were augmented by various supplementary presentations.
The subject matter was extremely important—how does a union successfully engage that segment of musicians who do not work under collective agreements and are part of the so-called “gig economy”? It turns out that while there are many similarities experienced by FIM member unions around the world, there are some distinct—and disturbing—differences. Freelance, or gigging, musicians are rather unique as they historically do not engage their union but are prone to operate independently. In simpler terms, they do their own thing. Unfortunately for them, as well as for their union, this is most definitely not in their best interests.
Freelancers have always represented a large part of our membership yet are the least likely to utilize any of the services and benefits available. Understandably, there are two consistent services that attract them: instrument and liability insurance, and immigration assistance. Inexplicably, they completely ignore the more than 40 other benefits. The most important are, of course, using contracts to cover their live engagements as well as taking advantage of agreements for their recordings. Both of these contain elements which musicians should consider indispensable in their careers: pension contributions and contract default assistance (claims). Further, AFM paper covering recordings results in proper scale wages, special payments, and New Use payments. Those important revenue streams can make a huge difference, especially in the quality of life after the music stops.
How to reach out to those players and convince them to work more closely with their union is, of course, the conundrum, and the question which hung heavy over the FIM conference. The British Musicians’ Union (MU) has implemented one method. They have published a very polished members’ handbook that contains information about everything a musician is likely to encounter during their career. There are sections on agents, contracts, insurance, sync rights, placement of music in audiovisual mediums, recording, and travelling to other countries, to only scratch the surface. No stone is left unturned in this tremendously helpful book. And yet—the MU officers were also present at the conference, looking for answers to better engage freelance musicians.
So, what is it going to take for that segment of the membership to acknowledge and take advantage of what they are entitled to? One of the answers may be intensive internal organizing. That would entail the engagement and training of our members until they are aware of and conversant with those services and benefits which directly affect them.
Another element of the conference was the tragedy of what it means to be a craft unionist on other continents. For instance, the delegates from certain African countries are often absent from FIM events, as they are repeatedly arrested and jailed for their organizing efforts. Despite this abhorrent treatment, they remain undaunted. In addition, the delegate from Argentina delivered a heartbreaking report of a band who were unfortunate enough to be on stage when a fire broke out in the club (no, they didn’t have pyrotechnics). There were many injuries and deaths because of the panic and confusion. The band members were arrested and charged, apparently because they were considered “management.” Since they had access to microphones, the courts ruled they should have been directing traffic and issuing evacuation instructions, despite also being in peril. Failure to do so resulted in six-year prison terms, and the union in that country was powerless to mitigate the outcome. Suffice to say, these international events certainly impart a different perspective of how good/bad life is in Canada.
Now, what can you do, as a member, to assist with the engagement of freelance musicians? First of all, talk to your local. Find out from them what is available and how to access. Make yourself knowledgeable and conversant with all things the union does. Second, talk about it with your fellow musicians. Make sure they are aware, and together make plans to take advantage of those services. And third, speak to musicians who are not yet members. The more musicians that join the AFM, the easier and more cost-effective it becomes to deliver the services. Moreover, the strength and effectiveness of the AFM increase exponentially, which in turn benefits you. After all, YOU ARE THE AFM.