Tag Archives: nea

Defiant National Union Presidents Unite in Pittsburgh

Four national union presidents—Lee Saunders of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); Lily Eskelsen-Garcia of the National Education Association (NEA); Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU); and Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—displayed their solidarity at the AFT Convention in mid July.

“Our four great unions enjoy indestructible bonds of solidarity,” says Saunders. “There is no daylight between us, not even an inch. And that’s never been more important than now.” Across the country unions are demonstrating that organized labor will overcome the current political attacks, including the recent Janus ruling and other anti-labor rulings as President Donald Trump seeks to install Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.

Federal Attacks

Shedding Light on Federal Attacks on the American Working Family

If ever there was a time for workers, including musicians, to get engaged in the movement to protect jobs and benefits that promote healthy, secure workplaces and families, now is the time.

While many Americans have been distracted by the bevy of negative news reports focusing on political agendas, Congress has been busy introducing legislation that would unhinge the fundamental protections now in place for workers, leading to the loss of jobs, pensions, union security agreements, public school education, as well as workplace safety and security. These changes are focused on both the public and private sectors, relating to the work people in your communities do to provide basic services.

In the first two months of the 115th US Congress, legislation has been introduced that, if passed, would negatively change your way of life. Though much of this directly impacts this nation’s 2.1 million federal workers (confirmed in a February 9 Washington Times news article), the message it sends is that workers in both the public and private sectors are at risk of losing hard fought federal labor protections.

Federal AttacksLet’s start with our brothers and sisters in the public sector. The focus on federal agencies, hence their employees, has centered on union activity protected by law. First and foremost is the attack on “official time.” This is legal activity protected by law that allows union officials to perform legally sanctioned representational work while on the federal clock. HR 1364, the Official Time Reform Act of 2017, would limit the amount of time union volunteer officials take to perform representational work. It would also, in some cases, cut pension accrual for time spent doing that same union work while on the job, thereby making such volunteer work less attractive to union volunteers. The bill would have a chilling effect on union volunteer representatives who seek to protect worker’s rights on the job in the federal workplace.

Next, is the attack on the Environmental Protection Agency. This new legislation would eliminate health and safety regulations that effectively protect everyone in this country. An example is the Dakota Pipeline Project in which unregulated drilling would place rivers and other natural habitats in severe jeopardy, if the pipeline is damaged. This, of course, would result in catastrophic disaster that would never fully correct itself, not to mention the harm it would do to Native American territories that depend on a clean environment.

Attacks on Veterans Administration (VA) employees have taken a new turn. By refusing to recognize that poor management was at the center of the VA’s problems, HR 1259 attacks front-line workers and eliminates jobs that are necessary to guarantee the good health and safety of our veterans. If fewer veterans have access to care, where will they turn? 

AFL-CIO Legislative Representative Byron Charlton, a 30-year veteran of AFL-CIO policy issues relating to federal employees, sends a clear message to all in the labor movement: “To thyself be true.” If working people are displaced/laid off in large numbers, who will be there to support community organizations, local music festivals, the symphony, and student music and arts programs? When family budgets take a hit, people don’t go out and don’t spend money on entertainment nor arts education for their children.

So, why do federal employees matter so much to musicians? As workers, we are all in the same fight for survival. Musicians, like federal workers, steelworkers, teachers, boilermakers, telephone technicians, flight attendants, pilots, and railway and other transportation workers, are all subject to the effects of policies targeted at weakening job security. We must see ourselves as team players and come together to support each other’s causes. Sitting on the sidelines is not an option in this current legislative environment.

The famous Protestant priest Martin Niemöller made it clear in the 1930s when he pronounced this epic call to solidarity, which seems equally as appropriate today for the labor movement. In his post-World War II lectures he said: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” This begs the question, what will we do as trade unionists when our brothers and sisters in the movement are attacked simply because, as employees of the federal government, they can be? Our destinies as trade unionists are all intertwined.

Finally, the foundation of this attack on labor is rooted in the fundamental principle that unions are jaded and always operate in opposition to ultra-conservative principles. The legislation discussed here is but the tip of the iceberg for the 115th Congress. As discussed in my March IM article, the basic foundation of this anti-union animus is HR 785, the National Right to Work Act. As noted earlier, this bill prohibits union security agreements and is designed to give employers leverage to exploit workers by preventing them from forming and joining unions.

All these policies and more are making their way through the US Congress, while the American public’s attention is diverted by partisan political jousting. It is incumbent upon us to engage with our brothers and sisters in the movement so that other workers will be around when we need them. AFM local officers are engaged in state federation and central labor council actions designed to allow us to work together on these issues. We ask that you take a moment from your daily routine to support a public employee campaign. Bring a colleague and carry a sign. The workers you support will remember your commitment, and when the far right come after us (for example, cutting the National Endowment for the Arts, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, State Department cultural programs, etc.), they will be there to help.

Write your member of Congress in support of the National Endowment for the Arts. Go to the AFM website www.afm.org/2017/02/nea/. From this link you can send an email of support directly to your member of Congress. Then, tell a friend to do the same.


Solidarity and Resolve Essential to CBA Growth, NEA Preservation

by Rochelle Skolnick, Director, Symphonic Services Division and Special Counsel

As a close reader of the “Orchestra News” section of the International Musician might have noticed, orchestra contract settlements over the past year or so have almost uniformly exemplified the “growth not cuts” mantra adopted by the courageous musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra during their contentious negotiations and strike. That growth has, in many cases, been incremental rather than dramatic but is nonetheless notable because it is symptomatic of a certain robust health within the symphonic field.

That health was confirmed by a longitudinal study (Orchestra Facts: 2006-2014) released by the League of American Orchestras in November 2016. Although that report received some attention at the time of its release, the press coverage largely missed one of its most important points. The study shows that, although the balance of funding sources for our orchestras has shifted somewhat over time, each of the funding streams upon which orchestras traditionally rely kept pace with or substantially outpaced inflation during the period measured by the study—with the exception of earned income, which trailed inflation by only 1%.

In the case of contributed income from trustees and foundations, which outpaced inflation by 45% and 13% respectively, the differential was dramatic. Yet, despite the industry-wide vigor in funding streams, expenses—the side of the ledger on which we find musician wages and benefits—actually trailed inflation for the same period, by 2.8%.

I believe that the relatively progressive contracts we have begun to see in the period since the League study concluded in 2014 represent a restoration to musicians of some of what was lost in the deeply concessionary bargaining that occurred post-2008. It’s about time.

But that restoration is not happening simply because managers and boards find it in the goodness of their hearts to take care of the musicians whose creativity and dedication draws patrons to concert halls and inspires donors to write checks. It certainly was not employer beneficence that brought the Fort Worth Symphony musicians back to the stage with a progressive contract after 13 weeks on the picket line. Rather, in every case, it has been the musicians’ solidarity and resolve that has won them their recent gains.

That was so for the musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony and it has been so for the musicians of other orchestras making significant gains, including the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Austin, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Nashville, National, Pacific, St. Louis, and San Diego orchestras, among others.

It will take similar solidarity and resolve to beat back another peril to American orchestras: threatened cuts to governmental arts funding, including the outright elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, contained in the presidential budget proposal released March 16. The $148 million annual budget of the NEA represents just .012% of all federal discretionary spending, yet it profoundly touches the lives of American orchestra musicians and all those they serve.

NEA Funding

That effect is far from speculative or remote. Besides having reached progressive contract settlements in the past year, what do the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Austin, Detroit, Fort Worth, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Nashville, National, Pacific, St. Louis and San Diego symphonies have in common? They all receive NEA grant funding.

In fiscal years 2016 and/or 2017, each one of those orchestras received an NEA grant to support one of a wide range of projects, both strikingly beautiful and culturally relevant. Grants went to support “Imagine Your Parks” events connecting several orchestras (including Jacksonville and St. Louis) with National Parks sites; a community engagement program focused on Buffalo’s international community in partnership with Buffalo Public Schools; premieres of new orchestral works written about and to loved ones (Kansas City); the Pacific Symphony’s American Composers Festival, featuring works by living Southern California-based composers; and the National Symphony Orchestra’s Sound Health initiative, which presents live classical music performances at DC-area medical facilities to enrich the lives of patients, family members, medical staff, and visitors.

These are just a few of the NEA-supported programs that expand minds and build connections among diverse groups of people. While abolition of the NEA would have a negligible effect on the federal budget, it would have a devastating effect on curiosity, intelligence, and empathy.

The March 16 budget proposal is only that—a proposal. It will be up to Congress to write the budget. As that process unfolds, I hope you will ensure your voice is heard in support of continued funding for the NEA and the myriad symphonic projects it enables. Tell members of Congress to Save the NEA at: www.afm.org/2017/02/nea/.


At a moment when the voices of xenophobia and bigotry are raised louder in our political discourse than I ever thought possible in my lifetime, the International Orchestra Conference (IOC) taking place in Montreal, May 11-14, offers a meaningful opportunity for American and Canadian musicians to share the experiences of our sisters and brothers in symphony orchestras around the globe. The IOC is a project of the International Federation of Musicians (FIM), the international organization for musicians’ unions and representative organizations with approximately 70 institutional members in 60 countries throughout the world.

The AFM will have a substantial presence at the IOC with AFM elected officers (AFM President Ray Hair, Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal, International Executive Board member and Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi, and Local 406 President Luc Fortin and Secretary Eric Lefebvre); symphonic player conference leaders (ICSOM Chair Meredith Snow, OCSM/OMOSC President Robert Fraser, and ROPA Board Member Naomi Bensdorf-Frisch); and myself serving as moderators and panelists.

Topics covered will include the public value of orchestras, recorded broadcasts and musicians’ rights; orchestras integrating digital tools; practical aspects of outreach and education; unions’ roles in preserving orchestral institutions; the role of musicians serving on orchestra boards; and bullying and harassment. Other US and Canadian panelists will be Robert Massey, executive director of the Jacksonville Symphony, which concluded very progressive contract negotiations this season; Barbara Haws, New York Philharmonic archivist/historian; and Katherine Carleton, executive director of Orchestras Canada. Discussions promise to be lively and to promote understanding among orchestra musicians across international borders. I hope to see many of you joining us in Montreal.

Protect the NEA

The AFM’s Fight to Protect the NEA and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Is in Full Swing

Many thanks to all who have so far taken part in the AFM’s Save the NEA campaign and emailed their Congressional representatives. During Arts Advocacy Day 2017, in Washington, DC, more than 600 delegates from across the US converged on Capitol Hill to lobby on behalf of the NEA, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and a host of other federal agencies that serve as the foundation of America’s cultural heritage. On the heels of Arts Advocacy Day, many musicians and organizations sent letters to Capitol Hill in support of the NEA.

The White House “Skinny” federal budget proposal announced March 16, would cut 19 federal agencies, among them the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting. National Endowment for the Arts grants support music programs around the country, from full orchestra concerts to educational events. (See AFM Symphonic Services Director Rochelle Skolnick’s article on page 11 for examples of some specific programs that were supported in 2016 and 2017.)

Over its 50-year existence, a significant number of NEA grants have gone to people with fewer opportunities in the arts. For example, 40% of NEA-supported activities take place in high poverty neighborhoods, 36% of grants go to organizations that reach underserved populations (people with disabilities, people in institutions, and veterans), and 33% serve low-income audiences.

Please continue to show your support for the NEA by writing to your members of Congress. Also, post to social media with #SupporttheNEA and raise awareness among your friends and colleagues. Tell everyone why the NEA matters to you.

Tell Your Arts Story

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1965 signing of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, on September 29, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has launched a special site where the public can share their story of the arts via a simple form.

Anyone and everyone is invited to visit arts.gov/tell-us-your-story and share how the arts are part of your day, how the arts have inspired you to do something unique, how they have made a difference among you and your family, as well as in the communities and neighborhoods in which you live. Also, if there is a specific NEA grant that has had an impact on you and your community, let us know.

Starting September 29, the NEA will begin posting stories on its website and promoting them across our social media. Depending on the volume, the NEA may not be able to include all stories and material it receives.

The NEA Needs Your Support Now

The House is currently considering legislation that funds the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and other cultural agencies. Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who is the Congressional Arts Caucus co-chair, is urging musicians to remind their members of Congress about the importance of arts and arts funding. Efforts to increase NEA funding from $146 million to $2 million, as requested by President Obama, have so far failed. We are currently hoping to maintain level funding for the NEA, and to reject any attempt to reduce it. Share this Top 10 Reasons to Support the Arts and to get your message of support across visit: https://www.votervoice.net/ARTSUSA/Campaigns/41478/Respond.