Tag Archives: John Acosta


The AFM: Finding Strength in a Diverse Membership

John Acosta

by John Acosta, AFM International Executive Board Member and Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) President

Diversity within our union cannot be celebrated enough. While our membership runs the gamut in ethnicity, musical genre, age, and gender, the paucity of diversity within many of the workplaces in which we have representational duties continues to impede our effectiveness and growth. While progress has been made within our profession to foster and embrace diversity, an increasingly concerted and deliberate effort is needed to provide a clearer path to increase diversity among officers and members alike.

Last year, the League of American Orchestras, along with partners the Sphinx Organization and the New World Symphony, announced the National Alliance for Audition Support, an initiative that began with a discussion at a Diversity Forum convened by the League and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation some years back.

Our employer partners recognize the need to diversify the workplace in order to reflect the ever growing and evolving communities they serve. While the AFM embarks on programs of our own, we should also support and engage with our employers on joint initiatives that will help elevate underrepresented communities.

This February, as we celebrate Black History Month and look ahead to our triennial convention, we have a twofold opportunity to highlight diversity within our Federation and help kick off the AFM Diversity Awards application process. The AFM Diversity Awards were created to recognize outstanding examples of diversity that foster underrepresented communities within our organization, such as minority and LGBTQ groups. The awards are also designed to recognize exceptional artists who are actively engaged in underrepresented music genres.

By recognizing these noteworthy individuals, we will help to unlock the transformational potential that has always existed within our union, but is far too often overlooked. A recent Brookings Institute study informs us that new census data confirms the importance of racial minorities as the “primary demographic engine of the nation’s future growth” and that “by 2045, whites will comprise 49.7% of the population in contrast to 24.6% for Hispanics, 13.1% for blacks, 7.9% for Asians, and 3.8% for multiracial populations.”

Our union need only tap into an already diverse membership, a membership that I believe may be a great organizing vehicle. When you look at where our Federation already represents musicians, we are truly a reflection of the current and increasingly diversifying America. From the Grammy Awards to the American Music Awards, from the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to the Jimmy Kimmel Live! show, our musicians are already ambassadors from minority communities across America. Our challenge is how to engage and activate our multicultural membership to inspire them to organize the next generation of musicians into our Federation, and ultimately become the future leaders of tomorrow’s AFM.

Career Pathways: A Potential Bridge to Diversity

John Acostaby John Acosta, AFM International Executive Board Member and President of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)

Increasing our presence within the community of young musicians throughout the US and Canada should certainly be a major priority for all of us. Increasing awareness of the AFM among younger generations will only improve our ability to recruit new members, expanding and diversifying our ranks.

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Aiding Musician Organizing South of Our Borders

by John Acosta, AFM International Executive Board Member and President of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)

I recently had the privilege to represent the AFM at several International Federation of Musicians (FIM) workshops in Latin America. The first, coordinated by FIM and hosted by Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC), was a regional project funded by the Swedish organization Union to Union, with support from Musikerförbundet. Our FIM team consisted of FIM Vice President Déborah Cheyne, FIM General Secretary Benoît Machuel, and FIM Regional Coordinator for Latin America Ananay Aguilar.

FIM Latin American Conference

There were several goals of FIM’s Latin American conference in Cuba. The first was to bring together a number of music organizations on the island and generate a dialogue around various topics affecting professional musicians worldwide. The second was to help develop a musicians’ union in Cuba that would be able to represent Cuban musicians at the regional and international level.

Represented at the event were several important musical organizations, including the Instituto Cubano de la Música (ICM) and the collective management organization for authors and composers Agencia Cubana de Derecho de Autor Musical (ACDAM). Also present was a representative of the cultural workers trade union Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Cultura, along with representatives from the national centre for arts schools Centro Nacional de Escuelas de Arte (CNEART), and other various educational establishments from primary to higher level music education.

FIM Central American Regional Meeting

In addition, I was asked by FIM to join their Central American regional meeting in Guatemala City, Guatemala, held several weeks later. It included representatives of established and/or burgeoning musicians’ unions from Panama, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Colombia. From all of these gatherings it was extremely insightful to see how our Federation can stand as an example to many of these Latin American unions of how an open and democratic union can operate.

While perfection in any democratic institution is elusive, if not unattainable, many of these foreign organizations are extremely challenged by the political instabilities they face in their own countries. For example, in Cuba, where we met with the leadership of UNEAC, an artist association that encompassed writers, singers, dancers, musicians, and other creative trades, the level of musicianship and artistry was incredibly high. However, in stark contrast, the ability of those same artists to be able to speak in defense of their own freedom of speech or find recompense when there was a grievance against their employer (the state) was complicated.

Another example was that of Guatemala. For decades, a somewhat violent history in that country caused by the government’s actions against its own people—with special attention focused on seriously suppressing labor rights—has thwarted any union’s ability to survive, let alone thrive. The results are now evident with the absence of any healthy union organization, and certainly not an established musicians’ union. In these cases, the work that FIM is embarking upon in Latin America and other underdeveloped nations, is critical to the advancement of musicians, musicians’ rights, and continued labor presence.

Representatives at the FIM Regional Meeting in Cuba (L to R, Back Row): FIM General Secretary Benoît Machuel; Guitarist Rey Montesinos; UNEAC Musicians’ section at Villa Clara President Alejandro Sánchez Camps; UNEAC Musicians’ section at Matanzas President Luis A. Llagano Pérez; Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) President and AFM IEB Member John Acosta; ACDAM Director René Hernández Quintero; UNEAC at Matanzas President José Alberto García Alfonso; (Middle Row) Sindicato Nacional de Trabajdores de la Cultura General Secretary Nereyda López; UNEAC Musicians’ section Vice President Juan Piñera; UNEAC Musicians’ section President Guido López Gavilán; UNEAC Musicians’ section Vice President Marta Campos; de la Torre Vocalist Dolores Márquez; FIM Regional Coordinator for Latin America Ananay Aguilar; Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana Musicologist Ailer Pérez Gómez; (Seated in front) Bis Music Producer Cary Diez; FIM Vice President and SINDIMUSI Vice President Déborah Cheyne; and Composer Roberto Valera.

Guiding Our Brothers and Sisters Abroad

It is equally important that the AFM be involved now in guiding the process of union development in these nations, especially in the early stages. During our meetings in both countries, we spent a fair amount of time conducting workshops about union administration, building an effective union, and government engagement. There was significant dialogue in our Guatemala meeting about the various union structures found in more industrialized countries like the US, Switzerland, and France, and how these structures operate from the member standpoint to union governance.

The daunting task that these courageous leaders now find before them, is to find the time and resources to create a credible union in a climate with limited economic opportunities. It will indeed require a superhuman effort. I believe our Federation can provide the necessary guidance and training. Working within FIM, I believe these goals can be accomplished. With strong musicians’ unions in our neighbors to the south we can help raise working standards, not only for our colleagues from these nations, but improve the portability of intellectual property rights established in our Federation and export these higher standards to other developing unions.

As employers attempt to pit one musician against another, union against union, and nation against nation, we must organize musician to musician, union to union, and nation to nation, in order for our movement to catch up with an already globalized workplace.

I want to thank AFM President Ray Hair for assigning me to these inaugural meetings. I look forward to our continued participation.

building a strong union

Building a Strong Union

by John Acosta, AFM International Executive Board Member and Vice President of Local 47(Los Angeles, CA)

Recently in Los Angeles, the California State Labor Federation, along with state labor federations from Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, held a conference to address what is deemed to be the inevitable implementation of national “right to work” legislation by the current US Congress. Several hundred union leaders gathered to discuss best practices for unions already facing right to work. Invaluable information was distributed to those in attendance.

While many locals in the Federation have already been faced with the challenges of right to work, we who are in states that are currently not right to work may be joining this not-so-prestigious club. Some of you reading this article might consider me to be an alarmist, and I hope to be wrong, but the labor movement in California is taking the approach of, not if, but when right to work becomes the law of the land.

Our one choice should be to organize. We as a movement cannot remain stagnant or paralyzed, and we must rethink how we can organize internally to strengthen our ranks; not only resisting the challenges of right to work, but positioning ourselves to fight back. In the current climate, unions cannot be defensive. We must take the offense in our thinking and approach. Some of the recommendations that have come out of the right to work labor conference emphasize member engagement, strengthening workplace structures, and engaging new members.

When a musician joins the union, their first interaction should be a positive one. Too many times musicians learn about our union because they are required to join under our agreements. If we can get out in front of this by creating and maintaining an outreach program in music schools, we may be able to make the first interaction a positive one.

Local unions should look at broadening outreach into the community, building alliances, and finding common ground with our community in areas of shared interest.

Our message is critical. We must remind our colleagues that our union is working people standing together; that real people, not just “union officials,” comprise our union. We need to do better in ensuring that the face of our members is the face of our union. In addition, we need to tell real stories. Let’s dig deep in the well of our experiences to demonstrate how our union has helped our members in tough times, and how, without our union, there would be no safety net for working musicians.

Unfortunately, all of our locals are too overburdened and under-resourced to be effective in all the ways I suggest. Our challenge is to find the means to accomplish our mission, despite this lack of resources. That’s why I believe the key is to get membership to take the lead in these critical internal and external efforts. Without direct member involvement, these goals are unreachable.

When We Fight, We Win!

john-Acosta-colorby John Acosta, AFM IEB Member and President of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)

It is with great humility and a renewed sense of purpose that I begin this message to you as a newly elected member of the AFM International Executive Board. I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to thank all of the delegates who supported my candidacy. I pledge to work on behalf of all locals, whether large or small, and all constituencies, be they symphonic or recording, freelance, or somewhere in between.

In thinking about what would be the proper message for my first IM communication to you, I asked myself, what are some of the biggest challenges facing our union today? The answer may vary from local to local, but the three issues that I believe are consistent across our Federation are: loss of membership, diminished and reduced employment opportunities, and apathy. The phenomenon we see throughout the Federation as our older musicians pass on, is not recruiting new members at the same pace as we lose our seniors. I see this trend at Local 47, even with ongoing programs to attract new members and efforts to bring new work under contract.

I am convinced that success in growing our union lies in organizing. We will only grow through internal and external organizing—building upon the ranks of existing members and organizing potential members. What does this mean? For me, it means working with our committees and rank-and-file leaders to strengthen bargaining units in order to fight the growth of nonunion work, whether in the recording realm, classical chamber music, or jazz gigs. Each negotiation is an opportunity to organize by bringing together the union and committees and working to identify the concerns of our members and formulate the best possible responses.

We see attacks in every sector of our industry. In regional orchestras, we see management chipping away at our employment by reducing orchestra size, displacing union members with students, or proposing major rollbacks at the bargaining table. It is essential to build a committed membership in order to fight the growth of nonunion work and fight back attempts to erode our agreements, local
and national.

Across our entire employment spectrum, musicians face wage and benefit theft through misclassification. Whether it’s being classified as an independent contractor—which denies our members their rights to unemployment compensation, social security benefits, and workers compensation—or being paid “off contract” for a recording that ends up being played far and wide, depriving musicians of new use payments and  health and pension contributions, strong rank-and-file leadership is essential.

With strong committees and focused leadership, we will speak musician to musician about the type of legacy we wish to build today in order for AFM members, present and future, to earn a fair salary, feed their families, and put away a decent retirement. If we come together for this common purpose and fight for what we believe, we will win!