Tag Archives: legislative update

midterm elections

Midterm Elections Are Upon Us: Are You Registered and Ready to Vote?

Midterm elections will take place across the country on Tuesday, November 6. Much is at stake in Washington, DC, for AFM professional musicians. Though many primaries have already taken place, more are still to come. As we review the legislative, judicial, and political issues that impact our jobs and our families’ lives, the question will always remain, who in Congress will step forward to look out for our interests? Through experience, we know who “on both sides of the aisle” has stood firm with us, leading us to understand how important it is to help keep these musical champions seated here in the nation’s capital. This is why your vote counts. Without our champions, should anti-union forces have their way, all that we have accomplished can be wiped out in an instant.

What Are the Issues? Why Should We Vote?

Over the years, AFM members fortunately have been able to celebrate some significant musical policy gains. It is equally as important to celebrate and thank our champions, as much as it is to identify those who do not see their way fit to support our movement. The following is a brief list of issues, some positive and negative results, as well as a list of our champions and those detractors who need to hear from us.

Legislative Issues

Music Modernization Act (HR 5447): This bill has three components 1) the Music Modernization Act creates a collective to distribute royalties to songwriters; 2) Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, and Important Contributions to Society Act (CLASSICS Act) provides a performance right royalty to artist/creators whose music was performed prior to 1972; 3) The AMP Act, which will provide royalties to producers and engineers and other technicians who participate in the production of music sound recordings. This bill sailed through the House of Representatives on a voice vote without the need for floor debate or amendments. As this issue went to print, the Senate had just passed the bill. Result—A positive outcome for working musicians. Write to thank members: https://judiciary.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/115th-House-Judiciary-Committee-Updated-9-10-18.pdf.

Support (Appropriations Funding) for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) (HR 6147): The NEA recently underwent threats from the White House about zeroing it out. Members of the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee have both reported increased funding levels ($155 million for the agency). At this writing, it is now in bicameral conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate bills. Though there may be a slight debate on the continued validity of this federal agency, it is believed that Congress will, in its usual infinite wisdom, approve agency funding. Result: Positive, members in bicameral conference. Write to thank members of the House and Senate Cultural Caucuses: https://www.americansforthearts.org/congress/house-and-senate-cultural-caucuses. (Site address courtesy of Americans for the Arts.)

The Supreme Court

Though the following are both judicial decisions, the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court of the US rests in the hands the US President. Even more so, once the president informs Congress of his or her nominee, it is up the US Senate to hold confirmation hearings to approve or reject the candidate. Hence, votes from ultra-conservative members of the US Senate often lead to the placement of conservative judges that might support an anti-worker agenda.

Rebecca Friedrichs, et al. v. California Teachers Association: At issue was whether Abood v. Detroit Board of Education should be overruled, and whether public-sector union “agency shop” arrangements should be invalidated under the First Amendment. Also, whether public employee rights are violated under the First Amendment, requiring that public employees affirmatively object to subsidizing what is referred to as nonchargeable speech by public sector unions under collective bargaining. The question remains, should public sector employees be required to consent affirmatively to subsidizing union political speech? The case centered on the California Teachers Association, which is an affiliate of the National Education Association. Result: Affirmed in a 4 to 4 split decision. A win for labor unions.

Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31: The Supreme Court determined that states and public-sector unions may no longer collect agency fees from nonconsenting employees. The Court set aside, overruled Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, determining that it was “poorly reasoned.” It ruled that “fair share fees” paid by nonunion members violate a worker’s First Amendment rights, and cannot continue unless the employee consents to pay.
Result: Vote: 5 to 4 in favor of the plaintiff. A loss for labor unions.

These major judicial decisions, positively or negatively, shape the future of the union movement and the earning potential of our members. In each case, it is elected officials who make final determinations about who is assigned to the courts and who the winners and losers will be.


Now that you have the details of some of our active issues, it is vitally important that you let your legislators know your position. Never underestimate the power of your vote. Voting is both a civic responsibility and a privilege. When we disregard that privilege, we leave policy and leadership in the hands of those who may not see things our way.

Voter Registration

State registration requirements usually originate from the local or state election office. These offices can be found in a number of different locations including in city government, county government, and state voter election offices. Rules differ state to state, so be sure to contact these offices directly, especially if you require an absentee ballot or need to determine your polling place. Some states have ballot drop sites. This information is readily available at your local voting office. You may also be able to register to vote at state motor vehicle offices, Armed Forces recruitment stations, as well as at state and county public assistance offices.

USA.gov notes that citizens who are overseas and military voters (and eligible family members) living outside the US, can register to vote and/or request an absentee ballot through the Federal Voting Assistance Program. You can also register to vote in languages other than English with a National Mail Voter Registration Form, which you must print, complete, sign, and mail to the location listed for your state. The form is available in Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. In addition, voter guides include information on registering to vote and are available in Cherokee, Chinese, Dakota, Japanese, Korean, Navajo, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Yupik.

Avoiding Questionable Information Sources

A lot has been said about false media sources/postings and advertisements that mislead voters. For many, the Internet is a valuable source of information. However, use only trusted news and government sources that you are familiar with to get your questions answered. When in doubt, contact a reliable source. Also, report any suspicious notifications, and at all times, verify any news item that you question with a reliable news organization. The best sources for voter information remain state, national, and local election sites. Don’t be misled by notices that change voting dates, site locations, or give exceptions to certain groups of people about when and where to vote.

If you have questions, please feel free to contact AFM Legislative-Political Director Alfonso Pollard by email at apollard@afm.org or telephone at 202-274-4756.

pension plan

Your Support Is Needed Now to Protect Our Pension Plan

AFM-Employers Pension Fund (AFM-EPF) trustees urgently ask that each of you contact your member of Congress right away to express your support for a fix to our multiemployer pension plan through the Butch Lewis Act (S. 2147). Congress, specifically the Congressional Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans (JSC), is currently in the research stage, looking into language to fix troubled multiemployer pension plans. It is vitally important that they hear from each of you now. Be sure to include your story about how critical the plan is to you as a working musician.

As noted in the August International Musician (page 8-9), in formulating a plan of action to best mobilize our pension participants, the AFM-EPF recently launched a webpage to connect fund participants with their members of Congress, as well as with Joint Select Committee members.

To help us protect our pension plan we ask you to take the following two actions.

1) Tell your member of Congress how important your multiemployer pension plan is to you and that you support the Butch Lewis Act. Visit https://afm-epf.org/Congress.aspx where you can

  • learn about the Joint Select Committee
  • identify your members of Congress
  • plan what to say (language is posted for your
  • call your members of Congress
  • email your members of Congress and the JSC
  • schedule a meeting with your members of Congress in their district/home state offices

2) Register at https://afm-epf.org/Registration.aspx to receive the Pension Fund Notes newsletter, which includes regular updates on the progress of the congressionally mandated JSC.

It is important that multiemployer pension funds, participants, unions, and employers all present a united front in demanding a solution from the Joint Select Committee.

If you have not taken action or registered on the official AFM-EPF website, we urge you to do so today!  This will give you access to the latest activity while keeping you abreast of proposals and actions by the JSC. Acting on rumors coming from unofficial, non AFM-EPF sources relating to this critical legislative project can skew the official AFM message and have a very damaging effect on our goal to put you and your interests first. Thanks again for your support and for your AFM membership.

pension reform

AFM Pension Reform and Janus vs. AFSCME: Is the Federal Government on the Right Track to Secure Your Future?

This month, the AFM Office of Government Relations examines two critical government issues—pension reform and the Janus decision. Pension Advocacy and Security Solutions for pension reform now rest in the hands of the bipartisan Congressional Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans (JSC). This committee was established to study troubled multiemployer pensions and come up with solutions to the crisis by the end of November. As the JSC moves on to the next phase of its work, it is time for the AFM-EPF, workers, and retirees to tell the committee their stories.

The AFM-EPF trustees have determined that the Butch Lewis Act, introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), would best protect our plan and that the JSC represents the best chance to pass this legislation. This act would make low-interest government loans available to pension funds that face financial challenges.

There is still a long row to hoe and changes to the Butch Lewis Act may be necessary to get bipartisan support. It is essential that AFM members make their voices heard in Congress to ensure the JSC produces a solution that helps the AFM-EPF and is fair to pension participants. AFM-EPF trustees continue to carefully study pending and proposed Congressional legislation and work alongside AFM staff to provide important information to Congress, as well as to answer fund participant questions.

Moving AFM Members to Action

AFM-EPF launched a webpage to connect participants with their members of Congress, as well as with JSC members.

Visit https://afm-epf.org/Congress.aspx to: learn about the JSC, identify your members of Congress, plan what to say, call or email your members of Congress, email the JSC, or meet with your members of Congress.

AFM-EPF participants can also register at https://afm-epf.org/Registration.aspx to receive the Pension Fund Notes newsletter, which includes regular updates on the JSC’s progress.

If you have not visited these sites, I urge you to do so today. It is important that multiemployer pension funds, participants, unions, and employers present a united front in demanding a solution. Acting on rumors can have a damaging effect on our goal to put your interests first.

Our Strong Advocacy Continues

On July 12, at the direction of AFM President Ray Hair, who was occupied at television negotiations in New York City, AFM International Executive Board member Dave Pomeroy (president of Local 257) and I joined more than 10,000 of our brothers and sisters from the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), Teamsters, AFL-CIO, and other labor unions to raise our voices on the steps of the Columbus (OH) State House. We came together with UMWA President Cecil Roberts to tell personal stories about the importance of our pensions to our families’ retirement security and to urge members of Congress to act urgently. Pomeroy performed labor selections and spoke to the crowd on behalf of AFM members.

I stood in for Hair, delivering his remarks. The AFM’s strong participation sent a clear signal of solidarity with our brother and sister unionists—demonstrating that the AFM is an integral part of this battle.

Janus Ruling Upends 41 Years of Labor Precedent

On June 27, the Supreme Court of the United States released its long-awaited decision in the case of Janus v. the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). AFSCME is the public sector union that represents state, county, and municipal employees across the country.

Mark Janus is an Illinois state employee whose unit is represented by the AFSCME. Under state law, Janus was required, like all other nonmember employees, to pay “agency fees” to AFSCME. These fees are earmarked to cover union expenditures attributable to collective bargaining activities or “chargeable expenditures.” (They may not be used for political and ideological projects or “nonchargeable expenditures”).

Janus refused to join the union because he disagreed “with many of the union’s positions, including those taken in collective bargaining.” The Illinois governor filed suit challenging the constitutionality of state law authorizing agency fees. Janus joined as a respondent. The Illinois attorney general intervened in support of the law. Eventually, the District Court dismissed the governor’s challenge, but allowed Janus to file his own complaint. Oral arguments were heard in the Supreme Court February 26 and June 27. The Court concluded its findings and released a ruling on the final day of the 2017 court term.

Justice Samuel Alito delivered the Court’s opinion, joined in the majority by justices Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Jr., Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch. The Court found that, because of the shortcomings in Abood v. the Detroit Board of Education (431 U. S. 209, 235–236) (which established the collection of agency fees), “states with public sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees.” Justice Elena Kagan delivered dissenting opinion, joined by justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor.

This was a seemingly devastating blow to public sector collective bargaining and organizing. The groundswell of opposition came immediately and definitively from AFSCME President Lee Saunders, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, AFT President Randi Weingarten, and labor leaders across the country.

However, labor had already begun to organize in anticipation. Saunders had prepared his union for the onslaught of attacks from anti-union detractors. Three years ago, he began talking to union fee payers and non-fee payers, making contact with close to one million AFSCME members, apprising them of difficult times ahead should Janus be successful. On the day of the Supreme Court decision, he noted that we should expect Congressional legislation to mitigate the effects of the ruling.

At a press conference with House and Senate Democrats, highlighting “Better Deal” labor law reform proposals, Trumka made it clear that organized labor has prepared and is optimistic, saying, legislators are ready to introduce legislation “that will make Janus a footnote in history.” He noted that workers are organizing against this decision. He revealed that 15,000 new members recently joined the union movement in one week, and of the 262,000 new members who joined last year, 75% of them were under age 35.

The Better Deal Act, the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, and the Workers Freedom to Negotiate Act are steps in the right direction. These laws, Trumka says, “will remove chunks of the anti-worker Taft-Hartley Act and make progress forming unions and reaching a first contract a whole lot more fair.” He went on to say that the pro-business Supreme Court “is on the wrong side of history.”

It is up to AFM members to weigh in, when the time is right. We should work to further the notion of solidarity within our workplaces and make clear the danger we face by sitting idly, thinking this is someone else’s problem. We ask that you remain vigilant now and in the future.

Feel free to contact me at apollard@afm.org to discuss any of the details.

Arts and Entertainment

The Shifting Face of Arts and Entertainment Policy and Power in Washington, DC

As I noted in the May International Musician, federal arts and entertainment policy experienced a seismic shift in leadership in Washington, DC, when Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Democratic co-chair of the House Arts Caucus passed away unexpectedly in March. Over the years, Slaughter was a dynamo when it came to public arts policy on Capitol Hill. Time and time again, her leadership of the 161-member bipartisan Congressional Arts Caucus came up with new policy strategies that led, not only to the survival of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), but also National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and public arts education.

She was a friend to the entire arts community, but a very personal friend to us at the AFM. Aside from taking the leadership role in pressing arts and entertainment issues, she worked with the AFM as the sponsor of the 1998 Congressional Sing-Along for the Arts on the west steps of the US Capitol Building.  Sponsored by her office, the office of former Congressman Sidney Yates (D-IL), and the AFM, the event was heralded as one of the strongest shows of support for the NEA. Hosted by Slaughter, it included more than 60 members of the House and Senate. A Congressional band led by Peter Yarrow (a member of Locals 802 and 1000) of Peter Paul and Mary fame included Representatives Collin Peterson (D-MN) (a member of Local 30-73) on guitar and David Obey (D-WI) on harmonica, as well as yours truly on percussion.

In Memorial

Arts and Entertainment

The AFM sponsored the Eastman School Alumni String Quartet to perform at a memorial service for Representative Louise Slaughter. (L to R) are Marcio Botelho, Heidi Remick, Marta Bradley, Claudia Chudacoff, and Joanna Owen.

To express our heartfelt thanks to Slaughter and her family, the AFM sponsored a quartet of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) members, organized by Local 161-710 Secretary Treasurer Marta Bradley to perform for family and friends in honor of Slaughter’s service. The group, the Eastman School Alumni String Quartet, comprised first-call players with professional roots in Washington, DC. The April 18 memorial event, organized by the office of House Speaker Paul Ryan, took place in Statuary Hall in the US Capitol Building. The memorial service was for members of Congress, guests, and friends who could not make the earlier funeral in New York. They commemorated one of the most beloved, capable, and respected bi-partisan legislators in the history of Congress. Stories of mentorship, friendship, and endearment filled the room along with tributes from Slaughter’s children, Speaker Ryan, and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. The quartet masterfully performed the prelude and postlude in a fitting tribute to their personal congressional hero and Eastman School of Music supporter. Afterwards, thanks poured in from those in attendance; members of the quartet were interviewed by a Rochester, New York, news affiliate.

Pelosi Names Pingree Co-Chair of Congressional Arts Caucus

On the following day, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi named Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) as Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus. Another fierce supporter of the arts, Pingree previously served alongside Slaughter on the House Congressional Arts Caucus in the fight to keep the arts alive in America. The AFM joined members from other arts and entertainment unions in a meeting with Pingree on May 18.

NEA Chair Jane Chu Steps Down

In May, arts and entertainment unions met with new Congressional Arts Caucus Co-Chair Chellie Pingree. (L to R) are Howard Sherman (SDC), Brandon Lorenz (AEA), Paul E. Almeida (DPE), Representative Pingree, Sarah Howes (SAG-AFTRA), Alfonso Pollard (AFM), and Michael Wasser (DPE).

After four intensely successful years as chair of the NEA, Dr. Jane Chu, the dynamic force behind recent NEA growth, served notice that she would be moving on. Chu was an active, hands-on chair who made it a point to visit growing arts organizations in all 50 states, from densely populated cities to remote rural communities. She sought to connect artists and communities to expand the arts and sew a more inclusive cultural fabric of this nation’s most prolific arts institutions. As a musician with advanced degrees in piano pedagogy, business administration, and a PhD in philanthropic studies, Chu envisioned an America where arts organizations and artists expand into more livable communities. She encouraged artists to collaborate with their communities to promote the business and economic value of the arts, which has helped make the industry one of the most financially progressive contributors to the US gross domestic product. Her even-handed relationship with members of Congress made it easy for the majority of legislators to see the value of the arts. This visionary approach, time and time again, led to full funding of the agency, despite attempts by many in government to end the agency.

Chu’s unpretentious style, grace, and artistic talent, underscore the true merit of her appointment. She was the right person to lead the agency at the right time. She leaves the NEA better off than when she inherited it. We are sure this is not the last we’ll see of her. We look forward to our continued work with NEA staff and all the national artists and arts groups committed to maintaining the power of federally supported arts. The AFM wishes Chu a future full of all the best that life and career have to offer.

Full House Passes Music Modernization Act

AFM President Ray Hair (right) with Representative Donald Norcross (D-NJ).

On April 25, shortly after Congress welcomed French President Emmanuel Marcron, following brief votes, the House took up, the Music Modernization Act (HR 5447) offered by Judiciary Committee Chair Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). 

The parties involved, along with committee leadership, successfully and unanimously dispatched the legislation during the legislative process under Suspension of the Rules. This coveted Congressional procedure signifies that there is no objection to the legislation by anyone in that Congressional chamber. Once passed, the bill moved to the Senate for final congressional consideration. The Senate was expected to take up the bill May 15. 

The AFM continues to work with other musicFIRST affiliated organizations and the offices of Goodlatte and Nadler to reach a negotiated settlement with broadcasters on a terrestrial performance right. During his opening comments at the April mark-up, Nadler clearly expressed his commitment to creating a performance right in terrestrial radio, even though it is not included in this bill. In his opening remarks Nadler states: 

Not included in this bill is the creation of a terrestrial performance right, but that is solely a result of timing. Under our direction, the National Association of Broadcasters and the musicFIRST Coalition are engaged in discussions on this issue. We do not want to wait and potentially lose the opportunity to resolve some other timely issues, but we are confident that the parties will continue to negotiate in good faith toward a solution that benefits both sides.

Those negotiations continue. The Music Modernization Act is the first major piece of copyright music licensing legislation moved in Congress in 30 years.

Pension Resolution Requires All Hands On Deck

AFM International President Ray Hair has enlisted the full range of legislative lobbying expertise from the AFM Office of Government Relations. Operating on several fronts, the office has, over the past year, participated in weekly calls by the National Coordinating Committee for the Solvency of Multiemployer Plans and worked with other labor affiliates to forge new ground in the battle to strengthen pending pension legislation.

Joint Select Committee on the Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans AFM
participation timeline:

November 2, 2017—AFM President Ray Hair and Legislative Director Pollard meet with Gideon Bragin, pension advisor to Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), to discuss components of the Butch Lewis Act

November 16, 2017—Bill read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance; AFM-EPF actuaries evaluate Butch Lewis Act (S. 2147) and find that it meets plan criteria

November 16, 2017—I attend Butch Lewis Act roll out

January 30, 2018—Hearings held by Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs

March 14, 2018—I attend opening Joint Select Committee on Pensions Organizing Meeting 

April 11, 2018—Local 161-710 President Ed Malaga attends public hearing of the Joint Select Committee; pension fund and AFM lobbyists begin weekly conference calls

May 10, 2018—Hair and I attend six meetings with Joint Select Committee members and staff, and AFL-CIO Legislative Department Pension Staff Lauren Rothfarb to discuss the Butch Lewis and Grow acts and labor positions on each. These meetings outlined the official pension fund position on the progress of Congressional legislative process and updated members of Congress on the status of the AFM-EPF

As the multiemployer pension issue moves forward, Hair has committed to regular visits to Washington, DC, briefing members of Congress, while working with the AFL-CIO to investigate consensus positions on legislation. The committee is expected to complete its work and make a final recommendation/report to Congress by November 30. 

Members of the Joint Select Committee are:

Republican Senators Orrin Hatch (UT), Rob Portman, Lamar Alexander (TN), and Mike Crapo (ID); and Representatives Virginia Foxx (NC), Phil Roe (TN), Vern Buchanan (FL), and David Schweikert (AZ). Democratic Senators Co-Chair Sherrod Brown (OH), Joe Manchin (WV), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), and Tina Smith (MN); and Representatives Bobby Scott (VA), Richard Neal (MA), Debbie Dingell (MI), and Donald Norcross (NJ).

Bringing Licensing Reform into the Digital Age

by Alfonso Pollard, AFM Legislative-Political Director and Diversity Director

Protecting the intellectual property rights of creative artists has long been a primary mission of the AFM. Over the years, Congress has systematically reformed copyright law, taking into account changes in technology, legal precedents, and platform changes used to create, register, distribute, and ensure a performance right for creators. In particular, it has encouraged protections for sound recordings created by artists and enjoyed by hundreds of millions of consumers around the world.

This year, Congress is set to enact sweeping changes in digital copyright law that will provide long-needed reforms in the digital environment. This comes after years of deliberation by AFM leadership, working together with prominent music organizations representing US music publishers, record labels, songwriters, composers, artists, and performance rights organizations (PROs). These reforms are set to provide even greater protections, as well as a statutory performance right law for creators and session musicians.

In a January 8 joint press release from music industry leaders entitled “Licensing Reform Legislation Wins Unified Support of Key Music Leaders,” AFM President Ray Hair expressed the importance of working together to accomplish equity and fairness along all platforms, for all creators, and more notably, obtaining a terrestrial right for musicians whose works are performed on AM-FM radio.

Hair notes, “We stand with all music creators seeking fairness, and urge Congress to act in 2018 to remedy the full range of inequities that harm creators under current law. Musicians welcome the support of the entire music community in urging Congress to enact a terrestrial performance right. It is time for Congress to end the loophole that deprives performers of fair pay for the use of their work on AM-FM radio.”

Hair backs up this notion of parity and equity through his involvement with the creation of H.R. 1836, the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, introduced by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). The bill was developed in national partnership with the musicFIRST Coalition, which represents artists and recording labels. musicFIRST founding partners are the AFM, American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), Society of Singers, Christian Music Trade Association (CMTA), Latin Recording Academy, Rhythm & Blues Foundation, Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), SAG-AFTRA, SoundExchange, and Vocal Group.

In 2018, the House Judiciary Committee, under the leadership of Chair Robert Goodlatte (R-VA), is expected to take up key pieces of music legislation designed to modernize digital copyright and intellectual rights laws, along with copyright and copyright office reform. In a joint statement, the musicFIRST Coalition formally announced their united support for key pieces of pending legislation.

These bills include HR 4706, The Music Modernization Act of 2017, which reforms section 115 of the Copyright Act and repeals Section 114; HR 3301, The CLASSICS Act, which establishes royalty payments for recordings made before 1972; and HR 881, The AMP Act, which adds producers and engineers who participated in the creation of sound recordings, giving them the right to collect digital royalties going forward. In addition, the coalition supports a market-based rate standard for artists from satellite radio.

Each of these bills takes on problems in the industry that need revision. Most importantly, the AFM, along with its partners, will continue to work toward the passage of the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, which would hold broadcasters accountable for the free use of music. This directly affects the livelihood of our members.

Look for email blasts from AFM President Hair asking AFM members to contact their legislators at critical points in the upcoming deliberations. Make sure your voice is heard!

Federal Government Tax Reform: What It Means for You

The Republican-led Congress and administration have now embarked on a debate over another feature piece of legislation promised during the 2016 campaign: tax reform. At this writing, the Republican-led House of Representatives has introduced its far reaching reform proposal, which it claims focuses on a tax savings for middle-class Americans. Along with White House regulatory reforms, the House says the bill will provide tax savings and incentives for American businesses, especially those with overseas or offshore operations.

Working alongside the majority party in Congress, the White House is expecting delivery of a complete tax package to the President’s desk before Christmas. The steady grind of the legislative machine in both the US House and Senate since the end of the August recess may drive this package through (loopholes and all), especially if the House and Senate can make a final deal with disgruntled Republicans and some nationally recognized outside groups like the Mortgage Bankers Association, national real estate organizations, and others who are on the fence.

Though the philosophy of the majority party is to move this process through before too many stakeholders weigh in, there are those who believe that the package as written, containing a limit on interest deductions for new home purchases of $500,000 or more and an expansion of the standard deduction (as outlined in a November 3 New York Times article), is a losing proposition, too difficult to sell to their constituents. In the same New York Times article, others, including Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation and the independent Tax Foundation, find that America’s highest earners would receive at least twice the tax cut that middle-class workers would get, as a percentage of their income.

Democrats, along with other outside groups who sit in opposition to the package, say that the plan is not well thought-out and is moving too quickly. It will harm, not help, middle-class Americans because it will raise taxes. Meanwhile, it will eliminate some much sought-after and expected annual tax staples such as state and local tax write-offs (businesses will continue to be able to deduct state and local taxes incurred in the conduct of a trade or business) and House reductions in the mortgage interest cap. Also, it will use funds from the elimination of important programs, such as the CHIP and state Medicaid Expansion, which were put in place to help middle-class Americans. Opponents say this, along with other loopholes, is all to help pay for a tax reform package designed to help wealthy taxpayers.

Concerns for Members

A look at the tax reform package reveals some issues—changes for the average American and for musicians and others in the media and entertainment fields.

The House Ways and Means Committee, the committee that oversees the drafting and implementation of tax legislation, has outlined what the new tax law does. You can read the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act at https://waysandmeans.house.gov/taxreform/. The committee states that the bill:

Lowers individual tax rates for low- and middle-income Americans

Eliminates special-interest deductions

Establishes a new Family Credit, which includes expanding the Child Tax Credit

Reduces the tax rate on the hard-earned business income of Main Street job creators

Significantly increases the standard deduction

Takes action to support American families

Preserves the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

Lowers the corporate tax rate to 20%

Opposition forces say that the bill falls short of all these goals and leaves the average American subsidizing proposals that only benefit the rich.

Yeh Shen of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA) states, “Under GOP’s tax plan, all of the necessary costs associated with maintaining a freelance career and professional activities are not tax deductible, if players continue to be paid as W-2 wage [earners].”

Winners v. Losers

But, who are the winners and losers? An article from The Hill  describes who stands to gain and who stands to lose. Here’s a summary:

Winners—Corporations will see their tax rate go down from 35% to 20%. Companies would be allowed to deduct the full costs of buying new equipment for five years. And businesses that had been keeping profits overseas to avoid the 35% tax rate would be able to bring the money back, or repatriate to the US, and pay only a 12% tax for cash assets. Major business groups like the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers back provisions to lower rates for businesses, in order to move to a “territorial” tax system that exempts dividends from companies’ foreign subsidiaries and to enhance expensing of capital investments.

Super wealthy individuals will keep the top tax rate in place, but they have a lot to gain from the bill.  First off, the income tax bracket thresholds increase, which will accrue savings at the top. Second, the bill would double the limit on the estate tax and then phase it out altogether. Currently, the estate tax only applies to estates of $5.5 million or more, and twice that for couples. The bill would immediately double that, giving tax shelter to anyone with an estate between $5.5 million and $11 million (or, again, double those amounts for couples). After a few years, the tax would be eliminated altogether, meaning that the very wealthiest in the country could receive their inheritances tax-free. Third, the plan would lower the taxation rates of “pass-through” corporations, or S-corps, to 25%, allowing certain business owners to claim part of their income at the lower rate. Fourth, it would eliminate the alternative minimum tax, which was intended to create a floor on tax exemptions.

Losers—Blue states, the budget deficit, universities, homeowners, and nonprofit organizations.   

House v. Senate Bills

As for House and Senate bill comparisons, Sarah Babbage from Blumberg outlines direct differences in the bills. You can read her analysis at: https://about.bgov.com/blog/bgov-onpoint-comparing-house-senate-tax-bills/.

For musicians, the tax plan in its earliest form hit on two issues that would have directly impacted artists and their supporting institutions. The first was a provision in the code that provided the time and manner rules for electing capital asset treatment for certain self-created musical works. The original temporary regulatory proposal was published in the Federal Register February 8, 2008. No comments appeared in response of the proposed rulemaking and no request for a public hearing was received. The Treasury then decided to adopt the proposed regulation with some minor changes. However, on November 6, 2017, the provision was removed from the Ways and Means Manager’s Report. The Manager’s Report would have allowed a taxpayer to treat the sale or exchange of a musical composition or a copyright of their personal musical work as a capital gain or loss.

Secondly, the House bill eliminates certain language referring to business entertainment write-offs. This could mean fewer business professionals using theater, restaurant, and other performance venues as write-off activities for their clients. Section 3307 entitled “Entertainment, etc. Expenses,” denies a business deduction for entertainment, amusement, recreation, and other fringe benefits in the media and entertainment industry to embrace or entice business partners. The provision goes on to say: “No deduction otherwise allowable under this chapter shall be allowed for amounts paid or incurred for any of the following items … this may impact any entertainment, amusement, or recreation activity; membership dues; amenities not directly related to the taxpayers trade or business; or on-premise athletic facilities, not related to a trade or business.” 

The Senate bill, introduced November 14, is currently under debate. We must consider that, at this writing, the House bill is still under consideration and the Senate bill, though just introduced, has additional changes. No new policy is set in stone until the chamber has a final vote on it. However, we expect those votes very soon. The AFM will continue to work with its affiliates and outside partners to help mitigate the negative effects of this legislation.

Health Care

Health Care Update: Association Health Plans

This article focuses on health care issues currently being considered by Congress and the Trump Administration.

Affecting Repeal and Replace

For eight years, conservatives in Congress have voted several times on the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), maneuvering through numerous legislative procedural actions that, even today, have not yielded success. Based on a campaign promise to eliminate the ACA, the Trump White House has worked closely with House and Senate leadership to craft new proposals that have resulted in intraparty roadblocks by Republican caucus members.

Democrats held firm to the premise that the ACA need not be repealed or replaced in total. Their belief is that the act should be reworked to help repair many of the adverse provisions that are most harmful to health care consumers.

The latest congressional vote on ACA repeal and replace took place in September, after the August congressional recess. The slim margin in the US Senate left no room for party defections. However, in the final vote, three Republicans voted with Democrats to defeat the bill on the Senate floor.

President Donald Trump says “Obamacare” is dead and gone. However, open enrollment continues as the bill remains in effect until the federal government comes up with a replacement Congress can agree on.

Association Health Plans

Faced with health care defeat in Congress, the White House remains determined to pull out a political victory, focused on keeping the Republican election promise to its constituency. The White House placed the blame for the congressional failure of repeal and replace squarely at the feet of Republican Senate leadership, vowing to push the health care issue until a new proposal is in place.

The most recent health care replacement proposal came October 12 when Trump announced his plan to reintroduce Association Health Plans (AHPs), a system that was proven unsuccessful in the 1980s. A February 2004 GAO Report entitled Private Health Insurance, outlines the negative intricacies that confront AHPs. These include market failures such as insolvency and fraud.

Trump noted that this plan is designed to spur competition in the individual insurance market, while giving small businesses the opportunity to come together in trade groups to form plans across state lines. He plans to affect this plan by having federal agencies, such as the US Treasury, Health and Human Services, and Labor Departments, ease rules wherever possible to make it work. In other words, he will be using the regulatory system to avoid further missteps by Congress.

AHPs have often been referred to as watered down plans that provide limited coverage. The American Academy of Actuaries
-plans-0) makes the case for the importance of consistent rules between plans that compete to enroll the same participants, discussing the adverse effects of the lack of coordination.

Support for this idea comes mostly from within the administration, while outside think tanks, along with some members of Congress, oppose the proposal.

A spokesperson for the nationally recognized Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University states concerns about insolvency and fraud. After Trump’s announcement, the health care industry issued a statement that fell short of an endorsement, noting that the complexity of the issue would need further study. The executive order will take time to implement.

During the week of October 8, Trump kept his promise to cut off cost sharing reduction payments to insurers that help low income Americans reduce their out-of-pocket health insurance costs. The following week, that move was countered by a bi-partisan plan developed by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), which was supported by the president, but then a day later denounced as a bailout to insurance companies.

The AFL-CIO continues to study the AHP issue and has decided not to release a statement until affiliates have had a chance to study the proposal and weigh in. The AFM is taking a similar position, working with the AFL-CIO Health Care Task Force before encouraging locals to take a stand.

Federal Arts Connection

Dear AFM Member,

This is a source for information relating to federal grant making, performance, education, and research opportunities for musicians interested in project funding and international travel as artistic representatives of the US. This list is not exhaustive. Occasionally, we will highlight different federal agencies with arts-related components. We suggest that you make direct contact with local federal agencies, government councils, and non-government organizations (NGOs) to help you identify other possibilities. This list is only a starting point and may reflect full-time and part-time opportunities for working musicians. To successfully engage these opportunities it may be necessary to contact the agency directly for requirement details. The AFM Office of Government Relations is happy to help you identify as many federal resources as possible.


Musical Instrument Repairer
Open and closing dates:  07/19/2017 to 12/31/2017
Salary: $23.81 to $27.77 per hour
Pay scale & grade: WG-10
Work schedule: Full-Time
Appointment type: Permanent
Location: Sembach, Germany
Relocation expenses may be paid

Recreation Attendant Nf1* (Flex) Information, Tickets and Tours
Open and closing dates: 07/28/2017 to 11/30/2017
Salary: $9.25 to $9.50 per hour
Pay scale & grade: NF-01
Work schedule: Shift Work
Appointment type: Permanent
(one vacancy)
Location: Kaneohe, HI

The John F. Kennedy Center
for the Performing Arts
Manager, Teacher, and
School Programs

Location: Washington, DC
Department: Education Job Code 461

Also check the American Federation of Musicians website (http://members.afm.org/auditions) for US military job
notifications (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard).

Senate Health Care Debate Timeline

As a follow-up to my August 2017 IM column on health care, this details recent actions on Capitol Hill. The House completed its work and passed a repeal and replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health care bill. The 2017 House American Health Care Act (AHC) was then forwarded to the US Senate for consideration. Upon receipt, the Senate determined that it needed to compile its own proposal. Hence, Senate majority members went into closed session to draft a new proposal.

The Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA) was introduced as the vehicle used by Senate leadership to start the repeal and replace process. The following timeline provides a sense of Senate action, along with a glimpse at the procedural difficulty encountered after the seven-year attempt to totally eliminate the ACA. Though this process goes back seven years, we begin in 2017 with the 115th Congress, where a single party controls the House, Senate, and White House.

Health Care Timeline

May 4: House passes its version of health care reform, the American Health Care Act of 2017.

May 24: Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports House bill (American Health Care Act) increases federal deficit by $119 billion; over 10 years 23 million would lose health care.

June 13: President Donald Trump weighs in with Senators at a White House lunch to “make the [House] bill more generous.”

June 22: Senate releases its Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.

June 26: CBO reviews draft Senate bill.

June 27: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delays vote; not enough votes for his Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA).

July 13: Republicans present updated version; moderates say new version will hurt those with pre-existing conditions.

July 15: Procedural vote delayed because of Senator McCain’s surgery.

July 17: Senators Mike Lee and Jerry Moran kill the bill by announcing they would vote against it.

July 25: Senator John McCain votes for a motion to proceed.

July 25: Senator Ted Cruz introduces a health care bill amendment to allow insurers to sell low cost health
insurance; bill is rejected by the Senate.

July 27: McConnell announces plans for his Health Care Freedom Act, or as his colleagues call it, “skinny repeal” bill; will not replace the ACA for two years or have a two-year transition period. It is supported by the White House, but Senators oppose the tactic.

July 28: ACA repeal vote takes place, defeated by all Democrats, and Republicans John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins; bill would leave 16 million more people uninsured than ACA. After the vote, Trump continues to push for a health care resolution, while McConnell insists on moving on to tax reform and the debt ceiling.

July 28: House on August recess while Senate remains in pro forma session with no changes to the Affordable Care Act. (The pro forma session prevents President Trump from making recess appointments.)

For AFM members subject to requirements outlined under ACA, you should know that no additional work on health care has been scheduled. We expect more information after the August recess.

Health Care

Deciphering Health Care

Since the start of the 115th Congress, both the executive and legislative branches of government have been under single party control. The US House of Representatives, under the leadership of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), and the Senate, under the leadership of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), with the backing of the Republican White House, have been fully engaged in repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Once the process began in earnest, principal concerns came from Republicans who believed that the new health care bill should include provisions 1) to provide coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, 2) for those with employer-based health insurance, and 3) for cuts to Planned Parenthood. Democrats flatly rejected the bill saying that, in particular, its Medicaid cutback provisions would hurt too many elderly and poor Americans by eliminating Medicaid expansion eligibility included in the ACA. Democrats also complain the bill may cause unnecessary spikes in premiums for low-income families, older Americans, and those with pre-existing conditions.

The Medicaid Debate

Chief among concerns is the gradual elimination of the ACA Medicaid Expansion Program eligibility written into the new Republican House and Senate Bills. Both the Senate and House bills phase out extra money that the federal government has provided to states under ACA as an incentive to expand eligibility for Medicaid. More importantly, this means that seniors would receive fewer health care benefits under the new Senate and House bills.

What is Medicaid (not to be confused with Medicare)? It is a government funded health care program that provides health insurance to people with disabilities, the elderly, low-income seniors, and families with children and pregnant women. It helps pay medical expenses for those who cannot afford comprehensive medical coverage. Medicaid is financed by both federal and state governments. However, each state manages its own Medicaid program and decides its own rules for participation.   

What is Medicaid Expansion? The federal government website Medicaid.gov defines the program as expanded eligibility coverage under ACA for the poorest Americans. ACA created an opportunity for states to provide Medicaid eligibility, effective January 1, 2014, for individuals under 65 years of age with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL). For the first time (under ACA), states could provide Medicaid coverage for low-income adults without children with guaranteed coverage through Medicaid in every state without need for a waiver.

House Deliberations 

After a month of wrangling, the new health care bill was withdrawn from consideration due to moderate and conservative Republicans who threatened not to vote for it until outstanding issues were resolved.

In the House, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score was not released until after the bill passed. The eventual nonpartisan score showed that 15-23 million Americans could lose their health care benefits by 2026, more than if Obamacare remained intact. The new American Healthcare Act (HR 1628) passed the House May 4 by a vote of 217 to 213.

After House passage, the bill moved to the Senate. Senators agreed to disagree with significant elements of the House bill and decided to totally rewrite it. As the House moved expeditiously to put a bill in place, the Senate worked behind closed doors with 13 Republican Senators drafting a revised bill. There was major concern over the bill being drafted without a CBO score analyzing its cost. The Senate decided to delay releasing its bill until all the pieces are in place.

Democratic Senators protested because the bill was not subject to committee hearings or debate on the floor. Now, Republican senators who heard from angry constituents at town hall meetings during their recess are carefully considering their options. Meanwhile, political pundits continue to calculate the impact of possible losses of Republican seats if the bill is signed into law without the support of voters.

The Senate bill was recently released with deep cuts to Medicaid and ending the ACA mandates for purchasing insurance, maternity care provisions, emergency services, and mental health treatment.

Now that the July 4 holiday recess has ended, the Senate is moving toward a full vote in the chamber. As of this writing, four Republican Senators will oppose it: Rand Paul (KY), Ted Cruz (TX), Mike Lee (UT), and Ron Johnson (WI). Cruz has introduced his own amendment that is now under consideration. Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump, and Mitch McConnell are negotiating hard with reluctant Senate members to move the bill forward as opposition voices continue to grow from Members like Susan Collins (R-ME). Further complicating forward progress on the vote is the absence of Senator John McCain who recently had eye surgery and will be away from Washington for approximately two weeks. Failure to hold a vote could mean that no bill would pass this year, leaving the ACA as the “law of the land.”

The White House continues to weigh in with uncommitted Republicans suggesting that Trump would like to see the outstanding issues resolved and have a bill in place and ready for his signature before congress takes its August recess. At this writing, less than three weeks before August 1, few members of Congress have hope that an agreement can be reached in time. Some in leadership are beginning to believe that the best chance they have for passage of the Senate bill is to reach out across the aisle and include Democrats in the negotiations. Trump has now suggested that the Senate consider first repealing the ACA and then replacing it. Not all members of Congress support that solution.