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Grassroots Research Yields Results in Recording Contracts

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!

What Has RMA Been Up to Lately?

by Marc Sazer, Recording Musicians Association President and Member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and Local 802 (New York City)

Pension Legislative Activism

We are very proud of the Recording Musicians Association’s role in pulling together a working group to help save our pension fund. With AFM President Hair’s support, many groups—ICSOM, RMA, ROPA, TMA, AFM Legislative Office (Alfonso Pollard and Sandra Grier), AFM Organizing Department (Michael Manley and Alex Tindal Wiesendanger) and AFM Communications Department (Antoinette Follett)—all worked together on the intense campaign.

Meredith Snow (ICSOM chair), Mike Smith (ROPA president), Tony D’Amico (TMA president), and I committed ourselves to activating rank-and-file musicians. The American Rescue Act has benefited musicians in a number of ways: allocating financial support to venues, making PPP loans available to unions, extending unemployment benefits, providing COBRA subsidies, and more. But creating a pathway to survival for our pension fund was a particularly tremendous accomplishment. Hundreds of AFM musicians generated thousands of targeted phone calls­—and we won!

Touring

RMA helped form a joint RMA-TMA committee on touring issues. Prepandemic, touring artists and musical productions provided a great deal of employment, yet rarely under union contracts. The industry is multi-faceted. There are superstar artists with groups of different sizes, productions that mix traveling with pick-up musicians in their orchestras, artists who travel with regular bands, and artists with side musicians who play regular weekend gigs from a home base.

The first goal of our committee is research. We know that this is a big conversation. Please feel free to contact me, if you have thoughts or questions about this project. We appreciate the participation of AFM Organizing & Education Director Michael Manley and Touring, Theatre, Booking Division Director Tino Gagliardi.

Film/TV/Streaming/Research

RMA is now preparing for film/TV negotiations by doing widespread research on TV contract compliance. In a survey of TV production by our signatory companies, you might be surprised to see how many projects out there could have and should have been under AFM contracts, but weren’t! Musicians should have and could have gotten standard wages, protections on the job, residuals and new use payments, and health and pension benefits, but they didn’t. In virtually every case, the actors, writers, directors, carpenters, costumers, and drivers all worked under union contracts. Only the musicians were denied.

Similar to the touring issues, research is central. We are identifying sources of information and cross-checking corporate filings, copyright office records, trade information, and more to verify and expose. RMA has formed a small research committee focused on this project.

Our goal is to share our methods and grow a cadre of AFM musician-researchers who are able to step in and support campaigns, whenever and wherever needed. If you are interested in participating, or have thoughts or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at marcsazer@gmail.com.

We’re all in this together.

AFM Members Take Action Together to Secure a Healthy Pension Fund

In February, more than 85 AFM members participated in the union’s first legislative advocacy phone bank, reaching out to fellow musicians in congressional districts key to the future of the Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021.

The AFM Organizing and Education Department worked with AFM player conferences to engage members of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), the Recording Musicians Association (RMA), the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), and the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) to join in the legislative department’s targeted Zoom phone banking campaign to make sure key committee members would support the inclusion of pension relief in the upcoming reconciliation package. In all, over 1,000 of our brothers and sisters in targeted districts across the country were contacted by volunteer callers. 

Zoom phone banking brings volunteers together online at the same time for a quick educational introduction to the purpose of calling and offers instructions on completing the call list sheets. Callers, while on mute, remain on Zoom feeling connected to the group action, and can reach out to staff with any questions.

“This was a great way to connect to our union brothers and sisters around the country, even as we can’t make music together,” said Heather Boehm, member of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL). “When we raise our voices collectively, we cut through the noise and ensure musicians are heard by decision-makers and protect our ability to retire in dignity.”

Violinist Mei Chang, Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), joined several virtual phone banking sessions. “The camaraderie in the Zoom was great and made calling people I didn’t know much easier,” said Chang. “I am inspired to continue doing advocacy on behalf of my fellow working musicians, and hope more of us can join in on the effort.”

The AFM-Employers Pension Fund is one of over 100 multiemployer union pensions in critical status because of aging demographics, declining participation, and reduced contributions. The Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021 outlines solutions to help solve shortcomings in multiemployer pension plans and protect our retirement and the retirement of tens of thousands of our fellow musicians.

Screenshot of one of the more than 20 AFM organized volunteer Zoom phone bank sessions conducted in February and March.

Banding Together Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Marc Sazer, Recording Musicians Association President and Member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and Local 802 (New York City)

Scant months ago, recording musicians from around North America were voting to overwhelmingly ratify our new motion picture and television film agreement. We were proud to have had success in gaining some historic improvements but recognized that we had not achieved fair compensation for streaming media. We were beginning the process of pivoting to the next campaign, and live TV.

Then came COVID-19.

Without commenting on the degree to which this pandemic will have a deeper and more dangerous impact as result of the failures of our own US government, we now all know that the effects on musicians worldwide are devastating. We are symphonic, opera, ballet, and theater musicians who tour, play in clubs, perform chamber music, perform on Broadway, record on scoring stages for film and television, and play for late night and variety shows on TV. We are all in this together.

The economic toll this is taking on us as individuals varies in the short run, but loss of income is sure to be widespread. For recording musicians, daily reports of cancellations of sessions, productions shutting down, shows going off the air and studio lots closing down threaten millions of dollars of AFM wages—that is, paychecks for musicians.

One consequence of the pandemic will inevitably be a tremendous loss of revenue for locals and the American Federation of Musicians. This could threaten programs we know to be crucial: organizing, research, education. Our union will still need to bargain, administer, and enforce our contracts. Important negotiations are still on tap: live TV, commercials, the Sound Recording Labor Agreement, and visible on the far horizon, film and television film. This hydra-headed disruption is unprecedented.

President Hair has called on Congress to act on our behalf. Local AFM leaders from around the country and our Player Conferences have stepped up, quietly but with determination, to do what we can. The new side letter to the Integrated Media Agreement spearheaded by ICSOM and ROPA leadership working together with AFM staff, is a shining example of Player Conference leadership on behalf of musicians.

Events are moving so rapidly that it is difficult to envision what the headlines will be by the time you read this article. The one thing we can be confident of is that we will need to remember our common needs and goals. We will survive COVID-19, as we have survived all along: by banding together.

ropa's 34th annual conference

ROPA’s 34th Annual Conference: Working with Other Player Conferences and the AFM

by John Michael Smith, ROPA President and Member of Local 30-73
(St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN)

The Regional Orchestra Players’ Association will hold its 34th annual conference in Portland, Oregon, July 31-August 2. The conference will be held at University Place Hotel & Conference Center, on the campus of Portland State University. Our conference will feature presentations on a variety of subjects of interest to our members, including hearing wellness, sexual harassment, performance anxiety, and diversity and inclusiveness in our orchestras, opera, and ballet companies.

ROPA is one of three AFM symphonic player conferences, along with the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM). These three AFM player conferences work closely with the AFM’s Symphonic Services Division (SSD). Throughout the year, representatives of these player conferences meet and communicate with SSD staff in person, by email, and through phone conference calls to discuss issues and topics of mutual interest.

ROPA, ICSOM, and OCSM, together with the Theater Musicians’ Association (TMA) and the Recording Musicians’ Association (RMA), comprise the player conferences of the AFM. The leaders of each of these player conferences comprise the Player Conferences Council (PCC). This council periodically discusses issues of mutual importance among our conferences. In years when there is no AFM Convention, we meet together with representatives of the Locals’ Conferences Council (LCC) to address topics and issues.

It is important to note that each player conference usually sends a representative to address and attend the other player conferences’ annual meetings. This is especially true of the three symphonic player conferences. SSD staff members attend each of the symphonic player conferences and do presentations on important current topics. The AFM president, other AFM officers, and members of the AFM International Executive Board (IEB) may also attend the player conference annual meetings.

Along with ICSOM, AFM, and SSD staff, ROPA participates in the negotiation of national agreements that directly affect our members, such as the current negotiations for the Integrated Media Agreement. ROPA has an Emergency Relief Fund maintained and administered by a board of trustees made up of the AFM international secretary-treasurer, the ROPA president and treasurer, and two additional trustees selected by the IEB. The fund provides financial assistance loans to musicians in orchestras who are involved in strikes or lockouts. ROPA, ICSOM, and OCSM also have a relationship with conductor evaluations, providing information for search committees of orchestras looking for conductors or music directors. Each player conference has its own database, but shares files with the other player conferences upon request.

ROPA, ICSOM, and SSD staff frequently provide educational programs for musicians new to the AFM and the symphonic field, such as the fellows of New World Symphony. ROPA and ICSOM have participated at the Sphinx Organization’s SphinxConnect, where the focus is diversity action and leadership in our orchestras. ROPA and ICSOM representatives often attend the League of American Orchestras national conferences.

ROPA publishes its quarterly newsletter The Leading Tone both in print and electronically. This publication goes to musicians in our member orchestras, other player conference musicians, AFM locals, and others by subscription. ROPA has a website (ropaweb.org), a Facebook page, and is developing other social media pages. ROPA and the other player conferences have email discussion lists, with general lists for members of orchestras, locals, and others interested in topics of common interest to the player conference. Each of the player conferences may permit members of other player conferences to access their general lists.

The Player Conferences of the AFM, the Symphonic Services Division, and the AFM are working every day, side by side on the missions and goals for our musicians,
our orchestras, and our union. We are stronger together!

LA’s Top Musicians

LA’s Top Musicians Organize Gatherings to Build a Stronger Union

by Marc Sazer, Recording Musicians Association (RMA) President and Member of Locals 47 and 802

Our AFM is in the middle of the first of two negotiations with Hollywood producers, working on the Live TV/Videotape Agreement with the TV networks and preparing for film/TV negotiations with the Hollywood studios. A key focus on both fronts is in the area—I should say areas—of new media. This covers everything from Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu to YouTube, CBS All Access, HBO Now, and HBO Go. It includes programs originally made for these platforms as well as shows brought to them from movie theaters and other media. These various streaming platforms represent the future, both economically and artistically. Paying close attention to the patterns of bargaining of our sister unions in the industry, we expect significant improvements in our coverage in these areas.

In an effort to reach out to our whole film/TV community, we have embarked on a series of intimate meetings where musicians open their homes for a collegial evening of food, drink, and PowerPoint. Our meetings are open to all AFM members and focus on two topics: tax credits and negotiations. Our goals are to motivate, educate, and learn from our colleagues. We’ve learned some important lessons.

We now have a strong sense of the need to understand how collective bargaining works—the nuts and bolts of negotiations. We’ve also found that many musicians are deeply interested in data and information about their own business. And, we’ve learned that, in an era of ongoing attacks on unions, “right to work” laws are frequently misunderstood.

Right to work means that musicians can work and enjoy all the benefits of a good contract—wages, job protections, pension, health care, administration of the contract, and upholding of the contract—without contributing a penny of dues to support the union’s resource-intensive work. The goal is to economically strangle unions, attacking their ability to work for members. Musicians know that we need our contracts. Our contracts can’t survive with a weakened union.

A key issue that our meetings address is: what makes us stronger or weaker in contract negotiations? We are dealing with multi-billion dollar multinational corporations; how do we walk in the room with a stronger presence? We are strengthened in our position across the table as we pursue tax credit legislative relief that would benefit both sides of the table. Also, we are empowered by close relationships with our sister unions, made visible by reciprocal observers at their negotiations and ours. Most importantly, good communication among us musicians is critical for a clear and unified negotiating stance. And yet, our musicians are clear about the flip side. Dark dates, musicians not being full members of our union, and internal strife weaken us at the bargaining table. We have to acknowledge both our strengths and our weaknesses.

In Los Angeles, the Recording Musicians Association (RMA) is working with Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) to amend the current California film and TV tax incentive program to specifically support music scoring jobs. It is unfair that scoring jobs run away to London and other overseas locations. It is also unfair that actors, writers, grips, electricians, directors, drivers, and others are at full employment, as a result of the California incentives, but musicians are left out in the cold.

This campaign for legislative relief has been broadly successful in helping LA area musicians pull together and find common ground. But we are committed to success on behalf of all AFM members. In our last film/TV contract, we helped the AFM win a provision that directs 1.5% of the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund (our residuals fund) as an unallocated contribution to our US pension fund. As a result, more music scoring will mean, not just new pension contributions for participants on the job, but a substantial raise in the unallocated Film Fund contribution that supports everybody’s pensions. Our deeply researched data shows that this will bring in thousands of jobs, millions of dollars in wages and benefits annually, as well as an outsized return on investment for the state in the form of tax revenues.

These home meetings are in many ways the most satisfying and uplifting of the RMA’s tasks as a player conference of the AFM. It’s a great feeling to sit around living rooms with some of the most incredible musicians on the planet, learning from each other, hearing people’s thoughts, and sharing our research and experience. We are a conglomeration of truly amazing artists and human beings!

RMA

What Is RMA and What Does It Do?

by Marc Sazer, Recording Musicians Association (RMA) President and Member of Locals 47 and 802

As we reach out to colleagues we are frequently asked, “What is the Recording Musicians Association, or RMA? What do you do?” The first answer is that we are a player conference of the AFM. The next question is often, “What’s that?”

Our AFM represents musicians of many different stripes—freelancers working in symphonic, theater, recording, and touring industries; tenured musicians in full-time orchestras; club musicians; and more. How we developed our rank-and-file player conferences is a crucial part of our common narrative.

Rank-and-File Participation

Other unions also grapple with how to facilitate rank-and-file participation: SAG-AFTRA sponsors the pioneering Dancers Alliance, which works with grass-roots commercial dancers to gain union recognition and improve wages and conditions. Many unions establish temporary “wage & hours” committees in advance of negotiations, organizing committees for specific campaigns, and other types of rank-and-file committees.

The International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) was recognized as an organization of symphonic musicians within the AFM in 1969, followed by Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) in 1975, RMA in 1982, Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) in 1984, and Theater Musicians Association (TMA) in 1997.

Our player conferences play a key role as “intermediate bodies” within our union. We are not labor unions; we are not union locals.

So what is RMA? What does it do?

Assists our AFM in contract negotiations for media contracts: Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA), videotape, film, TV, commercials, etc.

Assists our AFM International Executive Board (IEB), locals, and staff in the ongoing administration of our collective bargaining agreements.

Helps our union by providing ongoing research into our employment and our employers.

Acts as both a voice and resource for rank-and-file musicians, helping players navigate our union structure and the structure of our collective bargaining agreements (CBAs).

Assists our union by being available as a channel of communication with others in the businesses that employ AFM members.

With the long-standing leadership of RMA Vice President Bruce Bouton, trustee of the AFM & SAG-AFTRA Fund, works with our union to protect musicians’ intellectual property rights.

RMA is committed to engaging in deep research, trying to understand employment opportunities through data. We are dedicated to making policy recommendations based on factual data, rather than personal anecdotes. Musicians always want more work. The oversupply of musical labor isn’t new, but every generation has to learn how to distinguish opportunity from mirage.

Research Supports Unionism

One example of research is an ongoing project of tracking the motion pictures that open “wide,” that is, the universe of movies that are likely to have substantial music budgets and employment. We look at how many are scored AFM, how many are filmed in North America, where they were scored, who the composers and production companies were, whether or not they were signatory companies, etc.

Data helps us see through the blogosphere and see through misinformation. Good research and data is key to modern unionism.

In June, the AFM began TV/videotape negotiations with the major networks. We met in New York City for a short week of caucus days and direct negotiations. But the real work began long before, and RMA was there.

This bargaining unit includes members of regular, ongoing bands, like the bands for Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Late Late Show with James Corden, and others. There are also a large number of musicians who play various awards shows, like the Academy Awards, the Grammys, and the Tonys. And there are players from The Voice and other nonscripted shows. We went out and talked with players, sounding out issues, hearing concerns, and carrying their issues to our caucus.

Based on years of participation in this and other media contracts, RMA also brought expertise with the CBA itself to our union. All of our media contracts are interwoven and interdependent. For example, key issues with videotape involve new media exhibition; those of us who have worked with new media in film and TV, and have kept abreast of the new media experience of our sister unions, are able to make important contributions to our AFM caucus.

Sony PlayStation

I’d also like to mention an event that RMA played a key role in bringing to fruition.

Sony PlayStation is a titan of the gaming world, producing a complete range of products—consoles, displays, VR headsets, and an industry leading collection of interactive software. Going into E3, the major annual game convention, PlayStation wanted to roll out their new lineup to maximum effect. Sony planned to stream a full orchestra playing to live gameplay. The music director contacted some of us from RMA for assistance, and we worked behind the scenes with AFM President Ray Hair, EMSD Director Pat Varriale, several top executives and attorneys from Sony PlayStation, the contractor, and Local 47 officers and staff to help everybody navigate the system together.

RMA helped PlayStation and the AFM work together directly. The outcome was a stunning success. First, the event was a smash hit, winning rave reviews, and is now available on YouTube and at PlayStation.com. Perhaps more importantly, a level of mutual respect and trusting communication emerged between this industry leading company and our union. We have many more steps to take on this path, but after years of discord, a new window has opened!

This is how RMA contributes to the health of our union. In the spirit of our 100th AFM Convention, we are, indeed, stronger together.

Recording Musicians Associations Represents AFM’s Recording Musicians, a Year in Review

Marc Sazerby Marc Sazer, President Recording Musicians Association (RMA) and Member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)

Elayne Jones is a luminary musical pioneer. A premier timpanist, she broke down barriers throughout her stellar career: as first woman and first African-American to play timpani in major orchestras. She began with the New York City Opera in 1949, and her career extended to the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera. Today, in her 80s, Jones counts on her union pension for security in her retirement.

The recently ratified agreement between our union and the film and TV studios will now make Jones’ pension more secure. Recording musicians helped craft a proposal to contribute a portion of the residuals from the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund (FMSMF) to the AFM pension fund as a whole. Once the trustees have worked out procedures, this contribution will not be earmarked for individual benefits. Instead, the new money will help secure the fund for all of us, from young musicians just starting out to retirees, like Jones.

The Recording Musicians Association (RMA) is proud to help ensure retirement security, and we work tirelessly with our union to maximize employment opportunities for musicians. Music in electronic media produces Midas-like wealth for those who own and monetize it, and should produce good industry standard employment for the musicians who create it.

Electronic media has been transformed by technology, tax credits, ever-changing styles, business developments, and cultural trends. But there are a few constants.

Our union musicians are the preeminent source of music recorded for all media. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) tracks global record sales, physical and digital. Their research, online at the website: www.ifpi.org/best-sellers.php, shows that the top sellers throughout the world are produced by AFM members. Motion pictures are a global enterprise, blown around the globe on the winds of tax credits, yet year after year AFM musicians record the largest number of film scores for wide-release films.

Attachment to both the business model of our employers, and the trends and actions of our sister unions in the entertainment labor movement, are key to economic survival.

Companies naturally seek to make money more efficiently, and over time tend to make less product, exploiting our music in more markets and platforms. Fewer films are made and released, fewer records are released, fewer big investments are made in live TV shows. New media distribution of content is the future, and union musicians are empowered stakeholders. In records, film, TV, and commercials, our contracts ensure that we are attached to the new media and future media success of our employers.

Following the lead of other entertainment industry unions makes sense. Musician participation in the bounties of new media is in large part due to the strength, vision, and sacrifice of our brother and sister union members who write, act, direct, film, transport, and otherwise contribute to our worldwide entertainment culture. From the actor’s strike in 1960 that established residuals for the film industry to the 2007-2008 strike by writers that laid the groundwork for new media coverage for all, from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) activists who successfully organized the TV show Survivor, to the activist musicians who demanded union session wages, residuals, pension, and health care for the orchestra of Mad Men, we stand on many strong shoulders.

We can strengthen our benefits, such as the pension fund, and we can pursue industry standard employment. We can make headway with legislation at the federal, state, provincial, and local levels. We can help the next generation, and the next, working to ensure that equal pay for equal work includes generations, as well as gender. All of this is possible only insofar as we as musicians talk amongst ourselves, work out our disagreements, find our common interests, and ultimately, stand together.