by Marc Sazer, Recording Musicians Association President and Member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and Local 802 (New York City)
Research. Organizing. Contract compliance. Collective bargaining. These are all inextricably intertwined, and fundamental to our union—any labor union. The AFL-CIO, UCLA Labor Studies Center, and Labor Studies School at Cornell all focus on research skills and tools out of a recognition of the significance of research for both contract compliance and campaigns.
During the pandemic, the Recording Musicians Association (RMA) invited a handful of musicians to participate in a research committee focused on contract compliance for the AFM motion picture and TV film contracts. Our committee is made up of rank-and-file musicians, most of whom had never done research like this. We learned how to navigate a wide variety of online resources, from IMDb and other industry sites, to the archives of the US Copyright Office and National Labor Relations Board. We consulted with SAG-AFTRA, which fields a full Research and Economics department, as well as other sister unions, in order to corroborate the soundness of our methodology.
Finally, we compiled a comprehensive report, profiling more than 50 pilots, series, and mini-series that had aired over the previous three years that should have been on AFM contracts.
It is difficult to put a dollar amount on the direct wages, residuals and new uses, health care, pension, and work dues lost because our signatory companies failed to cover musicians appropriately. Nor is it possible to empirically quantify the disorganizing effect of the nonunion employment that resulted—dividing musicians from each other and undermining our solidarity.
We delivered our report to AFM President Ray Hair and consequences began to flow almost immediately. In two cases, the AFM came to quick settlements with Disney and other companies that included brand new signatories for our TV Film Agreement—the first new full signatories in memory. This lays the groundwork for more AFM at-standard employment for years to come. In other cases, shows have agreed to begin filing union contracts. Litigation is likely in some cases, as well.
One important strategic goal is to develop and train rank-and-file musician researchers. These members have the expertise and ability to jump into research projects and assist our union in contract compliance issues as well as basic campaign research.
All of this is in pursuit of our larger goals of economic fairness and sustainability for musicians. Another goal we share is equally basic to who we are: diversity and inclusion in our workplaces.
Just last year, we successfully concluded negotiations for the AFM Live TV/Videotape contract, which covers a workforce of musicians appearing onscreen on late night, variety, and awards shows who are majority minority. Issues of economic and racial justice were central to those contract talks.
The next major collective bargaining on our horizon is for the AFM Motion Picture and TV Film contracts, which cover films, TV shows, and streaming content. These negotiations are between our AFM and the AMPTP, the multi-employer group of the major film and TV studios. The makeup of the workforce in this field is unique, so we have different challenges to meet.
Our AFM symphonic player conferences—ICSOM, ROPA, and OCSM—have shown great leadership in approaching diversity and inclusion in the orchestral world. Our context is different. Recording musicians are generally freelancers, employed by for-profit corporations, with different employers every day, at different venues, with different groups or orchestras, contractors, composers, without any security or promise of future work. But every musician working for this industry deserves full standard union coverage.
We are building a discussion group of diverse musicians working under film/TV contracts to help devise an approach with these companies. We welcome participation from musicians who work in this area; if you are interested in joining this discussion, please email me at marcsazer @gmail.com.
From contract compliance to research, to negotiations, we have to work as a team. It can’t be said often enough—we are stronger together!