Tag Archives: president’s message

Ray Hair

Unallocated Contributions Support Each Participant’s Pension

Note: Fund updates appearing in this column are not applicable to the AFM’s Canadian pension fund, known since August 2010 as Musicians Pension Fund of Canada. 

To improve its funded status and restore its health over the long term, the American Federation of Musicians and Employers’ Pension Fund (Fund) needs additional employer contributions as well as good investment returns. For the plan year that ended March 31, 2017, higher employer contributions and strong investment performance kept the Fund out of critical and declining status for the plan year that began April 1, 2017. Whether the Fund can stay out of critical and declining status in the future will depend in part on income each year from employer contributions and investment returns.

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Pension Fund Avoids Critical and Declining Status Due to Higher Investment Returns and Increased Employer Contributions

Note: AFM-EP Fund updates appearing in this column are not applicable to the AFM’s Canadian Pension Fund, known since August, 2010 as Musicians Pension Fund of Canada. 

At its May 2017 Board of Trustees’ meeting, AFM-EP Fund actuaries advised that better than expected investment returns and increased employer contributions—most notably, $20 million in new contributions over the next three years from the Sound Recording and Motion Picture industries negotiated by the Federation—enabled the plan to avoid “critical and declining” status for at least another fiscal year.

Although the odds are that the Fund may become critical and declining at some point in the future, even as early as the next fiscal year (beginning April 1, 2018), that status will depend on investment returns, employer contributions, and other results during this fiscal year.

Busting the Myths

With the speed of today’s Internet, inaccurate information can be disseminated quickly. Here are a few myths I’ve seen, along with the facts.

Myth #1: The Fund is not critical and declining so we’re “safe.”

Though plan status has been certified critical each year since 2010, avoiding critical and declining status this year doesn’t mean the plan is healthy. High investment returns coupled with innovative increases in Federation-negotiated employer contributions kept the Fund out of critical and declining status this fiscal year. As recently as the plan year concluding March 31, 2016, employer contributions covered only 42% of benefit payments.

Increases in the percentage of employer contributions are essential to the health of the Fund. This cannot be accomplished if members opt to work off-contract without pension contributions for signatory employers, rather than insisting that Federation and locally-negotiated agreements with pension benefits be honored.

Myth #2: The Keep Our Pension Promises Act (KOPPA) proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders is good for participants.

Fund trustees would strongly support legislative changes that would help the Plan secure participants’ pensions without relying on benefit cuts. Unfortunately, KOPPA as currently drafted and sponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Al Franken (D-MN), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) provides the Fund with no relief whatsoever.

Why not? Because a key provision in the bill disqualifies the plan from coverage. Relief provided by KOPPA pertains only to plans with a certain percentage of their funding problem attributable to employers who withdrew from the fund without paying their withdrawal liability. One example of this was the 2011 Philadelphia Orchestra bankruptcy. However, because the plan does not meet the bill’s required threshold percentage, KOPPA, if enacted, would fail to provide any relief.

KOPPA would also eliminate the plan’s ability to avoid insolvency (running out of money) by reducing benefits. While no one wants to see benefit reductions happen, that option is important as a last resort. Benefit reductions could allow the plan to continue paying higher benefits than if it became insolvent. As written, Congressional adoption of KOPPA, though highly unlikely in the current Congressional climate, would shorten the life of the plan.

Local 802 (New York City) President and Fund Trustee Tino Gagliardi and I met with senior staffers for Senators Sanders, Franken, and Baldwin in Washington, DC, June 6 to discuss what changes to their proposed KOPPA legislation would be needed to permit the plan to benefit from it. Unfortunately, none of those staffers believed that KOPPA would ever move through required congressional committee hearings where amendments could be made, let alone be adopted.

Myth #3: The plan lost 40% in investment returns when other plans lost 25%.

The Plan lost 29% in investment returns for the 12 months (fiscal year) ending March 31, 2009, not 40% as some have alleged. This misunderstanding was tracked back to the trustees’ December 2016 letter to participants that said plan assets declined by 40% over 18 months. Some have read this to mean the plan’s investment return was negative 40% over that period—but that was not the case. 

Myth #4: The Fund office received huge staff pay increases in 2009.

This misunderstanding was tracked back to the change in IRS reporting requirements for the compensation numbers shown on IRS Form 5500 Schedule C. The rules changed in 2009 to expand the definition of compensation to include, not just salary, but all payments made on behalf of staff—including, for example, health insurance and other benefit costs, travel reimbursements, and other expenses incurred while performing their jobs.

Fund Office staff cost increases have averaged only 2.16% a year from fiscal year 2009 to 2016. This modest increase, only slightly more than CPI, includes an increase in staff health care premiums over a period when premiums rose on average more than 25%.

What’s Next?

Because the Fund remained in critical status this year, benefit reductions to already earned benefits, which might be necessary if the Fund becomes critical and declining, will not be considered this year. Next year, the Fund will go through the same process—as it has every year in the past—to determine the plan’s status. Critical and declining status could be in the Fund’s future at some point and appropriate preparations will be made. Until then, the Fund will continue to monitor its progress, review its investments, collect employer contributions, and manage expenses.

The Federation, in each of its negotiations, will push hard for increases in employer contributions to increase the plan’s overall funding percentages and improve assets available for distribution.

I am committed to keeping you updated with the most current information about the Fund’s status. In addition, please visit the Fund website, www.afm-epf.org, register and log on for easy access to FAQ’s and updated information as it becomes available.

Ray Hair

Unity Is Key in Our Struggle for Fairness

Following is the text of my opening remarks to the 4th International Orchestra Conference in Montreal, Canada, May 12.

On behalf of the entire membership of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada, I am pleased to welcome you to Montreal for the 4th International Orchestra Conference, presented by the International Federation of Musicians (FIM) and the Quebec Musicians Guild, AFM Local 406. We are gathered here in this wonderful city, in this beautiful country, to share information, experiences, and ideas that will benefit and enlighten musicians performing in symphonic institutions around the world.

As we talk about some of the challenges we face, I want us to do so in the context of the greater challenge that affects relationships between all of us—the same challenge we’ve always faced.

Those of us in this room who are musicians understand our passion as musicians to perform perfectly, not just because that is our livelihood, but because that’s what gives meaning to our lives. It’s who and what we are. It’s also about the pride we feel when we can control our own destiny through the making of music, and when we believe we are reaching our potential as musicians. It’s about being fairly compensated for the artistic excellence and the joy we bring to the world.

From the time we began to organize sound, we eventually understood that strength and harmony came from unity, from aligning ourselves together perfectly as musicians because we are stronger together.

Our issues always rest on that greater challenge—how can we achieve fair compensation and fair treatment commensurate with the power of our music?

What we’ve struggled with since the beginning—we make all the music, while everybody else makes all the money—is our eternal contest. How can we achieve fairness for what we do? We can get there if we apply the same principle that we live by when we perform as musicians, and if we have the will to do it. The answer is unity.

There Is Strength in Unity

AFM was born in 1896, just as innovative technology began to alter how the public consumed music, from the live stage, concert halls, and theater pits to analog audio and visual broadcasting in the 1920s and 1930s; high fidelity in the 1950s to digital distribution in the 1980s and 1990s; and now, satellite and web radio with Sirius XM and Pandora, and on-demand audiovisual streaming with Spotify, Apple, YouTube, Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, and others.

For musicians in the US and Canada the opportunity to drive a fair bargain with well-capitalized media companies depends largely on collective agreements bargained by the AFM.

A fair bargain for media was far easier in the day when the means of production and distribution of music was less efficient, more expensive, and less integrated.

The technological landscape is far different today. In the 21st century, we live in a time of convergence, where the marriage of digitization, production, and transmission technology has blurred the lines between broadcasting, streaming, and social new media. We are experiencing an unparalleled surge of innovation, resulting in a global techno-economic paradigm shift.

Today, control over the means of production and distribution, formerly separate in the analog world, but now digitally unified, has produced winners and losers. All you have to do is follow the money.

Let’s look at Google, YouTube, and Facebook. Last month, CNBC reported that Google and Facebook together will earn $106 billion from advertising this year. Analysts expect Google-owned YouTube to top $10 billion in ad revenue in 2017. How many of you in this room today work with orchestras that have clips on YouTube?

A couple of days ago, I went to YouTube and searched for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), clicked on CSO’s May 8, 2015 performance of Beethoven’s 9th. (Very popular clip—more than
6 million hits.) Before I was able to access the Beethoven clip, the first thing I got was an ad about nasal congestion relief. Funny, because I had recently searched online for information about allergy medicine. Google, YouTube’s parent company, remembered that and enabled YouTube to target my interest in CSO to spot-play a specific advertiser—Rhinocort Allergy Spray.

I then searched for the New York Philharmonic, clicked on a clip of the orchestra performing Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. But first, I was forced to view an ad for a spelling and punctuation error application. Funny, because I frequently use free online spelling, dictionary, and thesaurus applications, when I’m writing my columns for the International Musician. Google knew that and targeted my search with related advertising.

Then, to round out the exercise, searching for a foreign orchestra clip on YouTube, I clicked on the Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s Mozart Clarinet Concerto in A Major. There again was the same allergy medicine advertisement that I’d seen a minute earlier in front of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra video. I refreshed the page and got an ad for a website promoting six-pack abs.

Years ago, there was very little money in clip and excerpt use online. Today, it’s been monetized into the billions. In its advertiser supported streaming model, YouTube is using content posted by the Chicago, New York, and Iceland orchestras to sell allergy medicine, and lots more. Do those orchestral institutions get a cut of YouTube’s
$10 billion in ad money, and if so, will the musicians who performed so perfectly in those clips ever receive their fair share?

The managers and agents certainly recognize the value musicians add to media. When our talent improves the financial well-being of the media industry, our livelihood should improve as well. If we surrender complete control over media production and distribution, we lose our leverage and our stake in the content and we cede higher economic ground to management, middlemen, agents, and others in the food chain. We lose control of our destiny and our ability to reach our potential as musicians. But we can fight this and win. We can make a difference if we work together, because we are stronger together and because in unity, there is strength. Through the power of our music, as Eric Clapton said, we can change the world.

Ray Hair

Changing Channels: from Pamphlet B to SRLA, Network Television

I am pleased to announce that the Federation has concluded negotiations with the Broadway League and Disney Theatrical Productions for a successor Pamphlet B Agreement. The new agreement establishes wages and conditions of employment for musicians working on the road in touring theatrical musical productions. The Federation’s Pamphlet B Agreement is administered by the Federation’s Touring/Theatre/Booking Division (TTBD), headed by Assistant to the President Michael Manley.

Despite a rough start in our initial round of bargaining, the Federation, Disney, and the League were eventually able to find common ground during subsequent negotiations, ultimately reaching a progressive agreement that will become effective retroactively after ratification to March 11, 2016 and extend through March 15, 2020.

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New Public TV Contract Ratified

I am pleased to report that after three rounds of negotiations, starting in October 2015, the Federation reached agreement with representatives of public television employers including the Public Broadcasting Service, WGBH, WETA, WTTW, Austin City Limits, Sesame Workshop, and Thirteen Productions (formerly Educational Broadcasting Corporation) for a successor National Public Television Agreement. The agreement was ratified June 1, and will extend three years.

In the last decade, employers in all quarters of the commercial television industry fought to deny fair compensation to musicians, to expand their own rights, and to deny union jurisdiction (and thus the path to negotiating fair deals) over products made for new media platforms. Unfortunately, in past union administrations, television employer intransigence was never met with a firm union resolve to fight through to reasonable conclusions. As a result, this 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 future negotiations.

Our determined resolution of the commercial television agreements formed the background for the recent successful negotiation of the National Public Television Agreement. That agreement had expired, and was left to languish in 2005 under my predecessor. The employers were perfectly content to let it languish forever. In frank terms, they had no interest in reaching a new agreement; it suited them to simply extend the 2002-2005 agreement perpetually with no increases.

That is a recipe for disaster, and having reached progressive agreements with the commercial television employer groups, we went on to confront public television. We insisted not only that the holding pattern must end, but that musicians must see real economic gains in a new agreement.

The resolve of our negotiating team and this administration’s willingness to take on the tough negotiations with media employers enabled us to accomplish our goals and deliver a good deal—including an immediate 8% wage increase, an additional 3% wage increase in the second year, another 3% wage increase in the third year, increased health & welfare contributions, increased pension contributions, increased cartage payments, provisions governing new media, and a groundbreaking clip use agreement.

The Federation firmly adheres to the principle that musicians deserve reasonable payment when clips of music they performed on one television program are used in a different television program, or in other media. However, the lack of established rates for clip use often has made the collection of clip payments difficult and ad hoc; and the distribution of clip use payments to musicians who performed on older programs, where documentation is sometimes lacking, can pose its own difficulties.

The new agreement firmly establishes, in explicit terms, the obligation to make clip use payments when a clip from a program produced under the National Public Television Program is licensed into any other program, and, in addition, when a clip from a program produced pursuant to another AFM agreement is licensed into a National Television Agreement program.

This new agreement will, for the first time, require signatory public television employers to share with musicians the revenue they receive from certain forms of new media exploitations. Specifically, they will be required to share the covered exploitation revenues with musicians at the same rates as commercial television producers under the TV Videotape Agreement.

Although the rates are the same as the commercial television rates, we believe that the payment provisions in this agreement are more favorable, because they place the payroll costs of these exploitation payments (such as the employer’s share of social security contributions) squarely on the employers, instead of deducting them from the exploitation payments themselves.

In sum, the Federation has put the same foot in the door with public television that it, and the other guilds, put in the door in the commercial television world (and that SAG-
AFTRA has negotiated in its public television agreement). New media issues will continue to occupy the attention of all the guilds, and the Federation, in future bargaining.

I offer my heartfelt thanks to our negotiating team and staff who worked hard and with great dedication to obtain such favorable results. The negotiating team included AFM International Vice President Bruce Fife and representatives from the following locals: Local 802—President and Executive Officer Tino Gagliardi, Vice President Andrew Schwartz, Electronic Media Services Supervisor Steven Danenberg, and Administrative Assistant John Painting; Local 47—President John Acosta, Vice President Rick Baptist, and Electronic Media Division Administrator Gordon Grayson; Local 257—President and Executive Officer Dave Pomeroy; Local 10-208—Electronic Media Representative Dean Rolando; Local 9-535—President Pat Hollenbeck; Local 161-710—President Ed Malaga. AFM staff on the negotiating team were: Electronic Media Services Division Director Patrick Varriale and Director Electronic Symphonic Services Division Deborah Newmark. Special thanks to Counsel Trish Polach of Bredhoff & Kaiser for her tireless efforts in these negotiations.

AFM Media Convergence and Performance Rights, Part 4

In part four of this series we discuss the AFM’s role in advocating digital performance rights, and its partnerships with Sound-Exchange and SAG-AFTRA in royalty distributions.

Rights for Composers, but None for Musicians

At the beginning of the 20th century, in the early days of recording technology, there were never any performance rights for musicians, only limited performance rights reserved for composers.

The US Copyright Act of 1909 created the first compulsory mechanical license permitting anyone to make a mechanical reproduction—known today as a phonorecord, phonogram, tape, compact disc, audio file, stream, etc.—of a musical composition without the consent of the composer, who owned the copyright, subject to a royalty payment. Musicians were left out. In 1909, no one, including AFM members, ever dreamed sound recordings would reach the level of fidelity and worldwide popularity enjoyed today.

The 1909 Act protected the composer, stipulating that royalty payments be paid by the user of the composer’s work. But the law left professional musicians, who bring the composer’s ideas to life, without a right in the reproduction of their recordings. As technology vastly improved the fidelity and popularity of recordings, the AFM was left to bargain with broadcasters, record companies, and the film industry over the use of musicians’ recordings and for royalties on sales. Radio promotion and airplay generated enormous revenue for the record companies and composers, but provided no additional money for professional musicians.

From its beginnings, AFM grappled with technology as we still do today—by striving to maintain a level of control over what we do as musicians, by attempting to retain a measure of ownership and control over what we’ve created, and by seeking participation in the revenue streams that continue to enrich those who exploit our music long after we create it.

Leveraging its de facto monopoly in the 1940s with two epic strikes, the AFM established a groundbreaking royalty system with the record industry—the Music Performance Trust Fund.

The Rome Convention—A Performance Right for Musicians

Fast forward 20 years. Concerned that the tape recorder made sound and video recordings easier and cheaper than before, world nations gathered in Rome in 1961 and responded to the ease of sound reproduction by developing an international treaty extending copyright protection—a performance right—to performers (musicians, singers, actors, and dancers) and producers in copyrighted recordings. The Rome Convention required radio broadcasters to pay musicians for the right to air their recordings. AFM was there. We participated in the Rome Convention and supported the treaty. Pressured by US broadcasters, fat and happy from a decades-old diet of free recordings, the US government declined to endorse it. Today, only the US, China, and North Korea have declined to sign the Rome treaty. US musicians and record companies receive no performance royalties from terrestrial AM/FM radio. The Internet and digital distribution changed the game in the 1990s.

DPRA and DMCA—Two Steps Forward

The US Digital Performance Rights Act of 1995 (DPRA) was enacted in response to the absence of a performance right in sound recordings in the 1976 Copyright Act, and a fear that digital technology would eventually replace sales of physical product—records, CDs, and cassette tapes. DPRA granted performance rights to sound recording copyright owners (record labels), featured artists (usually in hock to a label), and background session musicians and vocalists whenever their recordings are transmitted digitally.

DPRA created two tiers of rights payment obligations. First, noninteractive satellite radio and webcasters (Sirius XM, Pandora) would be obligated to pay copyright owners (labels) and performers a statutory per stream rate established by the US Copyright Royalty Board (CRB). Second, interactive streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music) would be required to negotiate an exclusive license with the copyright owners (labels) of the recordings, prior to any use. Terrestrial analog radio broadcasters were exempted and would pay nothing.

Congress adopted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998 to protect copyright owners and performers from Internet piracy. DMCA criminalizes services intended to circumvent digital performance rights and heightens penalties for Internet copyright infringement.

The 1994 Memorandum of Understanding with the Record Industry

In 1994, prior to US digital rights initiatives, the recording industry sought assurances from AFM and AFTRA (now SAG-AFTRA) that the unions would join the labels to actively lobby and enact DPRA. The unions reached agreement with the labels to split the statutory, noninteractive performance royalties as follows: 50% to copyright owners (labels) and 50% to performers—split 45% to featured artists, and 5% to nonfeatured session musicians and singers. The labels also agreed to pay 1% of all receipts from interactive exclusive licenses (Spotify, Apple Music, etc.), into an AFM and SAG-AFTRA designated fund for distribution purposes.

Neighbouring Rights in Canada

Rights related to the public performance of sound recordings in Canada are generally referred to as Neighbouring Rights. Amendments to the Copyright Act of Canada implemented in 1997 created for performers the right to receive royalties from the broadcast, public performance, or private copying of sound recordings on which they had performed. In Canada, musicians are better protected because royalties are payable by both terrestrial broadcasters and digital service providers and are split 50% to copyright holders (labels), 40% to featured artists, and 10% to session musicians and vocalists.

How do musicians get their share of royalties?

The AFM played a lead role in establishing US digital performance rights, Neighbouring Rights in Canada, and in developing systems for the distribution of performer royalties in both countries. Three AFM-sponsored organizations distribute performance royalties in the US and Canada.

Following the adoption of DPRA, the AFM & SAG-AFTRA Fund was created to administer and distribute the 5% statutory noninteractive digital performance royalties and all receipts from the 1994 MOA. SoundExchange (SX) was established as the organization to collect and distribute the 45% and 50% shares of noninteractive digital performance royalties to featured artists and copyright holders. AFM and SAG-AFTRA each hold institutional seats on the SX board. The Musicians’ Rights Organization of Canada (MROC) is the successor to the Musicians Neighbouring Rights Royalties (MNRR), a collective rights management organization created in 1998 by the AFM to distribute the 10% Canadian nonfeatured royalty share to performers.

To register and claim your share of statutory performance right royalties go to www.SoundExchange.com, www.
AFMSAGAFTRAFund.org, or www.MusiciansRights.ca.

Streaming Spikes, Physical Product Declines

The AFM, left out of the performance rights race in 1909, eventually bargained a royalty on record sales in 1944, establishing MPTF, our pension fund, and other residual funds for sound recordings, film, television, and jingles. Some say MPTF was the glue that held the AFM together for 60 years. As MPTF has diminished with decline of physical sales, so has the membership level of many locals. Where will the revenue come from to restore it?

Media production and distribution have converged in the digital age, disrupting existing models. Free YouTube is a boon to consumers, who used to fork over $15 per CD. Younger viewers watch 2.5 times more Internet video than broadcast and cable TV.

From the early 2000s to date, with consumption racing toward streaming media and away from physical sales and broadcasting, digital performance royalty collections have grown from a trickle to a flood. SoundExchange is now the biggest collective rights management organization in the world for labels and artists. Since 2003, SX has collected and distributed more than $3 billion and will top $1 billion this year. In 2016, the AFM & SAG-AFTRA Fund will distribute more than $50 million to musicians and vocalists. In a $16 billion global music market, the US share is $7 billion, transitioning from physical to digital, with $2.3 billion (34%) earned from streaming.

Of worldwide media consumption, 60% is produced in the US and Canada, primarily under AFM agreements. With so much digital rights money at stake, producers are doing what they’ve always done to deprive musicians pension fund, residual funds, and MPTF—their fair share of the pie. It’s the same old song. We make all the music—the music the world wants to hear—but everyone else makes all the money. Why? What can be done about it?

Next month, could growth in streaming revenue be a game changer for the AFM, its locals and its members?

AFM, Media Convergence and Performance Rights, Pt. 3

In part three of this series, we discuss how revolutionary systems in digital media production and distribution have converged, disrupting existing business models. (Part One and Part Two).

New Media—Game Changer for Capital, Consumption

For as long as there have been cameras and photographs, phonographs and recordings, movie screens, radio and television broadcasts, entertainment lovers the world over have consumed media. From the earliest displays of public media, the AFM set employment standards and conditions by negotiating constructive agreements covering the work of professional musicians in the production and use of film and phono recordings, and for radio and TV broadcasting.

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AFM, Media Convergence and Performance Rights Part 2

In this five-part series, we look briefly at AFM’s origins, structure, media agreements, historical challenges from the rise of technology, disruption of established media business models, institutional stress from a new techno-economic paradigm, and opportunities for new money for musicians from performance rights. In part two below, we examine early efforts to organize and monetize media services, modern Federation media agreements, and the underlying pressures to lower standards.

The future of the Federation depends in part on its ability to bargain progressive media agreements despite global competitiveness and a burgeoning background of web-based, user-generated-content that has blurred the lines between broadcasting and other media across all elements of consumption. To understand what is happening now in music and media, we look to our past to remember who we are, where we came from, what we did, and to see where we go from here.

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AFM, Media Convergence, and Performance Rights

In this five-part series, we will look briefly at AFM’s origins, its structure, its media agreements with industry employers, the historical challenges faced from the rise of technology, the current disruption of established media business models by digital new media, institutional stresses related to a new techno-economic paradigm, and opportunities for new money for AFM members from performance rights management.

The future of the Federation depends in part on its ability to bargain progressive and meaningful media agreements against a burgeoning background of web-based user generated content that has blurred the lines between broadcasting and other media across all elements of consumption. To understand what is happening now in music and media, let’s look to our past to remember who we are, where we came from, and what we did, in order to help us see where we go from here.

Origin and Structure

The American Federation of Musicians of the US and Canada, which operates in Canada as the Canadian Federation of Musicians, was not the first musicians’ union to exist in North America. It was preceded by the National League of Musicians (NLM), a loose confederation of 15 independent musician’s locals that began in1886 and grew to 79 locals with 9,000 total members by 1904.
An issue that developed early on was whether the unions should audition and enroll only the most proficient musicians into their ranks—the elitist approach—or whether to recruit into membership anyone who was working or intended to work as a professional musician—the labor union approach.

In 1896, Samuel Gompers asked the NLM to join the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which had also formed in 1886 and was organizing along the jurisdictions of the old craft guilds. The NLM, which was led by proponents of the elitist ideology, was not interested in the AFL’s all-in philosophy of let’s organize everything,

let’s get everybody in, let’s unite everybody who works or wants to work for money. AFL organizers reasoned that an elitist approach toward unionism would eventually create a cadre of willing and able replacement workers that employers would use to separate, disunify, and destroy the union. By working to involve and represent the entire workforce of a given craft, the AFL believed the opportunity existed to establish, maintain, and improve wages and working conditions with employers on an industry-wide basis.

The first AFM Convention, called and organized by Gompers, was held in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1886, 130 years ago. Seventeen of the 26 AFL-chartered musicians’ locals in attendance were also locals of the National League of Musicians, demonstrating a startling show of interest from NLM locals who were in favor of the AFL’s labor organizing approach.

Owen Miller, a musician from Europe, was elected as the first AFM president and began to charter locals alongside those still entrenched in the old elitist NLM.

AFM Locals

Because the AFM was founded by existing local unions, the founders recognized the local union as the fundamental unit. Thus, our local unions have more autonomy than those with other national and international unions.

Most of us know that local officers and delegates to regional conference meetings and to the AFM Convention are elected by members of each local. Locals are responsible for organizing and negotiating contracts with local employers, locals set local wage scales and other conditions of local employment, and can also forward proposals and provide input to the Federation for all

AFM-negotiated agreements.

The AFM provides direct assistance to locals, and to regional and player conferences, through Federation field staff from our Symphonic, Electronic Media, and Touring and Booking divisions, and from our Organizing and Education Department.

Fundamentally, our locals are authorized to set standards, organize, and negotiate terms of employment for all live local engagements; for live, local-only radio and television broadcasts; and for local limited-pressing audio or audio/visual recordings.
Intermediate Bodies—the AFM Conferences

There are 12 state and regional local conferences, such as the Canadian Conference, the Illinois State Conference, the Western Conference, and others, where elected delegates from affiliated locals meet periodically to discuss items of mutual interest and concern. The meetings include reports by Federation officers and staff about current campaigns and policy matters, and discussion by delegates about important issues affecting their locals.

There are also five player conferences – three symphonic and two non-symphonic conferences. One non-symphonic conference deals with workplace concerns of recording musicians, and the other is focused on concerns of musicians who perform touring Broadway musicals. Player conferences meet annually. They are essential intermediate bodies that provide a forum for musicians from similar workplaces to share experiences; to identify, articulate and prioritize their needs; and to exchange information and ideas to support improvements for local and Federation agreements.

Symphonic conferences include the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), and the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM). There are 52 US ICSOM member orchestras with annual budget sizes of $5 million or higher. OCSM has 21 member orchestras in Canada of varying budget sizes, and there are 95 ROPA orchestras in the US with annual budgets ranging from $400,000 to $6.5 million.

Nonsymphonic player conferences include the Recording Musicians Association, which has chapters in Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville, and the Theater Musicians Association, which has 10 chapters in major US cities.

In nonconvention years, representatives from local and player conferences meet jointly with the AFM International Executive Board to debate and discuss items of mutual interest.

The Federation

Today, the AFM consists of 200 locals with 80,000 members in the US and Canada, and is staffed by 80 employees spread across four offices in North America—Federation headquarters in New York City, a Canadian Office in Toronto, a West Coast Office in Los Angeles, and a legislative office in Washington, DC.

AFM is administered by its International Officers, which comprise a nine-member International Executive Board (IEB)—International President and Vice President, Vice President from Canada, International Secretary-Treasurer, and five at-large Executive Committee members. Election of officers occurs at the AFM Convention.

The AFM Convention

The AFM’s triennial convention is the union’s highest decision-making body and is attended by elected delegates from locals and player conferences. AFM officers and staff preside over and manage the business of four daily sessions, which include workshops; committee meetings; as well as debate and delegate voting on policy resolutions, recommendations, and bylaw proposals submitted by delegates, locals, conferences, and the IEB. Elections for all international officers and delegates to the AFL-CIO Convention are held at each AFM Convention.

Next month, we’ll examine the drive to monetize media services, employer resistance, Federation media agreements, and internal union pressure to lower standards.