Tag Archives: negotiation

Preparation for Bargaining

Preparation for Bargaining Is Continuous

by Christopher Durham, Chief Field Negotiator, AFM Symphonic Services Divisionby Christopher Durham, AFM Symphonic Services Division Chief Field Negotiator

Preparation for negotiating your collective bargaining agreement no longer begins six months in advance of your agreement’s expiration, nor does it end with tentative agreement on its successor. Much of this preparation occurs throughout the term of the agreement. Using the time between rounds of active bargaining to choose effective representatives, build important relationships, gather information, and exploit resources is now an essential part of preparation for bargaining.

Electing an effective orchestra and/or negotiating committee is an important function of the bargaining unit. When nominating and voting on committee members, it is important to be informed about the candidates and choose appropriately. The committee should include institutional memory and reflect a cross section of the orchestra with regard to factions and seniority. It is increasingly important that we elect people who have the desire, time, willingness, and ability to participate. We must avoid electing one-agenda candidates.

If there are members who have a special interest, but not the time or desire to become a member of the committee, they may be willing and can be assigned to do special projects or subcommittee work. Such work could include administering strike fund payments, maintaining social media tools, researching specific topics for the committee, coordinating social activities, and attending labor functions. Musicians willing to help  in these ways are huge assets to a busy committee.

There are many important relationships that must be maintained, not only when we are in crisis and need assistance. Clearly, a good relationship with management and members of the board is better than a bad relationship. We must be active in making sure this is the case. Communication with our own orchestra members is critical. An e-newsletter and periodic social functions bring everyone together outside the workplace. Regular communication and involvement with our local union officers are also vital. We must attend meetings of the union membership and executive board and make reports.

Musicians can form a coalition with other unions in our workplaces. These may include stagehands, carpenters, electricians, “front of house” workers, and scenic designers. Relationships with other trade unions can occur in a variety of ways, including attending local and state AFL-CIO meetings and sharing our workplace issues. This puts a face on our union and shows their delegates that we have concern for other workers and are not turning to them only when we need their support.

Social media gives orchestra bargaining units many tools to deliver our message and educate our followers about who we are and what we do. Orchestra musicians should consider using Facebook, Twitter, a website, e-newsletters, or other means to advance their cause and build these important relationships. Having people dedicated to setting up and maintaining these tools will assure that the content is fresh and effective.

As we administer the current agreement we may agree to variances and encounter grievances. Such events should be memorialized in detail so that we have a record to review as we formulate our next proposal. Information we collect during the term of the agreement will help guide us as we bargain the next agreement.

Many agreements permit musician participation on board subcommittees. A key committee is the finance committee. Musician representatives to employer boards and committees should make regular reports and provide information gathered during these meetings to the local officers and orchestra/negotiating committee members. At times we may encounter management’s claim that the financial information discussed or provided is confidential. This should not mean that we, as bargaining unit representatives, are prohibited from sharing with our leadership. This information is relevant to bargaining. Bargaining committees should never first discover the organization’s poor financial health at the bargaining table, especially if the musicians have a representative on the board’s finance committee.

Many orchestras participate in the AFM Strike Fund or have “war chests.” We must set an alert to pay the strike fund properly and on time, with required information. War chests are usually authorized payroll deductions that have been voted upon and approved by bargaining unit members at a meeting. The motion to establish a war chest must stipulate how the money is to be recorded and utilized. These funds are best held in an account of the local, which will take responsibility for required Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service reporting.

The SSD is prepared and always willing to discuss further ideas and needs you have as you negotiate, administer, and enforce your agreement.

We Negotiated What? Details of the Commercial Announcements Agreement

Negotiations have successfully concluded with the Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA) and the Institute of Communication Agencies (ICA). A deal in principle has been reached, which will extend to April 1, 2020. Upon ratification, a more compact, up-to-date, and in some areas, radically different General Production Agreement for Commercial Announcements will be in effect.

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Traveling by Air? Know the Rules and Your Rights

After years of negotiating and lobbying, the AFM saw the implementation of standard rules regarding musical instruments as carry-on and checked baggage. As of March 2015, musicians are allowed to bring certain musical instruments in-cabin on US carriers. Here are some airline travel tips for musicians.

Your Reservation

Tell the airline that you will be transporting a musical instrument. Air carriers are required to adequately inform passengers about limitations and restrictions to travel with instruments.

Book priority seating, requesting or purchasing early boarding.

On-board stowage rules  apply to any instruments that meet FAA carry-on size requirements.

Packing Your Gear

Remove any sharp tools and all liquids that do not comply with TSA’s three-ounce regulation.

Have a proper travel case, in the event that your instrument is not allowed in the cabin.

Board early. Overhead stowage is on a first come, first served basis.

Once an instrument is stowed in-cabin it cannot be removed or replaced by other bags.

Deal Calmly with Problems

If you are stopped by a flight attendant, calmly and quickly explain the precautions you have taken to prepare your instrument to safely travel in-cabin.

Do not block the way of other boarding passengers.

If necessary, ask to deplane so that you can resolve the matter with airline supervisors. Remember, you have approximately 15 minutes before the plane backs away from the gate.

Be prepared for the possibility that you may not be able to travel with your instrument in the cabin. It is important to have a backup plan.

Bring Along Links to Helpful Resources

Keep a link to the Department of Transportation Traveling with a Musical Instrument web link (www.dot.gov/airconsumer/air-travel-musical-instruments).

The AFM has developed comprehensive manuals: A Guide to Traveling with Musical Instruments (34-page guidebook) and A Guide to Flying with Musical Instruments (eight-page pocket guide). To find these resources, log into afm.org and go to “Document Library” and open the “Legislative Office” folder.

For a more in-depth story on the AFM’s efforts to ease air travel for musicians please visit: internationalmusician.org/musical-instrument-airline-carriage-rule/

New TMA Leader Attends Pamphlet B and SET Negotiations

tony-damicoby Tony D’Amico, Theatre Musicians Association President and Member of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) and Local 198-457 (Providence, RI)

The Theatre Musicians Association’s 21st annual conference was held mid-August in Washington, DC. At the end of the conference, I had the honor of being elected president of the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA). After serving 10 years as director of the Boston chapter, I couldn’t be more thrilled to step into this new role and serve this remarkable organization.

On behalf of all my fellow theatre musicians, I’d like to offer my thanks and congratulations to outgoing president, Tom Mendel of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL), and Vice President Walter Usiatynski of Local 802 (New York City) for their inspired leadership these past years. They leave some very large shoes to fill.

One of my first duties as president was to attend a week of negotiations in New York City between the AFM and the Broadway League/Disney Theatrical Productions for a successor agreement to Pamphlet B and the Short Engagement Touring Theatrical Musicals Agreement (SET), which occurred in September. Along with the typical proposals for increased wages and per diem, we asked for an assortment of increases and improvements for our traveling musicians to recognize the value these players bring to the touring musical theatre productions they enhance.

Among the items we put across the table for both Pamphlet B and the SET Agreement were an increase in rehearsal rates, and a provision that would make all weekly contractual wages and premiums pensionable. Other issues of importance were electronic instrument premiums—to address technology being operated by drummers and guitarists—as well as wage increases, and travel and hotel concerns. 

In the SET agreement, we are seeking wage and rehearsal increases, as well as raises in vacation pay and pay for those who double or play more than one instrument in the pit. One pressing issue discussed regarded local keyboard substitutes hired by touring musical productions. These local keyboard players are called in to sub on increasingly difficult keyboard books, with no additional compensation for the huge amount of time they put in to prepare these books.

While we did not reach a deal in these September sessions, AFM President Ray Hair made a strong case for paying our musicians wages and benefits that correspond to the value they bring to these productions. We have excellent input from all the AFM representatives on our side of the table, with special recognition to AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking Division Director Michael Manley and Contract Administrator George Fiddler, and valuable contributions from Player Representatives Michael Epperhart of Local 802 and Joshua Priest of Locals 802 and 149 (Toronto, ON).

We meet again in November to continue our discussions. I’m confident that in the end we will emerge with a fair contract that provides the security and compensation that these hardworking musicians deserve.

A 40-Year Union Perspective, My Final Offer

by Nathan Kahn, AFM Symphonic Services Division Negotiator

Nathan KahnIn 1976, as a first-time negotiating committee member with the Tulsa Philharmonic, our committee was frustrated by the fact that we were totally on our own in guiding our negotiations. Our local union did not know how to assist us, there was no one we could call for advice, and we had no access to other contracts across the country to learn how others dealt with similar negotiation issues. That same condition prevailed in 1979, when the orchestra was locked out for six weeks.

In September 1981, I attended a Nashville Symphony Orchestra contract meeting as the newly engaged principal bassist of the orchestra. At this meeting, the orchestra was divided over passage of a new contract, primarily due to issues of the core orchestra size—full-time musician issues versus part-time musician issues. The music director had fired two musicians because they openly opposed him on the issue of core orchestra size. Here again, the local did not know what to do in this situation.

These events and others culminated in a letter I sent in November 1982 to 30 “regional” orchestra committee chairs across the country, proposing the formation of the Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA). Now on the eve of retirement, following four years as ROPA President and 28 years as an AFM negotiator, I reflect upon my life’s work.

I was fortunate to have some of the best mentors throughout my career. As a first-time ROPA President, I received expert guidance and mentoring from former International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) Chair Fred Zenone. Fred was a brilliant man, a dedicated labor activist, and a fine negotiator/mediator. Lew Waldeck, the first director of the AFM Symphony Department, hired me during the 1988 Nashville Symphony shutdown, and to this day, his words and teachings continue to guide and inspire me and countless others who had the opportunity to know him.

When I went to work for the AFM at the West Coast Office in June 1988, I was sent on my first negotiation assignment with the El Paso Symphony after only three days in the office. In retrospect, that was the best way to learn: dive in, take your bumps, and learn from experience. But again, I benefited from sage mentoring from Lynn Johnson, then director of the Symphony Department at the AFM West Coast Office. Lynn taught me invaluable skills in negotiation including, but not limited to, designing a sensible, methodical process, orchestra “powah” evaluation, and the art of the “off-the-record” meeting. To this day, her words, “leave no stone unturned,” guide me in negotiations and in everyday life.

Other mentors included Lenny Leibowitz, former counsel to Symphonic Services Division (SSD), who together with his then-wife Peggy, taught all of us in SSD, ICSOM, and ROPA about negotiations, arbitrations, contract administration, and unionism.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention retired AFM Director of Organizing Janice Galassi, current SSD Counsel Rochelle Skolnick, and my colleague, Negotiator Chris Durham. Janice taught me invaluable lessons and skills in union and internal organizing. Rochelle has advised me on countless legal and strategical issues (at almost any hour of the day or night). Thank you, Rochelle, you’re the best! Chris and I have been in the union trenches together since 1982. We’ve chewed the fat about unionism and our industry constantly since then. I have gained so much from learning his perspectives. I will sorely miss working with him.

Looking back at some 330 negotiations over the past 28 years, I feel that I did what I could. In too many cases, there was an expectation that the negotiator or counsel “could just wave a magic wand and fix it” with limited committee or rank-and-file involvement. As Lew Waldeck used to say, “There is no magic.” The ability to achieve the best possible contract is directly dependent upon an organized, dedicated committee and a rank and file willing to spend the time and energy necessary to achieve the collective goals.

The Grand Rapids Symphony (GRS) Negotiating Committee, pictured here, and the members of the GRS exemplify the best of those qualities. Going forward, it will be critical to make committee training and rank-and-file unionism training available to our orchestras across the country and to conservatory/university music students soon to enter our field. Symphony veterans will need to pass on their wealth of knowledge to incoming members, if we are to effectively sustain and build upon the current wages and conditions in our orchestras.

As for my future, I will somewhat return to my teaching roots, doing substitute teaching in area schools, setting up extra-curricular classes in critical thinking skills, and continue my passions for hiking and traveling. I will remain active in the AFM, Labor Notes, and the labor movement in general.

I feel very fortunate to have worked in the labor movement, and to have served our locals and our membership over these past 28 years. My sincere thanks to SSD Director Jay Blumenthal and all SSD personnel current and past for the opportunity to work with all of you, as well as many other AFM staff, and countless local officers and committees that help make our union a truly democratic institution.

My best wishes for a successful AFM future.

2015 Grand Rapids Symphony Negotiating Committee (L to R): Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI) members Paul Austin, Leslie Van Becker,  and Elizabeth Colpean; President Eric Vander Stel; member Diane McElfish Helle; and AFM SSD Negotiator Nathan Kahn.

2015 Grand Rapids Symphony Negotiating Committee (L to R): Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI) members Paul Austin, Leslie Van Becker, and Elizabeth Colpean; President Eric Vander Stel; member Diane McElfish Helle; and AFM SSD Negotiator Nathan Kahn.

Grand Rapids Symphony Negotiates for Fair Contract

Grand Rapids Symphony Negotiates for Fair Contract

Grand Rapids Symphony Negotiates for Fair ContractMusicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony have been in negotiations with management since April for a new CBA. The previous contract, covering 50 full-time and 30 part-time musicians, expired August 31.

Under that agreement, musicians received small raises of 2% to 3% in each of the past three seasons. Those were small steps to work toward rebuilding wages that were cut drastically in 2009. Negotiations have not just focused on salaries and work rules, but also strategies to grow the orchestra.

The first official concert of the 2015-2016 season took place in mid-September, but the musicians organized and presented a free concert at Grand Rapids Public Museum just after Labor Day to raise public awareness. A standing-room-only audience of approximately 255 filled the museum.

Record Labels Return to the Table: Seeking Successor to Sound Recording Labor Agreement


As I write this column, preliminary caucus meetings have just concluded in preparation for the opening round of talks with major labels representing the sound recording industry toward a successor Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA). The existing agreement was reached October 2011, expired February 2015, and has been extended indefinitely while negotiations are in progress. Formal across-the-table negotiations begin September 28 in New York City.

In addition to setting wages and conditions covering musicians performing sessions called by the big three labels (Universal/Capitol/EMI, Sony/BMG/Columbia, and Warner/Atlantic), their owned subsidiaries, Disney’s Hollywood Records, and other covered independent labels, the agreement provides additional special residual payments to session musicians for five years following an original session through the Sound Recording Special Payments Fund (SPF). It also establishes a royalty from sales revenue for the Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF), which is of critical interest to the Federation, our locals, and our members.

The current round of negotiations will convene against a backdrop of litigation recently initiated against the major labels by the Federation and by the American Federation of Musicians’ and Employers’ Pension Fund (AFM-EPF). The pension fund’s legal action centers on the labels’ failure and refusal to make appropriate pension payments on foreign streaming. The Federation’s action concerns Sony Music’s failure to comply with contract provisions that require additional payments for new use, domestic, and foreign licensing. The day of turning a blind eye toward industry’s noncompliance with the SRLA is done; thus, as a last resort and to demonstrate our resolve toward strict contract enforcement, the Federation and the AFM-EPF have turned to the courts for relief from the games the labels play to avoid paying our members the wages and benefits due.

The negotiations will also take place amidst rapid changes in the public’s consumption of music—away from physical products like compact discs and DVDs, and away from permanent downloads, toward web-based digital distribution that includes interactive and noninteractive streaming. In the realm of interactive streaming, digital service providers like Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube are paying labels hundreds of millions of dollars for rights to access entire catalogs of tunes, but most featured artists do not have the leverage to demand and obtain a fair royalty from the labels. Session musicians, the unsung heroes behind the labels’ treasure trove of hits, get nothing.

The bottom line is that consumer spending on recorded music and record industry revenue are moving swiftly from physical product and digital downloads to streaming. And as we watch our traditional royalty positions in physical and download sales decline precipitously, threatening the very existence of MPTF and SPF, pursuit of new money for those funds will prompt a new sense of urgency in the upcoming negotiations.

Our negotiating team is an inclusive, well-rounded mix of international officers, local officers, rank-and-file recording musicians, AFM staff, and attorneys. It includes AFM International Vice President Bruce Fife, Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert, Secretary-Treasurer Sam Folio, International Officers Tino Gagliardi of Local 802 (New York City) and Dave Pomeroy of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), Recording Musicians Association (RMA) President Marc Sazer, RMA rank-and-file representative Neil Stubenhaus of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), Local 47 President John Acosta, Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) President Gary Matts, Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) President Pat Hollenbeck, Local 10-208 Electronic Media Director Dean Rolando, and Local 802 Electronic Media Director Steve Dannenberg.

Also represented in our SRLA negotiating team are a host of talented rank-and-file recording musicians whose knowledge and experience from the field is essential in building a credible approach toward industry. We will have expert assistance from AFM EMSD Director Pat Varriale, and an invaluable trio of lawyers featuring AFM General Counsel Jeff Freund, Associate Counsel Trish Polach, and In-House Counsel Jennifer Garner.

We expect that negotiations with industry will be long and difficult. For the first time in recent history, the Federation and AFM-EPF have initiated legal action to enforce compliance with SRLA provisions. Those actions have served notice to industry that, when we are left without proper paychecks and benefit payments, and attempts to correct those actions are stonewalled, there will be consequences. The industry also knows that the Federation is acutely aware of the rapid changes in consumer spending and how those changes have adversely affected MPTF and SPF.

Your negotiating team will bargain hard to ensure that our successor SRLA will be a progressive agreement and will promote, preserve, and protect the interests of the Federation, our locals, and our talented recording musicians both today and throughout the years ahead.