Tag Archives: law

New Rules Hinder Collective Bargaining

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.

Florida Law Leaves Injured Undocumented Workers Vulnerable

Florida law states that all workers, regardless of immigration status, should be protected by worker compensation laws, but according to an NPR and ProPublica investigation, employers and insurance companies have found a way around it through a technicality. The Florida workers’ compensation law was amended in 2003 making it a felony to use false identification to get a job. Companies hiring undocumented workers purposely hold the threat of prosecution or deportation over their heads to keep them from filing claims.

Of 800 undocumented people charged with workers’ compensation fraud for using fake Social Security numbers, more than 560 never even applied for benefits. Meanwhile, insurance companies are exploiting the system by collecting premiums then not having to pay out benefits. The AFL-CIO is pushing for a comprehensive rewrite of the law.

Net Neutrality

What the Loss of Net Neutrality Means to Musicians and the Music Industry

On December 14, 2017, the Republican majority at the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), led by FCC Chair Ajit Pai, voted to repeal Obama Administration net neutrality regulations put in place in 2015. The three to two vote was divided along party lines, approving a Trump Administration plan to repeal Obama-era net neutrality protections. Those rules were intended to keep the Internet open and fair—in essence treating all traffic the same, halting Internet service providers (ISPs) from speeding up or slowing down Internet traffic from select websites and apps. It also prevented ISPs from charging additional fees for users to access content.

Prior to the December vote, some members of Congress and others in opposition to the FCC move asked the FCC not to force a vote now, but to withhold it. Complaints from some members of Congress have centered on a corrupted comment system that has revealed at least a million comments may have fraudulently used the names of real people. Also, the Commission has not held public hearings on the repeal and some 50,000 consumer complaints have been excluded from the public record, as noted in a letter to Chair Pai from Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH). Further, Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) expressed concern that many of the fake submissions on net neutrality were linked to Russian email addresses.

Likewise, several attorneys general have threatened to file suit, including the New York Attorney General who is working on a criminal complaint. It is suspected that members of Congress who disagree with the changes will introduce legislation designed to block the new rules.

Under the new regulations, companies would be able to block, slow, or provide fast lanes to any service they so choose. This flies in the face of a free and open Internet concept that would give consumers the choice to access the content they desire on a free and open platform. It would grant ISPs the overarching responsibility to determine what the consumer can and cannot see.

There are competing legislative proposals on this issue, including Representative Marsha Blackburn’s (R-TN) BROWSER Act, or HR 2520, the Balancing the Rights of Web Surfers Equally and Responsibly Act. These proposals would require companies such as AT&T, Facebook, and Google, to get user permission before selling their Internet browser history.

Aside from some of the fundamental changes by the Republican majority on the Pai Commission that give clear advantage to tech companies, the AFM rejects the FCC’s recent changes because of limitations these new rules can possibly place on the free flow of music audio and music opinion content.

AFM International Vice President and President of Local 99 (Portland, OR) Bruce Fife, summarizes net neutrality and its meaning to our industry this way: “The concept of net neutrality is simple. It means that Internet service providers must treat all data the same. They can’t speed it up for some, slow it down for others, or even worse, block access to websites altogether. They need to treat everyone the same, which in our business, creates a level playing field for musicians working to market themselves, their performances, and their recordings.”

Bid to Free “We Shall Overcome”

Arguments of originality and registration are not enough to save the Richmond Organization and Ludlow Music from having to face a lawsuit. A group of plaintiffs cleared the first major hurdle in a lawsuit that aims to establish the unofficial anthem to the Civil Rights Movement is not really under copyright protection. A New York federal judge rejected a publisher’s bid to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that lyrics in the first verse of “We Shall Overcome” were copied from material in the public domain and that there has been a fraud on the US Copyright Office.

The defendants, the Richmond Organization and Ludlow Music, have retained commercial control of the song since copyright registrations were made in the early 1960s. Royalties from the song are earmarked for the Highlander Research and Education Center to support art and research projects in the African-American community, as well as the preservation of Civil Rights Movement documents.

Bruce Fife headshot

You Can Be Heard—NOW!

Every six months, or so, I am tasked with writing an article for the International Musician. More often than not, the impetus for the topic relates to something that I’m dealing with as president of Local 99 (Portland, OR). As I’ve stated before, it’s one of the true positive outcomes of our AFM structure, in that, as an officer of a local, I can bring the daily, real world issues directly to the international governing body, which can then lead to the change and growth required in these challenging times. 

Such is the case with this article. In recent months, Local 99 has seen a significant number of violations by employers in both our national agreements and some of our local agreements. In most of these cases, they are not circumstances that are being brought to my attention by musicians working under the agreements. They are violations that I have been able to ascertain, based on report forms, or research that uncovers new and/or false information.

Following the discovery of these contract violations, I locate and reach out to the musicians (not always so easy, as some may not be members yet), explain the circumstances, and with their help, work to rectify the situation. When successful, that usually means additional payments to the musicians in the form of wages, health care, and/or pension. In reaching out, I have been met with the full range of reactions: from “I don’t want to bother with this” to “let’s take them down,” and every level in between. In one recent case, the musician didn’t want to pursue a claim, then changed his mind, and we (the local and Federation) were able to procure almost $11,000 in wages and benefits for him.

As I ponder this situation, it naturally occurs to me that, if I’m the one catching these contract violations, covering dozens of contracts and completely different work locations, activities, and employers, this must be just a small percentage of what is really taking place. That leads me to question why the musicians working under these agreements, who often complain about not being able to make enough money, do not contact their local or the Federation about these contract violations.

There are two obvious reasons for this. The first is knowledge. If you don’t know the terms of the agreement you are working under, you don’t know how you are supposed to be treated or paid.

That is an easy fix. If it’s a national agreement, the terms are located on the AFM website for you to review. If you can’t find them on the site, contact your local and I’m sure they can help track them down. If it’s a local contract, ask for a copy, or talk with your local officer about the terms. Knowing and understanding the terms of the contract(s) you’re working under is a pretty easy way to determine if you’re being paid and treated properly.

The other reason is fear. Believe me, this is a big one and can be very difficult. You might think that, if you stand up for your right to be treated as required by the contract, which the signing company or organization has agreed to, you could be let go, not hired again, or disrespected in your music community, depending on the scope of the contract. Know that I, as a local officer, don’t want to see this happen to anyone. It is my job to deflect and take the heat away from musicians as we work through the issues. It should be noted in all these cases: the contract is between the union and the producer (employer). An individual musician does not have the authority to waive the terms of that agreement. Working together, though, we should be able to navigate the issues, protect your relationships, and get you the money you’re owed.   

Beyond the realm of these two examples, though, I’m sure there are other reasons why musicians don’t bring contract violations to the attention of their local officers. If we don’t know about something, we can’t work to resolve it. So I’m going to do something crazy here (at least it might prove to be). I would like to hear about all your reasons for not communicating with your local about contract violations, especially the wage violations that you have experienced. I encourage you to read and understand the contracts you are working under so you at least know if there are violations. You can email or snail mail me your story. Mail makes it easier to protect your anonymity, but whichever you choose, your identity will not be shared. I only ask that you identify the local you are a member of.

You can send your story to either bfife@afm99.org or to Bruce Fife, PO Box 42485, Portland, OR, 97242.

Know your value and stand up for your rights!

Students Notified Under New Copyright Law

At the University of Manitoba, thousands of students are receiving letters claiming their IP address has been connected with illegal downloads. Dorms are hotbeds for digital piracy, but some of these warnings include the demand of settlement fees.

The notice system began in 2015 when new Canadian copyright laws went into effect. The University of Manitoba is now obligated to forward infringement notices to the users attached to the flagged IPs, or risk massive fines.

Joel Guénette, the University of Manitoba’s copyright strategy manager, says the letters border on extortion and advises against responding to the notices because they may not stop even once payment has taken place.

Barry Logan, managing director of Canadian Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement, a company that sends infringement notices for rights holders, notes that everyone has the right to ask for restitution before something becomes a matter for the courts. His company has retrieved $500,000 in settlements for rights holders.

Our Revolution Aims to Topple TPP

Bernie Sanders has launched a full on attack of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pack through his new organization, Our Revolution. The organization is hoping to generate 50,000 calls to the US House. The group is urging people to call 1-844-311-2016 to be connected with their representative at the capitol. It is expected that President Obama will ask Congress to vote on the pact before his term of office ends.

“If TPP passes Congress, that’s it. It can’t be changed. TPP can’t be canceled unless all 12 nations pull out,” says Our Revolution Chair Larry Cohen.

TPP is opposed by Americans across the political spectrum. Donald Trump supporters dislike its impact on domestic jobs, while Hillary Clinton supporters dislike its corporate-friendly secret tribunals that can overrule national laws that protect the public. Our Revolution highlighted five problem with the agreement: 1) Outsourcing more jobs overseas; 2) US courts will be overruled; 3) Prescription drug prices will go up; 4) Environmental protection will be set back; 5) The agreement cannot be repealed.

Lawsuits Claim Disney Colluded to Replace US Workers

Before being laid off from Walt Disney World, Orlando, one year ago, Leo Perrero spent months training a temporary immigrant from India to do his technology job. Along with former Disney employee Dena Moore, he has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Disney and two global consulting companies, HCL and Cognizant, which brought in foreign workers. The lawsuits represent the first time Americans have gone to federal court to sue both outsourcing companies and the American company that contracted with those businesses, alleging they collaborated intentionally to supplant Americans with H-1B workers.

The Labor Department is investigating the outsourcing at Disney, as well as at Southern California Edison, a utility that laid off hundreds of American workers in 2014. At least 30 former Disney workers filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming that they faced discrimination as American citizens.

Conservatives Force Anti-union Bill into Law in Canada

An unconstitutional, anti-union bill (Bill C-377) has been forced through the Canadian Senate. Seven provinces oppose the bill, stating that it intrudes into provincial jurisdiction. Experts agree that the bill is unconstitutional for several other reasons as well, and when challenged in courts, will not survive. The bill attempts to force unions to disclose all of their financial information employers and to the general public. Unions and individuals across the board oppose the bill, from the NHL Players Association to the AFM to Conservative and Liberal senators to constitutional experts. The best opportunity for the public to oppose Bill C-377 is in the upcoming federal election.

Canadian Appeals Court Mandates Google to Remove Pirate Site

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Canadian Court of Appeals has upheld worldwide injunctions requiring that Google remove search links from certain pirate sites around the world. It is highly unusual for a court to make an order that could place limits on expression in another country. Justice Harvey Groberman explains, “It has not been suggested that the order prohibiting the defendants from advertising wares that violate the intellectual property rights of the plaintiffs offends the core values of any nation.”

The court battle against Google began when a one-time distributor for Equustek Solutions Inc. relabeled Equustek’s products to pass them off as their own through their website. Equustek alleged trademark violations and misappropriation of trade secrets, and the judge told Google to remove a number of websites used by the defendants from its search indexes. Google removed the URLs from google.ca only, which led Equustek to complain of a “whack-a-mole” approach.

The International Federation of Film Producers Association and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry have since joined with Equustek, bring their own arguments and calling for removal of pirating sites.

“Google raises the specter of it being subjected to restrictive orders from courts in all parts of the world, each concerned with its own domestic law,” writes Groverman. “… it is the worldwide nature of Google’s business and not any defect of the law that gives rise to that possibility.”