The Federation resumed its discussions with the television industry in July, at ABC headquarters in New York City, for a successor agreement covering musicians who perform on late night and prime time variety shows such as Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live, Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, and The Voice, and on award shows such as the Grammy Awards and the Oscars.
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Motion Picture and TV Film Agreements: One-Year Deal, 3% Raise
I am pleased to report that on March 9, after a week of intense negotiations, an agreement was reached with major Hollywood-based film producers and their television film counterparts to extend the existing Theatrical and Motion Picture Film Agreements for one year with a 3% increase in wages. Upon ratification, the extension and wage increase will become effective April 5, 2018.
Big Tax Changes for Musicians in 2018
Guest columnist Scott Stratton, trombonist and member of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Fort Worth, TX), provides commentary and direction for musicians navigating changes to US tax law. It is provided for informational purposes only, not as a substitute for advice from your personal tax professional.
The Tax Cuts And Jobs Act (TCJA) passed in December presents the most sweeping changes to US tax policy in 30 years and will have a significant impact on working musicians. The changes discussed below apply to your 2018 taxes. Your 2017 taxes (to be filed in April 2018) are still under the old rules.
Many musicians will find their federal income taxes decrease slightly, but there are so many changes that some musicians may actually see their taxes go up, especially if they are a W-2 employee, live in a high tax state, and previously had a significant amount of itemized deductions.
Most taxpayers will see a 1% to 4% reduction in their marginal tax rate, although some single taxpayers in the 28% bracket for 2017 have been bumped up to 32% and some in the 33% bracket will pay 35% in 2018. The new tax brackets have a sunset after 2025, when the 2017 tax rates are scheduled to return.
The standard deduction will increase from $6,350 in 2017 to $12,000 in 2018 for single taxpayers, and from $12,700 to $24,000 for married couples. However, the personal exemption of $4,050 has been eliminated, so the increase in tax-free income is really only from $10,400 to $12,000. A family of four previously would have had a standard deduction and personal exemptions of $28,900 and they will actually see this fall to $24,000. Offsetting this is an expansion of the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 to $2,000 and an increase of the qualifying income cap from $75,000 to $200,000 (single) and $110,000 to $400,000 (married).
For musicians who are W-2 employees, perhaps for an orchestra or university, it will become very difficult to have enough itemized deductions to exceed the standard deduction of $12,000/$24,000. That’s not only because of the higher levels, but also because the TCJA caps or eliminates many of our prior deductions. It is expected that the number of taxpayers who itemize will fall from around one-third to less than 10% in 2018.
First, your deduction of state and local taxes will be capped at $10,000 (single or married). For musicians who live in high tax areas, it is very possible that you spend significantly more than this amount on your property tax, state income tax, and sales tax. If you have a home equity loan or line of credit, those interest payments will no longer be deductible in 2018, unless the loan was used for the acquisition of that property.
Second, the TCJA has repealed all “Miscellaneous Itemized Deductions.” Starting in 2018, W-2 musicians can no longer deduct “Unreimbursed Employee Expenses,” such as buying an instrument, sheet music, supplies or equipment, required concert clothing, mileage, job search/audition expenses, research expenses for professors, or your home office expenses. Additionally, you can no longer deduct tax preparation fees, investment management fees, memberships to professional organizations, or union membership and work dues.
What is so unprecedented about this change is that it penalizes W-2 employees (who itemize deductions on Schedule A), but most of those costs remain valid expenses for musicians who are self-employed and report their business income on Schedule C. If you are a W-2 employee, and face losing all these deductions, I’d recommend you try to add some Schedule C income on the side, such as teaching private lessons in your home, so you can claim some of these expenses on Schedule C.
For self-employed musicians (including 1099), there are two additional benefits starting in 2018. First, there is a new 20% deduction for small businesses that are “pass-through” entities. Pass through entities will be taxed on only 80% of their qualified business income (QBI). A lot of musicians have asked me if they need to form an LLC or S-corporation to be eligible, but thankfully, the answer is no. Anyone who is a sole proprietor and reports on Schedule C can claim this deduction. You do not need to incorporate.
Here’s where it gets more complicated. Congress sought to limit the ability of service professionals such as doctors or lawyers to use this deduction, but the IRS definition of a “specified service business” also includes performing arts. This means that there is an income cap for musicians to qualify for the QBI deduction. To be eligible, your taxable income must be under $157,500 (single) or $315,000 (married). Above these amounts, the 20% deduction is phased out over the next $50,000 (single) or $100,000 (married). That’s still good news for most self-employed musicians.
The second benefit for self-employed musicians is the expansion of Section 179 rules. Section 179 allows small business owners to immediately deduct business purchases, such as musical instruments, sound and recording equipment, computers, office furniture, or certain business vehicles like an SUV or van. Without Section 179, these large purchases would have to be depreciated over a number of years. For 2018 through 2022, Section 179 limits have been increased, bonus depreciation has been increased from 50% to 100%, and used equipment is now eligible for bonus depreciation.
Please talk with your tax advisor about how these changes might impact your individual situation. The authors of the TCJA were clearly more concerned with helping businesses than employees. This is seen in how positive things are for self-employed musicians versus how W-2 musicians were given a mixed bag of small benefits in the standard deduction and lower tax rates, but an effective loss of the ability to itemize. One thing is for sure—it will help if you know in advance what you will be able to deduct and what is not deductible, and be sure to keep excellent records of receipts, mileage, and expenses.
—Scott Stratton, CFP, CFA is the president of Good Life Wealth Management and the publisher of www.FinanceForMusicians.com. He is a member of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Fort Worth, TX) and can be contacted at email@example.com.
New International Representative, TV Negotiations Update
I am pleased to announce that Dave Shelton, former president of Local 554-635 (Lexington, KY), has become the newest member the Federation’s staff as an International Representative (IR), filling a field position that became vacant May 2017 with the departure of Barbara Owens.
International Representatives are the first line of help and assistance for local officers in matters pertaining to day-to-day operations and governance issues in running a local. They are readily available to assist local officers with onsite training, preparation of operating plans, budgeting, and compliance issues relative to AFM Bylaws and Department of Labor regulations. IRs are a resource for the development and application of local bylaws, mergers, membership rosters, newsletters, membership meetings, and elections.
Dave Shelton is uniquely qualified for service as an IR with his broad experience as a versatile professional musician and as a local officer, symphonic negotiator, orchestra committee chair, union steward, and AFM conference officer. An outstanding musician with many years of orchestral horn and jazz piano performance experience, Dave graduated summa cum laude in 2007 from one of the world’s most respected music schools, the University of North Texas (UNT), with a Master of Music degree in Jazz Studies. At UNT, he served as a teaching fellow and a jazz lab band director. Prior to his study at UNT, Dave earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Kentucky. He has performed as fourth horn with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra for nearly two decades, and also serves as pianist and arranger for that orchestra’s pops series.
During his years of service as a local officer with Lexington Local 554-635, Dave excelled in fundraising and development activities, public relations, collective bargaining, and contract negotiations. He was elected as an officer of the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) in 2016, and currently serves as its vice president.
Dave now joins IRs Allistair Elliott (Canada), Wally Malone (Western Territory), Cass Acosta (Southeast Territory), and Eugene Tournour (Northeast Territory) who are each assigned a geographic territory of individual locals to maintain regular contact and visitation. The IRs’ activities are coordinated by Assistant to the President Ken Shirk, who is based in our West Coast Office, located in Burbank, California. We are delighted to welcome Dave as the newest member of the Federation’s staff. I know he will do an excellent job.
TV Negotiations Update—Respect the Band!
On December 15, 2017, the Federation resumed discussions in Los Angeles with representatives from CBS, NBC, and ABC toward a successor agreement covering the services of musicians engaged to perform on live television. Despite three rounds of negotiations, which began 18 months ago, the talks have been deadlocked over the networks’ refusal to bargain over the Federation’s proposals for progressive payment terms for advertiser-supported and subscriber-based streaming of live and on-demand TV. Our proposals for better terms for musicians engaged in the production of live television programs made for initial exhibition on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu were also rebuffed.
Despite the networks’ stonewalling, our team was determined to break the bottleneck and find ways to turn up the heat. At my request, AFM Organizing and Education Director Michael Manley, together with organizers from Local 802 (New York City) and Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), Recording Musicians Association President Marc Sazer, and player representative Jason Poss of Local 47 worked to develop a plan of action by arranging a series of meetings with musicians working on late night shows, award shows, and prime time variety shows. The musicians identified, discussed, and prioritized issues surrounding the producers’ lack of additional payment when their performances are free to watch online.
A concerted campaign with a catchy name, #respecttheband, emerged from those meetings and quickly gained traction. As the December negotiations got underway in Los Angeles, audience members waiting in line outside the studios on both coasts received leaflets outlining the issues. Musicians from the bands inside released statements to the press speaking out about producers’ lack of respect and fair treatment when their performances are streamed.
The Late Late Show with James Corden musicians released a photo from their green room displaying a #respecttheband banner.
“Other performers are all paid when Jimmy Kimmel Live! streams on YouTube or other online outlets, yet musicians are paid nothing. Musicians just want to be compensated for our likeness and our music,” says Cleto Escobedo III, musical director of Cleto and the Cletones. “I love Jimmy, the producers, and everyone we work with. We just need to make sure the networks treat us and all of our colleagues fairly.”
“This is about fairness. It’s a travesty that musicians are being treated this way. We are just asking the networks for a little respect—and the networks can certainly afford to treat musicians with the respect we deserve,” says Harold Wheeler, who is well known in the Broadway and recording scene and will be the Oscar’s music director in 2018 for the third consecutive year. He was also the original Dancing With the Stars music director.
Amen to brothers Cleto Escobedo III and Harold Wheeler, the Corden band, and our organizing team of highly motivated AFM staff, local officers and staff, and dedicated player representatives—bravo!
With a publicity push from AFM Communications Director Rose Ryan, the musicians’ concerted activities in support of their bargaining objectives received extensive coverage in Deadline Hollywood and Variety.
As a direct result, the networks have now agreed to engage and negotiate over the Federation’s proposals for fair and equitable compensation when musicians’ performances are streamed. Our next round of TV talks will occur this spring.
Big Radio: Deal with Us on Performance Rights Before It’s Too Late
If you’ve been tuned in to the Federation’s congressional lobbying efforts, you know that our campaign for a performance right in AM/FM analog radio has been at the top of our legislative agenda for many years.
Media Talks Driven by Streaming Growth, Part 2
This is the second of two articles on the continued rise of streaming and its effect on Federation media industry negotiations. Read the first here.
Last month, we discussed the Federation’s January 2017 deal with the sound recording industry, where major record labels agreed to earmark a percentage of domestic and foreign streaming revenue toward the American Federation of Musicians & Employers’ Pension Fund (AFM-EPF), Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF), and the Sound Recording Special Payments Fund (SPF). We also discussed the skyrocketing growth of streaming revenue from recorded music, which now accounts for 62% of total record industry income.
Donate to AFM’s Hurricane Irma Relief Fund
On September 6, Hurricane Irma passed just north of Puerto Rico with ferocious winds of 185 miles per hour as a category 5 hurricane, then roared past Cuba and ashore onto the US mainland Sunday, September 10, battering the entire state of Florida with an enormous reach of more than 400 miles. Irma made landfall on the southern tip of Florida as a category 4 hurricane with sustained winds in excess of 130 miles per hour, causing massive flooding and storm surges, resulting in more than five million power outages, and creating catastrophic tornadoes. The fury of Hurricane Irma occurred on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall August 25 on the Texas Gulf Coast, between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor, Texas, just east of Houston and Galveston as a category 4 hurricane as well, marking the first time in recorded history that two hurricanes as powerful as category 4 made landfall in the same year, in the United States.
These disasters have hit AFM members hard. Hurricane Harvey displaced more than one million people along the Texas Gulf Coast. The storm affected all Houston Arts District organizations, flooding Jones Hall, the home of the Houston Symphony. It totally devastated Wortham Center, which hosts performances by the Houston Ballet and Grand Opera. “No one knows when the opera and ballet can get back in there,” Local 65-699 (Houston, TX) President Lovie Smith-Wright reported.
The Houston Symphony has managed to continue operations by moving concerts to other locations around town, pending Jones Hall repairs. The homes of dozens of Houston AFM members were totally destroyed. In South Texas and across Florida, scores of freelance musicians who work steady and short-term casual club dates and single engagements in restaurants and nightclubs have suffered loss of work.
Hurricane Irma’s trail of wind and storm surge destruction in Puerto Rico, the Florida Keys, Miami, Naples, and up the east and west coasts of Florida resulted in a coast-to-coast pummeling. Officials are still trying to assess the extent of damage. A stunning
13 million Florida residents were without power for days. Irma’s parting blow to Florida, as it moved on to Georgia and South Carolina, was record flooding in the Jacksonville area. Together, Irma and Harvey may have caused up to $200 billion in damage in Texas and Florida, according to Moody’s Analytics.
In one bit of good news, Local 389 (Orlando, FL) Secretary Sam Zambito reported that Disney advised that it will pay its Orlando theme park employees, including musicians, for all shifts cancelled as a result of the storm. Bravo Disney!
How You Can Help
In an effort to respond to the epic devastation and to help affected AFM members and their families residing in federal disaster areas in Puerto Rico, Florida, and Texas who are fighting to recover from one of the most destructive US natural disasters in history, we have established the AFM Hurricane Relief Fund. It’s more important than ever that we stand together and help our brothers and sisters. Please open the afm.org home page and click the “DONATE HERE” link.
If you prefer to write a check, send it to:
AFM Hurricane Relief Fund
American Federation of Musicians,
1501 Broadway, Suite 600
New York, NY 10036
Please note: contributions to the AFM Hurricane Relief Fund are not tax-deductible.
How to Get Help
If you are a victim of Hurricane Harvey or Irma, here’s how you can get help.
AFM Hurricane Relief Fund
Download the instructions and application for hurricane assistance here:
The Actors Fund
Musicians affected by Harvey or Irma should contact The Actors Fund for information on emergency financial assistance and other resources.
For Harvey assistance: The Actors Fund’s Los Angeles office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 323.933.9244, ext. 455.
For Irma assistance: The Actors Fund’s New York office at email@example.com or 212.221.7300, ext. 119.
AFL-CIO Union Plus
Musicians who have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey or Irma, and who are participating in certain Union Plus programs may be eligible for financial assistance through the Union Plus Disaster Relief Grant program. Please visit the Union Plus Disaster Relief Fund at unionplus.org/disaster to learn more about Union Plus benefits and eligibility requirements.
Union musicians affected by Harvey may apply for assistance from the Texas Workers Relief Fund established by the Texas AFL-CIO here: http://www.texasaflcio.org/relief/
If we stand together and act now to take care of each other, we can make a difference. Please donate to the AFM Hurricane Relief Fund today by visiting AFM.org and clicking “DONATE HERE.”
Public Radio, Live TV, and Relocation
I am pleased to report that, after two rounds of negotiations, the Federation has reached a successor public radio agreement with representatives of American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio, which will set the pattern for wages and conditions for musicians who perform services for some two-dozen producers of public broadcasting programs, including Performance Today and Prairie Home Companion. Our successor public radio agreement becomes effective upon ratification and extends three years to January 31, 2019, with wage and applicable benefit contributions retroactive to February 1, 2016.
Important to this agreement are groundbreaking new media provisions that establish use fees and residual payments for musicians whose public radio performances are licensed to interactive digital service providers such as YouTube, Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix. In addition to a new use fee payable to each musician whose performance is embodied in any clip or program exhibited via new media, 5% of producers’ gross receipts derived from the license for exhibition of any clip or program will be distributed half (2.5%) to the AFM and Employers Pension Fund, unallocated to any particular individual, and half (2.5%) to musicians.
Thanks are in order to AFM Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal, In-house Counsel Jennifer Garner, Electronic Media Services Division Director Pat Varriale, Symphonic Services Director Rochelle Skolnick,
Symphonic Electronic Media Director Debbie Newmark, and Local 802 (New York City) President/AFM IEB member Tino Gagliardi for their invaluable help with
Live TV Negotiations
The Federation will convene its fourth round of negotiations with the NBC, ABC, and CBS television networks August 14 toward a successor agreement covering musicians performing in live television variety shows like Saturday Night Live, The Voice, and Dancing with the Stars; late night shows like The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert; and specials like the Academy Awards and Grammy Awards shows.
As we all know, employers in all quarters of the commercial television industry have continued the fight to deny fair compensation to musicians, to expand their own production rights, and to deny union jurisdiction (and thus the path to negotiating fair deals) over products made for new media platforms.
Unfortunately, with previous AFM administrations, television employer intransigence was never met with a firm union-like resolve to fight through to reasonable conclusions. As a result, my administration inherited a tangle of television agreements that were expired and/or enmeshed in years-long and seemingly endless negotiations.
It has taken time to put our television house in order, but we have done so. We took on the tough negotiations, fought nose-to-nose when necessary, and showed the various employer groups an unflagging commitment to asserting our rights and obtaining fair deals. Using an approach that has been both militant and deliberate, we worked through the AFM’s outstanding television agreements and concluded deals—including successors to the TV Videotape Agreement, the Country Music Television Agreement, and the Basic Television Film Agreement—that benefited musicians and put the Federation on a firm footing for the current round of negotiations.
Of highest priority in our current TV negotiations are our efforts to improve coverage and residual compensation for musicians when programs are exhibited and streamed in new media. With the viewing public transitioning away from traditional linear television, switching off their sets in favor of on-demand online video alternatives, the watching of regularly scheduled broadcast television is dying. Against this background, the Federation’s TV new media proposals, which mirror provisions bargained successfully by our sister entertainment unions, have taken on added importance.
We have advised the networks that any successor agreement must contain on-demand streaming revenue participation for musicians at least commensurate with levels enjoyed by other workers in the industry. We will be negotiating hard for fair TV new media provisions this month, and given the networks’ difficult attitudes, I expect additional negotiating sessions will become necessary later this year, most likely in Los Angeles.
With the Federation’s lease at 1501 Broadway in the heart of New York City’s Times Square set to expire January 2019, and with full authorization by the International Executive Board, Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal and I have entered into negotiations to purchase an office condo in the financial district in lower Manhattan to serve as the Federation’s new home.
After comparing the costs of leasing versus purchase, we have determined that owning our offices is significantly more cost effective and will stabilize and reduce office occupancy expenses in the years and decades to come, putting to rest the Federation’s decades-old struggle over acquiring and owning its International Headquarters.
Protecting the Federation’s long-term financial interests by owning our headquarters office is a no-brainer. We will create equity, and reduce costs. We will reduce liability and increase Federation assets, all made possible by the Federation’s improved financial condition—a direct result of the hard work of our staff and the diligence, dedication, and fiscal responsibility of our magnificent International Executive Board. Watch for more details in this column next month concerning Federation media negotiations and our relocation journey.
Compromise or Catastrophe? SiriusXM Pre-72 Settlement Sells Out Creative Community
In a compromise, each party usually walks away with something they want and something they value. But when you are hampered by unfavorable Federal regulation, while fighting huge media conglomerates, compromise can lead to catastrophe. And you might not even know it until it’s over.
Case in point: late last year, a “compromise” settlement between weary recording artist litigants and satellite radio giant SiriusXM (with a market capitalization of more than $24 billion) set the stage for an economic catastrophe, which could impact the streaming income of America’s creators—our featured recording artists and the session musicians and vocalists who back them—for many years to come.
The backstory: using the “pre-1972” loophole in current copyright law, SiriusXM refused to pay legacy artists for the commercial use of their work. In response, two original members of the ’60s-’70s group The Turtles (known professionally as Flo and Eddie), initiated class action lawsuits in California, Florida, and New York.
While newer artists receive the benefit of clear protection (and royalties) under federal law, legacy artists are denied this protection for sound recordings made prior to February 15, 1972. Those recordings are protected by state law; so legacy artists must endure the hassle, expense, and uncertainty of state by state litigation to seek compensation for the use of their work. Artists and rights owners bear all of the costs and all of the risks in these lawsuits in countless state courts. And that’s what Flo and Eddie did.
Eventually, on the eve of the trial, SiriusXM agreed to settle the litigation. This may sound like a win, but it wasn’t. Granted, the legacy artists who were included in the case against SiriusXM will receive some compensation, but the trade-off was to agree to a prospective, going forward rate that radically undercuts the market and threatens the future value of music streaming for all artists, backup musicians, and vocalists.
In addition to a flat sum settlement for past uses, SiriusXM agreed to pay a pro rata share of 5.5% of its revenue to the artists prospectively. This is half of the 11% of revenue royalty rate that they are currently obligated to pay for federally protected sound recordings. What’s worse is that the 5.5% may drop even further in the wake of a recent decision by the New York Court of Appeals, and the outcome of other pending court proceedings.
In addition to the half-price royalty rate, SiriusXM was able to capitalize on artists’ lack of federal protection to extract a series of concessions, including an agreement to explicitly characterize the settlement as “market rate” and a clause forcing artists to agree to this “fire sale” royalty structure for 10 years into the future.
To make matters even worse, the settlement doesn’t do anything to actually solve the underlying problem of our broken copyright regime. It merely papers over the ongoing second-class treatment of legacy recording artists, musicians, and singers. It shortchanges them by paying only half, at most, of what should be required, and it risks the permanent devaluation of all digitally distributed music going forward. The fix is clear. We need to afford pre-1972 recordings the same federal protection that all other recordings enjoy.
In last year’s Congress, Representatives Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) attempted to fix this inequity. They introduced the Fair Play Fair Pay Act. This bipartisan legislation proposed real copyright reform and went a long way towards addressing these and other injustices in the realm of recorded music. If enacted, the Fair Play Fair Pay Act would have secured performance rights for all recording artists across every platform.
The efforts of Nadler and Blackburn must be continued. The shabby treatment toward recording artists and musicians must stop. The devaluation of America’s cultural heritage must end. All platforms should play by the same rules. Government subsidies afforded by our copyright policies to satellite and broadcast radio should be eliminated. Artists and musicians of all eras should be treated fairly when their music generates value. It’s time to treat legacy artists like the legends they are. Let’s pay all creators what they deserve—instead of forcing them to sell their futures for 50 cents on the dollar.
You Can Be Heard—NOW!
Every six months, or so, I am tasked with writing an article for the International Musician. More often than not, the impetus for the topic relates to something that I’m dealing with as president of Local 99 (Portland, OR). As I’ve stated before, it’s one of the true positive outcomes of our AFM structure, in that, as an officer of a local, I can bring the daily, real world issues directly to the international governing body, which can then lead to the change and growth required in these challenging times.
Such is the case with this article. In recent months, Local 99 has seen a significant number of violations by employers in both our national agreements and some of our local agreements. In most of these cases, they are not circumstances that are being brought to my attention by musicians working under the agreements. They are violations that I have been able to ascertain, based on report forms, or research that uncovers new and/or false information.
Following the discovery of these contract violations, I locate and reach out to the musicians (not always so easy, as some may not be members yet), explain the circumstances, and with their help, work to rectify the situation. When successful, that usually means additional payments to the musicians in the form of wages, health care, and/or pension. In reaching out, I have been met with the full range of reactions: from “I don’t want to bother with this” to “let’s take them down,” and every level in between. In one recent case, the musician didn’t want to pursue a claim, then changed his mind, and we (the local and Federation) were able to procure almost $11,000 in wages and benefits for him.
As I ponder this situation, it naturally occurs to me that, if I’m the one catching these contract violations, covering dozens of contracts and completely different work locations, activities, and employers, this must be just a small percentage of what is really taking place. That leads me to question why the musicians working under these agreements, who often complain about not being able to make enough money, do not contact their local or the Federation about these contract violations.
There are two obvious reasons for this. The first is knowledge. If you don’t know the terms of the agreement you are working under, you don’t know how you are supposed to be treated or paid.
That is an easy fix. If it’s a national agreement, the terms are located on the AFM website for you to review. If you can’t find them on the site, contact your local and I’m sure they can help track them down. If it’s a local contract, ask for a copy, or talk with your local officer about the terms. Knowing and understanding the terms of the contract(s) you’re working under is a pretty easy way to determine if you’re being paid and treated properly.
The other reason is fear. Believe me, this is a big one and can be very difficult. You might think that, if you stand up for your right to be treated as required by the contract, which the signing company or organization has agreed to, you could be let go, not hired again, or disrespected in your music community, depending on the scope of the contract. Know that I, as a local officer, don’t want to see this happen to anyone. It is my job to deflect and take the heat away from musicians as we work through the issues. It should be noted in all these cases: the contract is between the union and the producer (employer). An individual musician does not have the authority to waive the terms of that agreement. Working together, though, we should be able to navigate the issues, protect your relationships, and get you the money you’re owed.
Beyond the realm of these two examples, though, I’m sure there are other reasons why musicians don’t bring contract violations to the attention of their local officers. If we don’t know about something, we can’t work to resolve it. So I’m going to do something crazy here (at least it might prove to be). I would like to hear about all your reasons for not communicating with your local about contract violations, especially the wage violations that you have experienced. I encourage you to read and understand the contracts you are working under so you at least know if there are violations. You can email or snail mail me your story. Mail makes it easier to protect your anonymity, but whichever you choose, your identity will not be shared. I only ask that you identify the local you are a member of.
You can send your story to either firstname.lastname@example.org or to Bruce Fife, PO Box 42485, Portland, OR, 97242.
Know your value and stand up for your rights!