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My Final Column

This will be my final International Musician column as leave office August 1. I wanted to thank the many people who have supported me over my six-year tenure as secretary-treasurer of the AFM.

From my very first day in office, Executive Secretary and Union Privilege Liaison Nadine Sylvester kept me on the straight and narrow and never forgot anything. She was always good to put things on my iPad and my Kindle large enough so that I could read them. Nadine, I love you and your family, thank you!

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10-Plus Years of Improvements

BonesIn 2005, when I was elected Secretary-Treasurer, my goal included streamlining the operations of the office, consolidation of the computer systems, and creating a process for better management of working capital. Ten years later, I am happy to report that at the close of business 2015, income over expenses was more than $1.3 million—the fourth year that has had a net income of a million dollars.

Just a year into my tenure, my staff was able to cut $500,000 in expenses and decrease auditing fees. We also launched a payroll service, which made billing more seamless, while providing funds to our members in a more timely fashion.

In 2015, we saw visa opinion letters grow to an all-time high of $1.6 million, and new use payments continue to increase. For instance, the SAG-AFTRA Fund is expected to grow to $1 million in 2016 alone. The IT department has revamped the computer systems to meet the growing demand of membership and program development. It’s facilitated more efficiency in membership management and greatly enhanced our online presence. I am happy to say we have been able to upgrade, sustain, and exceed the goals and expectations we set out to achieve.

The International Musician (IM) has been a special project for me. I take pride in working on this award-winning journal, which has been the “face of the AFM” for almost 120 years. As I have traveled around the country as the magazine’s publisher I get feedback from member readers on what the publication means to them.

It is a vital resource for the union’s working musicians, representing a diverse and eclectic membership. From AFM profiles and industry news to labor rights campaigns, collective bargaining updates, and legislative news, each month members can look forward to a magazine that engages and informs. In line with an all-important goal, the magazine was recast to illustrate the AFM’s growth and far-reaching influence. Each year we have consistently won awards and recognition from the International Labor Communications Association (ILCA).

A New Look, a New Read

To create a more competitive image in the music magazine market, we gave the journal a fresh format in 2005. A glossy cover was added to IM that almost immediately increased visibility. The layout was redesigned for ease of use and readability. In addition, new sections added ballast, making IM a more effective tool for recruitment. The “Working Musician” section provides marketing, business, financial information, and highlights membership benefits. Our “Upbeat” profiles showcase the careers of a variety of AFM members, covering a range of music: jazz and blues, classical, country, funk, rock, fusion, mariachi, and Canadian baroque, to name a few. And for all music junkies, the “Cool Tools” new product announcements section was an instant success.

The revamped IM has resulted in an increase, in particular, in subscriptions by libraries and music schools. Through marketing initiatives and creative advertising we have made inroads into hitherto unexplored venues. In 2016, member appeal continues to expand, especially through the redesigned and enhanced website,

I can honestly say this position has given me more satisfaction than I ever imagined anything could, besides making music. To the membership and especially my staff, thank you. You have my utmost respect and gratitude.

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.

Contract Basics

Getting Back to the Music

Amid the flurry of day-to-day activities—being immersed in bylaws, finances, budgets, audits, and convention preparations—we tend to forget what we’re here for, the creative forces we represent: music, musicians, performers, and art. At times, we must step back and enjoy the music. Spring is here. Take in a Broadway show and treat yourself to the finest in opera, at the Met.

Over the weekend, I attended Don Pasquale, a time-honored opera, which premiered at the Met in 1900. I found myself in the Family Circle, a modest ticket of $35. The usher assured me I would not be disappointed, and that the acoustics in these seats were exquisite. He was right. (It happens he was also a member of Local 802, New York City.) The orchestra sound was perfect.

Next, it was on to Broadway for An American in Paris. If there is a Broadway play with old-school charm it’s this one—a post-war romance of hope and reconciliation. A full pit orchestra, the score by Gershwin, and performances were staged to perfection. The voices and the dancing were simply fantastic. Again, I was not disappointed.

Apropos remembering music: I want to mention a giant in the music world we lost recently—Frank Sinatra, Jr., who was also a loyal union member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA). On three different occasions I was involved in his productions in North Lake Tahoe at the Cal Neva Resort and Casino. He always insisted on bringing in a full complement of musicians—fine players, all renowned in their own right. Frank, Jr., was gracious and worked around our dates, and never turned us down, saying, “Pops loved this place.” 

Indeed, Sinatra, Sr., did love the Cal Neva, having been an owner at one time, hence, the Frank Sinatra Celebrity Showroom. Frank, Jr., was a true gentleman, a musician of the first order. As his father’s musical director and conductor, he understood composition and mastered the technical side of production as well. For instance, he selected lighting and a specific soundboard, which always guaranteed a flawless performance. After each and every run Frank, Jr., would take everyone involved in the show out for an evening of fine dining. 

What a gentleman! He will be missed.

Supreme Court

An Empty Seat on the Supreme Court: What It Means for Unions

With the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, I’m reminded of a time when I had the great pleasure of meeting and spending time with the late Justice many years ago. It was 1976, during the country’s bicentennial. I was involved with organizing an Italian Heritage Festival and we invited him to Clarksburg, West Virginia, to be honored as Italian American of the Year.

He was extremely engaging and wanted to know more about the people and the history of the area. Of course, I was happy to fill him in about different aspects of the region and its long history of coal mining. And in fact, Italian Americans were the largest ethnic group, first and second generation, to arrive when companies were recruiting men to work the deep mines of West Virginia. It’s a region so steeped in Italian culture that many small towns in the state are almost like towns and villages in Italy. It was also home to some the earliest and fiercest battles of US labor unions.

One of the rulings currently on the docket of the highest Court is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA). (I discussed this case in-depth in my January 2016 IM column.) The case focuses on a lawsuit that seeks to destroy public-sector unions by attacking their funding model. Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other nonunion teachers in California are challenging the law that requires them to pay their dues, via agency fees, for the services the union is required by law, under collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), to provide all workers.

If the Court rules with the plaintiffs, some employees will be able to avoid paying their share of fees—fees that support negotiations for all workers. It would make unionization harder for everyone. In the end, nonpaying employees would receive all the benefits of a union negotiating on their behalf, without helping to cover the cost of the work involved. A Supreme Court ruling that goes against the unions could affect public safety standards across the US. First responders—the police force, fire fighters, and EMS technicians—will not be able to negotiate for life-saving equipment or for shorter response times. Many would be out of the union entirely. And at the heart of this case—our teachers—would lose their ability to negotiate for smaller class sizes and improved educational standards. It would devastate the union movement.

Now, with a vacancy on the bench, the Court’s ruling is a tie and the law reverts back to a past decision, in the lower circuit court, where the decision was originally in the union’s favor. Justice Scalia would undoubtedly have voted against the unions.

Justice Scalia’s death came suddenly and at a particularly tumultuous time politically. While contentious presidential candidates run amok, a mulish Congress digs its heels in even further, now vowing to block anyone President Obama nominates to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. If they thwart a nomination, it would hurt the Republican’s own cause. Even some of their front runners urge them to allow nomination.

Whether or not the president makes a nomination and that nomination is considered by Congress should not even be a question. The Constitution does not say “may” appoint a successor, it says the president “shall” appoint. The president would be derelict in his duty if he did not make the appointment. And Congress would be more derelict in its duty if it tried any chicanery to try to avoid it. They have a right to confirm or not, but the appointee needs to go to the committee.

Are You Getting the Most from Health Care Reform?

It’s been five years since Congress passed health care reform, but many people are still missing out on possible savings, like lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs, just because they don’t know about them. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (www.cms.gov) and www.healthcare.gov are two websites that can provide detailed information on how you can save on health insurance. The chart below can be used as a general guide.

Are you thinking about getting coverage, but finding yourself overwhelmed by all your options? Visit the Working America Health Care (WorkingAmericaHealthCare.org/AFM) website, or call 1-855-589-4253, to get personalized, unbiased support before, during, and after plan enrollment. As a member of the AFM, you can have a complimentary personal health advocate answer questions about coverage, help you understand your benefits, recommend doctors, help negotiate medical bills, and much more.

Health Insurance Lingo


When people try to explain how the Marketplace health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) works, it may sound like a foreign language. Here is a glossary of some key health insurance words to help you better understand the jargon:

Network: the facilities, providers, and suppliers your health insurer has contracted with to provide health care services. Through your insurance provider you should be able to find out which providers are “in-network,” sometimes called “preferred-providers” or “participating providers.” It may be more expensive to see an “out-of-network” provider. (These networks do change, so check with your provider each time you make an appointment to find out how much you will need to pay.)

Deductible: the amount you owe for health care services your health insurance or plan covers before your health insurance or plan begins to pay. For example, if your deductible is $1,000, your plan won’t pay anything until you’ve met your $1,000 deductible for covered health care services, subject to the deductible. The deductible may not apply to all services.

Co-insurance: your share of the costs of a covered health care service, calculated as a percentage of the allowed amount for the service. You pay co-insurance, plus any deductibles you owe. For example, if the health insurance plan’s allowed amount for an office visit is $100, you’ve met your deductible, and your co-insurance payment is 20%, you would pay $20. The health insurance or plan pays the rest of the allowed amount.

Co-payment or co-pay: an amount you may be required to pay as your share of the cost for a medical service or supply, like a doctor’s visit, hospital outpatient visit, or prescription drug. A co-payment is usually a set amount, rather than a percentage. For example, you might pay $10 towards a doctor’s visit, lab work, or prescription.

Premium: the amount that must be paid for your health insurance or plan. It is paid monthly, quarterly, or yearly, and is separate from your deductible, your co-payment, or your co-insurance. If you don’t pay your premium, you may lose your coverage.

Out-of-pocket maximum: the most you pay during a policy period (usually one year) before your health insurance or plan pays 100% for covered essential health benefits. This limit includes deductibles, co-insurance, co-payments, or similar charges, and any other expenditure for a qualified medical expense. This limit does not include premiums or spending for nonessential health benefits.

Explanation of benefits (or EOB): a summary of health care charges that your health plan sends you after you see a provider or get a service. It is a record of the health care you, or individuals covered on your policy, received and how much your provider is charging your health plan. If you have to pay more for your care, your provider will send you a separate bill.

Health Insurance Checklist

health care


With more than 10,000 options through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplaces, it’s critical to know what you want from your health insurance to get the most value for your family. Here’s a list of items you will want to consider.

  • Does the plan provide coverage for pre-existing conditions, maternity care, mental health services, prescription drugs,  and dental and vision care?
  • Does the plan have long waiting periods?
  • Does the plan provide other support and wellness services for its members?
  • How much will the plan cost each year, including the premium, deductible, co-payments and/or co-insurance, and out-of-pocket maximum? What is the lifetime limit on coverage?
  • How large is the plan’s network and how close are you to the plan’s doctors and hospitals?
  • Does the plan have a clear arrangement for specialist referrals?
  • How does the plan’s disputed claims appeal process work?

Even if you’re already insured, it’s still a good idea to shop around with the Working America Health Care program.

ILCA Award Winners

AFM Publications Among ILCA Award Winners

Each year the International Labor Communications Association (ILCA) recognizes the best and most inspiring work in labor communications and journalism. Among the winners were several AFM local submissions.

AFM Local 47 (Los Angeles) took a first place award for General Excellence—Print and Internet / Electronic Newsletter / Local unions for The Local 47 Beat 2014. Plus, Local 47’s website (afm47.org) was recognized in the Internet Awards / Best Design Internet / Local unions category.

overtureThe local also received a second place Writing Award—Print and Internet / Saul Miller Awards /Political Action / Local Unions for the story “Hollywood Seeks Sharper Teeth for Film and TV Tax Credit Program.” The article covered new legislation to beef up California’s existing tax incentive program to help stem runaway production and bring more scoring work to the state.

The article quoted musicians such as rank-and-file violinist Rafael Rishik who gave the Labor Caucus at the California Democratic State Convention in downtown Los Angeles a firsthand account of the problem. “For generations, some of the greatest musicians in the world have been drawn to California because of the motion picture and television industry,” he said. “Over the past few years, runaway film productions have been a big hit to our economy. This is especially hard for musicians because companies that take film tax credits increasingly score their films overseas, and we lose out on that work.”

Coverage of this important issue also included quotes from union officials. “Musicians represented by locals across the country are working together to change our industry” said AFM Organizing Director Paul Frank. “AFM members are uniting in order to win higher standards and grow the strength of our union.”

allegroYou can read the complete piece at: www.afm47.org/press/hollywood-seeks-sharper-teeth-for-film-and-tv-tax-credit-program/.

New York City AFM Local 802’s Allegro Magazine was awarded a second place in the General Excellence—Print and Internet / Print / Local Union Publications / 1,001-10,000.

And finally, our union’s publication, International Musician, received second place recognition under the category Writing Awards—Print and Internet / Best Profile / National / International Unions, for the story “New Orleans’ Musical Chameleon and Passionate Union Advocate” about Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA) President Deacon John Moore.

afm deaconThe profile recognized a longstanding, selfless union advocate. “I choose to be president because I want to serve the music community. I think I can be a role model for younger musicians. I want to make a better workplace for all our musicians,” said Moore.

To read the complete story visit the website: internationalmusician.org/deacon-john-moore/.

Wind Up Your Summer the Union Way

Wind Up Your Summer the Union Way

During August and early September, especially during Labor Day weekend, millions of American workers will enjoy their hard-earned time off. Though vacation is time off from your job, it’s not a time to leave your union membership behind. Don’t forget to recognize the thousands of fellow union workers who are employed in the travel and entertainment industries by looking for union made products and union service and entertainment workers wherever you go. The good news is that while supporting your fellow union workers, you can also enjoy Union Plus savings.

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International Musician Print Edition Is Valued

International Musician Print Edition Is Valued

One of the first things I did in 2005, as the incoming AFM Secretary-Treasurer was to take inventory of the responsibilities of the position. I did this, of course, by reading the AFM Bylaws. The Secretary-Treasurer is also the publisher of the International Musician (IM). The IM is the official means of communication between the Federation and its members. All official business is put forth in this publication.

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Could the Working America Concept Work for Musicians?

One of the fastest growing organizations in the country is Working America (www.workingamerica.org). It mobilizes working people 365 days a year, contacting them at home to talk about jobs, health care, politics, and items that working families confront daily. The AFL-CIO initiated Working America to target nonunion working people. These are people who do not have the benefit of collective agreements.

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