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Small Spark of Hope for Ontario Status

The 420-page final report Ontario’s The Changing Workplaces Review, by C. Michael Mitchel and John C. Murray, was released in late May. As previously reported, the review is designed to provide a framework for upcoming changes to the Ontario Employment Standards Act and the Ontario Labour Relations Act. The CFM provided submissions and recommendations, specifically stressing that musicians are not sufficiently protected under existing laws, and that the only resolve for a largely freelance community is provincial status of the artist legislation. To that end, our submissions included a comprehensive comparison of federal status and Quebec status, as well as suggested language.

While arts and entertainment was certainly not centre stage in the review, it did find its way into the report in section 11.6.3, page 364, describing how artist groups have “… urged us to adopt some of the philosophy and general approaches of the Quebec status of the artist act, modified to some degree …” While no direct credit is given to the CFM, footnote 498 is a direct reference, stating “… very late in the process, we received a draft model act from one group but there was no opportunity to discuss it, much less consult with respect to its contents …”

On the negative side, the employers have been working hard at recommending the status quo. For example, the Canadian Media Producers’ Association (CMPA) made this statement: “… the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA), which is involved in English language television, film, and digital media production, has warned us about the high costs of the Quebec system, including constant negotiations, labour relations instability and competition, and a lack of certainty, which is antithetical to the needs of a project-oriented, time-sensitive industry … the association argues that the sector is already heavily unionized, highly organized on a craft and sectoral basis, and successfully serves the needs of the various interest groups and, therefore, should not be interfered with.”

More importantly, the report goes on to seemingly disregard the CMPA and finalize the section with this recommendation: “… that Ontario conduct an inquiry and consultation with all affected interest groups to examine potential changes to the laws, which affect how personal services and labour are provided in the arts and entertainment sectors of the economy, for the purposes of supporting the artistic endeavour in those sectors and those who work in them.” While consisting of only a small speck in a large document, this capsulizes the most significant recognition of artists’ dilemma with collective bargaining to date, and with it, a glimmer of hope.

CFM General Counsel Alan Minsky generously summarized other aspects of the report. Proposed changes include:

1) Raising the general minimum wage to $15 an hour by January 1, 2019.

2) Changing various features of union certification and first contract dispute resolution procedures, including:

  • extending card-based certification to the temporary help agency industry, the building services sector, and the home care and community services industry, where a union can show 55% support in the proposed bargaining unit;
  • allowing unions to access employee lists and obtain employee contact information where they can show 20% support in the proposed bargaining unit;
  • making access to remedial certification and first contract arbitration easier, giving the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) more power to ensure votes are conducted fairly, and allow telephone and electronic voting;
  • providing just cause protection from the date of certification to the date of the first collective agreement.

3) Important changes to regulations governing unions, including:

  • successor rights for building services contracts;
  • empowering the OLRB to consolidate bargaining units;
  • strengthened protections for striking workers, including grievable just cause protection and a right to priority in rehire, even where a strike exceeds six months;
  • increased penalties for violating the Labour Relations Act;
  • reviewing exemptions to the Labour Relations Act (no immediate changes are set out in legislation).
  • 4) Improvements to minimum employment standards,
  • three weeks of paid vacation for employees with five or more years of service;
  • changes to simplify public holiday pay calculations and clarify how overtime is calculated when an employee has multiple jobs with the same employer;
  • equal pay for part-time, casual, temporary, and seasonal workers relative to full-time workers performing the same work, and for temporary help agency workers relative to permanent workers, subject to certain exceptions;
  • enhancements to Personal Emergency Leave (PEL) and other leave provisions;
  • new scheduling protections for workers;
  • several changes to Employment Standards Act exemptions and a review process for remaining exemptions.

5) Measures to provide better enforcement of employment standards, including combatting the misclassification of employees as independent contractors.

Now begins the process of providing Ontario locals with a script with which to go to their MPP and make the most of this slim opportunity to add compulsive collective bargaining as a component to the CFM toolbox.

dan beck

MPTF’s 2016-2017 Year Off to a Fast Start

dan beckby Dan Beck, Trustee, Music Performance Trust Fund

The Recording Industry’s Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF) began its 2016-17 fiscal year May 1. The usually busy summer months of live music events, free to the public, are a tradition extending back 68 years since the MPTF was founded in 1948. The Trust Fund’s work is to enrich communities with music culture and entertainment, while providing valuable supplemental income to professional musicians across North America.

This year, we are committed to maintain our primary grant budget at the $500,000 level. Revenues have declined unabated for the past two decades, since they are based almost entirely on the sale of physical product (CDs and vinyl). However, it is our desire to support as many ongoing events as possible, due to their importance to local communities throughout the US and Canada.

The MPTF continues to focus on co-funding programs at hospitals, schools, senior centers, parks, and public locations, where free musical events educate, influence, and impact quality of life. Through nearly seven decades, the organization has provided tens of millions of dollars to enhance inspired community programs featuring the best musical talent.

The upgraded grant management system now in place continues to provide cost savings, quality control, and improved capabilities. The MPTF staff has worked with program developers to simplify the process, including reducing the need for repetitive input. Our grant managers will be attending the AFM’s 100th Convention to demonstrate the system and answer questions on how best to use it. We invite you to visit us at our booth in Las Vegas in June!

Despite the declining revenue, the MPTF implemented a new senior center initiative this past year called MusicianFest. Thanks to a grant from The Film Funds, we were able to initiate more than 600 free senior center performances in the US and Canada. The National Council on Aging’s National Institute of Senior Centers oversees the request applications from senior centers across the country. The MPTF then solicits AFM locals for their ability to fulfill those requests and provides the funding to pay the musicians. This year a budget of $100,000 has been established, above the regular Trust Fund grant budget allocation, to make this program work.

While the grant levels are a challenge and a draw on the MPTF’s reserves, we have continued to reduce overhead costs every year. Those efforts, and their impact, can only last for a limited time before more radical efforts will be required to maintain the Trust Fund’s involvement in supporting live music and the musicians who perform it.

While our grants support a wide range of citizenry, they are most felt by professional musicians. The value of the MPTF to musicians themselves will ultimately determine the future of our efforts.   

Secretary-Treasurer Annual Report Synopsis

The following is a synopsis of my office’s recently submitted 2015 Annual Report.

At the close of business 2015, I was pleased to report income over expenses of more than $1.3 million. This is the fourth year that the AFM has net income of a million. AFM Comptroller Michelle Ledgister and her staff are to be commended for keeping Federation finances on track, while working extremely short-handed. 

In 2015, we started a payroll service. This service will bring funds to our members on a more timely basis, while providing an easier billing system.

New use payments are increasing. This trend is expected to continue exponentially as the AFM anticipates future growth. Payments from the AFM SAG-AFTRA fund are more than $350,000. We expect the AFM-SAG AFTRA fund to grow to $1 million in 2016.  Local 257 (Nashville, TN) member Bruce Boudin is a rank-and-file trustee carrying out his responsibilities as trustee, even while on tour. AFM President Ray Hair is co-chair of the fund and I am a trustee and chair of the investment committee. Delegates to the AFM Convention should  look for the AFM SAG-AFTRA booth. You and your members may have money waiting for you.

In 2015 we saw the visa opinion letters grow to an all-time high of $1.6 million. 

While funds grew, membership shrank, but only by 1,400 during the last year. In 2005, when I was elected secretary-treasurer, we were losing more than 10% per year. Fortunately, over the past few years, that trend has slowed.

I believe this is in part because of our online presence. This is evidenced by statistics from AFM IT Department Information Systems Manager Walter Lopez. More than 5,000 members have joined the AFM online.  

I want to compliment Lopez, Information Systems Support Manager Michael Ramos, and Programmer/Developer Gary Goode for completely updating our computer systems as that was sorely needed. The IT department has really stepped up to the ever-growing technology demands of the AFM and its locals, as well as the increasing IT expectations of our members. 

Cindy Pellegrino continues to keep staff on track as administrator of the Human Resources Department of the Federation. Pellegrino oversees and negotiates various insurance contracts, fields grievances, handles internal labor relations and employee discipline, as well as providing general good cheer.

At the close of 2015, Lew Mancini ended a legacy with the AFM. Mancini, my assistant secretary and the AFM’s chief operating officer, retired, leaving a void in our hearts and minds. Mancini and his family’s history of work for the AFM goes back to the ’40s. Mancini’s father-in-law, Bob Crothers, provided Mancini with a model to follow that will never be replaced. I really miss Mancini. 

My assistant, Nadine Sylvester, is my alter ego and confidant, as well as the rudder on our AFM vessel. Sylvester continues to be the editor of the List of Locals directory and works closely as the liaison for Union Privilege and Mercer on the various programs that they have to offer our membership.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge Mailroom Administrator Dennis Pitkofsky. He provides a valuable service to all staff and members. The mail must go through and Pitkofsky is our guy.

It’s a pleasure for me to walk into the office as Judith Vizueta epitomizes the word reception, as she greets staff and guests as they enter Suite 600. It is a pleasure to come to work and see Vizueta’s smiling face.

New Insurance Provider

I am pleased to announce Take1 as a new approved insurance provider. Take 1 specializes in protecting touring entertainers, music tours, outdoor festivals, live events, and professionally managed bands by offering a broad range of insurance products. Their mission is to become the insurance program of choice for those who need a solution provider to help sort out the often complex and specialized insurance needs of the entertainment industry.

We will soon be launching a survey with Take1 so they can better gauge the insurance needs of our member musicians.

BMI Reports Record-Breaking Revenues and Distribution

Music rights management company Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) announced record-breaking revenue and royalty distributions for the fiscal year that ended June 30. The organization’s total revenue was $1.013 billion, more than any other music rights organization worldwide. In turn, BMI distributed and administered $877 million to affiliated songwriters, composers, and music publishers, marking a 4.5% increase over the previous year. Revenue sources included Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube, among many others. International revenues accounted for $292 million, despite significant economic challenges overseas.

In a press release, the company pointed out that its historic revenue performance came in the same year the company prevailed in a groundbreaking rate-setting case against Pandora, following a nearly two-year legal battle. The decision established that publisher marketplace agreements can be taken into account as benchmarks when determining rates, an important step forward in valuing music today.

unity conference

Unity Conference Offers Valuable Union Insights to Attendees

The annual Canadian Conference, which took place in Windsor, Ontario, August 7-9, was special this year as it was a Unity Conference, held in conjunction with the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM). The two conferences normally have significantly different agendas. While the attendees to each come from different backgrounds and have completely different roles, they are all connected by one common denominator— membership in the AFM.

Meeting new people and building relationships is so very important in music, yet much of that personal contact has given way to social media contact. While the Internet is tremendously valuable, it cannot take the place of one-on-one conversations. This was an opportunity to get back to basics, learn each other’s role in the industry, take advantage of the networking possibilities, and learn from diverse thinking in problem-solving exercises.

There were presentations from Local 145 (Vancouver, BC) and Local 406 (Montreal, PQ) to help the delegates better understand the current lack of film scoring in Vancouver and the unique circumstances involved in bargaining in the province of Quebec. Both spawned considerable after-hours dialogue, resulting in at least one resolution to form a committee to address the changing film scoring scene and review the existing scoring agreements. While a primary concern of the Vancouver local, Quebec also has a huge vested interest in the possibility of attracting scoring from Europe and other French-speaking areas. In addition, there are other francophone communities in Canada that are a market for this content.

While many topics were discussed, one of the most urgent was work at festival and trade show events where, while live music is often centric, musicians are largely unpaid, yet recorded and broadcast on cable or Internet. Another was the status of freelance players who are not covered by collective agreements. While they represent the largest sector of the membership, they are also the most vulnerable to exploitation, unpaid gigs, and unauthorized recording, and therefore deserving of far more AFM attention and specific services. That said, our freelance musicians and self-contained bands are the most difficult to organize, since the concept of Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) or collective actions are foreign to them. For the most part, they find their own shows, market to their specific fan base, produce and distribute their own recordings, and seldom give a thought to utilizing AFM contracts for any of it.

An area of particular concern to the OCSM delegates was the erosion of CBC remotes. In previous years, each orchestra looked forward to at least a half-dozen broadcasts, which would both significantly increase the revenue on the gig, and generate interest in classical music among listeners. With the government’s slashing of funding and subsequent budget cuts, the CBC is left airing existing commercial recordings. The OCSM Media Committee, along with representatives from the CFM, is looking at creative options.

One of the highlights of the conference was the address by AFM President Ray Hair. An information-packed PowerPoint show began with the formation of the AFM, its roots, opponents, and raison d’être. While touching on the evolution of the Federation, it outlined the current agreements in place with employers—both US and Canada—and progress that has been achieved in the area of performance rights, regulations, and negotiations with other countries, ensuring proper compensation for commercial uses of North American music. Hair continued, describing attempts at union-busting (unfortunately, much from within), as well as the solidarity necessary to overcome, adapt, and prevail. He further used the AFM’s controversy with the Musicians’ Rights Organization of Canada (MROC), in its initial stages, as an example of the benefits to members that could be accomplished with dialogue and patience.

Any Conference loaded with that much information, controversy, and constructive communication must be deemed a success, and the contributing factor, in no small part, was the careful planning and flawless execution by the officers and members of Local 566 (Windsor, ON). Special thanks to Secretary Lynne Wilson-Bradoc and President Chris Borshuk for their hard work, attention to detail, and of course, the presentation of some of the finest musicians in the Essex-Kent area.

It was also pleasing to note many musicians attending as visitors from the local, as well as local officers. Special thanks to Local 802 (New York City) President Tino Gagliardi and Local 5 (Detroit, MI) President George Troia for attending and acting as resources for delegates. Members are always welcome and encouraged to attend these events to gain greater insight and see solidarity in action.

Pour la version francaise, cliquez ici.

senza sordino

Senza Sordino: Stalwart of Unity

bruce-ridgeby Bruce Ridge, ICSOM Chairman and Member of Local 500 (Raliegh, NC)

Of the many important and indispensable services that the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) provides for its members and the members of the AFM at large, our vital communication network is perhaps the most crucial. Electronic mailing lists and social media give us the ability to communicate instantly with each other, spreading news of opportunities and difficulties, and sharing solutions for issues both old and new that arise for our musicians and their orchestras. Of all the tools that ICSOM makes available, none are more topical and historically significant than our quarterly newsletter, Senza Sordino.

In 1962, ICSOM’s founders knew that, in order for our orchestras to survive and thrive, they must unite, and that a newsletter that could be read throughout the union and the field would be of great importance. For the first time, the issues affecting orchestra musicians could be reported and analyzed by those who knew the issues best—the orchestra musicians themselves. Senza Sordino (Italian for “without mute”) would be the perfect name for this publication.

The first issue was published in January 1963. That issue reported on numerous revolutionary developments for orchestra musicians, including four orchestra summits that had been held in the past year. There were negotiation updates from Los Angeles and Chicago, and a report about how Philadelphia Orchestra musicians were rising up against an unwarranted musician discharge.

One line that jumps off the page in that first issue is from the Cincinnati Symphony, where musicians reported “Last month we were granted the right to ratify our contract.” It is a reminder that so many of the rights that musicians take for granted today were once fought for diligently, and that those benefits and rights are only there to enjoy because of the sacrifices of previous generations.

The complete archive of Senza Sordino is available on the ICSOM website (www.icsom.org). It makes for fascinating reading for anyone who has ever played in a symphony orchestra, or who may one day want to become a member of an orchestra. This archive constitutes a crucial history of symphonies over the past half-century, detailing how orchestras performed, thrived, suffered, and emerged stronger both in our communities and our union.

As a new generation of musicians and leaders joins our orchestras, a reading of any single issue of this newsletter from any year would provide a rich education. Taking the archive in its entirety, it is overwhelming to think of what is represented on these pages and what might have become of our orchestras and our union if not for the work of ICSOM.

Just as the first issue reported on crucial topics, so does the latest. The May 2015 issue includes information on how to utilize new social media platforms, how musicians are serving their communities by organizing benefit concerts, the importance of music education, and how Baltimore Symphony musicians rose up as a beacon of hope for their city at a time of need.

And just as the first issue reported on how the Cincinnati Symphony musicians had gained the right to ratify their contract, the July 2015 issue of Senza Sordino reports on the conclusion of an outstanding negotiation with considerable gains for that orchestra, gains that would have been inconceivable without the actions first reported in 1963.

Now we have other options for our network of communication, and we utilize them daily—Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail. But Senza Sordino remains a stalwart friend of orchestra musicians everywhere. We send each issue to every local office in the AFM, as well as to every member of ICSOM. Each new issue is added to the archive on ICSOM’s website, viewable at http://www.icsom.org/senza/index. We hope that every issue is read with great interest, and we further hope that you will take a moment to read a past issue from the archive. We have no doubt you’ll be amazed at the wealth of information to be found.

USCIS Visa Processing Delay Notice

by Liana White, AFM Executive Director, Canada

We regret to inform Canadian travelling musicians that USCIS, primarily the Vermont Service Center, is severely backlogged. Please note that USCIS does not notify petitioners. We find out when our files are not processed on time, are approved at the last minute, or are only approved on time after congressional intervention. While USCIS regularly posts the submission date of petitions the adjudicators are currently processing, that date is not typically applicable to the processing of artist permits, which by USCIS internal policy, should be processed within 14 calendar of days receipt.

Our regular processing time of 35-45 calendar days has now increased to a minimum of 56 calendar days—so allowing 60 calendar days or more is best. If you do not have 56+ days before you are required to enter the US, there are two options:

1) At the outset of applying, or 25 calendar days before your date of entry, pay the additional premium processing fee of $1,225US. It must be remitted under a separate money order payable to Department of Homeland Security. (This fee is in addition to the $325US petition fee payable to Department of Homeland Security).

2)  Try to arrange a congressional expedite of your petition after your file has been issued a receipt number by USCIS, which can take upwards of 20 days. Follow this process:

  1. a) The first US venue must contact their local congressional or senatorial representative.
  2. b) A congress or senate aide contacts the AFM office and sends a waiver for the AFM petitioner (staff) of your file to complete.
  3. c) The AFM petitioner returns the waiver with a copy of the USCIS issued receipt notice.
  4. d) The congress/senate aide contacts Vermont Service Center Congressional Unit, which will locate and process the petition within 48 hours. The approval is then sent to the aide who, in turn, forwards it to the AFM petitioner, who will send it to the designated contact on your file.

There is one other way offered by USCIS to expedite the process (“transitional expedite”), but it is not effective most of the time. USCIS should take internal expedite action on any artist work permit petitions that have been pending for longer than 14 days. However, in most instances, the USCIS customer service agent will not start an internal expedite until the file has been pending for 60 days or longer, making the two previous options the most viable.

In the meantime, the AFM, along with its coalition members comprising the Performing Artist Visa Task Force/Working Group, continue to lobby the USCIS and the US government for improvements to the processing of artist permits. We have recently prepared a communication to USCIS officials addressing the delayed processing of all categories of artist permits.

AFM staff will continue to serve you to the best of their abilities, but we ask for your patience and understanding during this period of backlog. Each file now requires double the work as the AFM staff does its best to get them approved as quickly as possible.

If you have any additional questions, comments, or concerns please feel free to e-mail me directly at lwhite@afm.org.

Pour la version Francaise, clique ici. 

pour la version française , cliquez ici

Berklee Report Examines Fair Compensation in the Modern Music Industry

On July 14, Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship released a study focused on how to promote fairness and transparency in the music industry. The report, titled Fair Music: Transparency and Money Flows in the Music Industry, was developed by Berklee College of Music faculty and students in collaboration with other music industry organizations, companies, artists, and experts. Among the ideas discussed in the document is a “Creator’s Bill of Rights” comprised of standards for ethical treatment of musicians, artists, and creators, based on the principal that all musicians deserve fair compensation for their art and every creator deserves to have insight into the entire payment system. You can download a free copy of the full Fair Music report at: https://www.berklee.edu/news/fair_music_report.

Strong Streaming in SoundScan’s Half-Year Report

In the first half of 2015, streaming nearly doubled in popularity, generating 135.2 billion streams, up from 70.3 billion in the same period of 2014. Even with all that growth, album sales still declined 4%, though that’s the smallest decline since 2012. However, track sales saw a lager 10.4% drop. Streaming equivalent albums (SEA) is the biggest driver of consumer consumption. Physical album sales fell to 62.41 from 67.3 million in the previous six-month period. CD sales were down 10% and vinyl grew by 38.4%.

Taylor Swift of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) topped many sales categories. Her 1989 was the best selling album in the first half of 2015, scanning 1.33 million units so far. (It topped in 2014 as well.) She also led in vinyl sales (34,000 units), and in a combined tally of album sales, track downloads, and streams (2.011 million album and album equivalent units).

2014 Annual Report Time

The 2014 audit is complete, and I’ve included some highlights from the Annual Report here. Members can access the complete AFM Annual Report by going to AFM.org/uploads/protected/2014AR.pdf.

Financially I am pleased to report that, for the fourth year in a row, the Federation has finished in the black with income outpacing expenses. However, budget expectations were not met because the financial growth, as set by the 2013 AFM Convention, fell short.

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