Tag Archives: ssd

Rochelle Skolnick Photo

Update from the SSD Director

Reflection, Resilience, and Rededication:
Symphonic Musicians Emerge from the COVID Period

by Rochelle Skolnick, AFM Symphonic Services Division Director

In the week I write this column, the State of California has lifted almost all COVID-19 restrictions, following most other US jurisdictions in “officially reopening.” Canada, with vaccination rates unfortunately trailing those in the US, lags behind in reopening. It appears that all US AFM jurisdictions will soon be open for performances without much in the way of COVID-related restrictions, barring resurgence of the disease driven by uncontrolled variants. We hope that Canada soon reaches the same milestone.

With many musicians returning to live performance more or less as usual, this pivotal moment affords the opportunity to reflect on the work we’ve done and consider what lies ahead. There is much to be proud of in the way we’ve collectively managed the truly unprecedented challenges of the past 15 months.

As Symphonic Services Division (SSD) Director of Symphonic Electronic Media Debbie Newmark writes, we have seen tremendous success with the framework we developed to allow streaming of content in exchange for continued compensation of musicians, even when ordinary live performance was rendered impossible due to the pandemic. That model, coupled with musicians’ great tenacity and creativity and fueled by government funds and dollars from committed donors, provided some level of compensation to most symphony, opera, and ballet musicians during a very dark period. It also spurred their institutions to cultivate new connections with audiences.

The detailed safety protocols bargained by our locals and orchestra committees were another success. As employers began to talk about bringing musicians into concert halls in small groups to record concerts for streaming, SSD issued guidance in June 2020, equipping musicians and their advocates with the tools to bargain effectively over this life-or-death situation. We urged caution, thoroughness, and reliance on the best available science. Perhaps most importantly, we stressed the importance of bringing all musicians into the conversation about making our workplaces safe from this new threat. The lengthy safety plans that grew out of these efforts worked exceedingly well: to my knowledge there has been no instance of workplace spread of COVID-19 in a symphony, opera, or ballet workplace.

We also successfully strategized about how to protect the most vulnerable among our orchestra populations while still allowing creativity to flourish. The result was one of the most stunning examples of collectivism I have ever seen. String players and percussionists who could work fully masked and distanced sometimes carried a greater share of the work—but not the compensation. This allowed wind and brass players and the immunocompromised, whose presence in the workplace was far riskier, to remain safely at home and still receive compensation. Those who stayed home engaged in alternate work, sometimes calling donors to thank them personally for their support or engaging with students remotely. Through these collective efforts, in which each musician contributed and each benefited, the creative and economic lifeblood of our institutions continued to pump.

Not all has been a success, however. There have been outliers. “Leaders” of those institutions saw fit to exploit the pandemic as an opportunity to extract concessions from musicians, rather than as a challenge to be overcome. Those employers starved out musicians with unilaterally imposed “furloughs” that look an awful lot like lockouts when coupled with bargaining demands for long-term cuts in wages and benefits. These tactics fool no one; managers and boards who sow these seeds of division ensure that their institutions will reap a toxic harvest in future bargaining cycles and for years to come.

Some of these conflicts have resolved because musicians linked arms and refused to allow their orchestras to be decimated. Other musicians remain engaged in a terrible fight with the support and empathy of their colleagues throughout the AFM and around the world.

There were also many, mostly smaller, institutions that went largely dormant during the 2020-2021 season—not because of ill intent on the part of institutional leadership but rather due to those leaders’ lack of creative vision. The musicians of these institutions, whose generally freelance livelihoods were most tenuous even before COVID, have perhaps suffered the most during the pandemic. As others have observed, COVID exposed certain vulnerabilities that already existed in our industry. Where musicians had no minimum service guarantees they were far less likely to receive any compensation when ordinary performances ceased. Such guarantees will certainly be a top priority in upcoming rounds of bargaining.

As impossible as it once seemed, from today’s perspective, we can see there will be some positive things we take with us from these past 15 months of incalculable devastation. We musicians are a resourceful, resilient bunch and many of us used the forced pause of the pandemic as an opportunity for growth. We tried out new hobbies (sourdough, anyone?), welcomed new babies and new puppies, began fitness regimens and mindfulness practices, healed overuse injuries, and (for those privileged enough not to have already lived it every day of our lives) came face-to-face in ways we never have before with the suffocating oppression of systemic racism. For some who have never known themselves as anything other than too-busy working musicians, the pandemic provided a singular opportunity to reimagine what life could be—for ourselves, for our orchestras, and for society.

Forced into isolation, we also came to appreciate with new acuity the value of collective experience and the power of collective action. Without the strength that comes from unity and the numerous protections we have achieved through collective bargaining, we would not have weathered the storm of the past 15 months with as much grace as we have. As we launch ourselves back into the regular current of our work lives, we will surely be mindful of what we carry with us and what we leave behind from the pandemic pause. Collectivism, both on stage and in our union halls and orchestra meetings, will be among the most valuable of the ideals we carry forward.

Update from the SSD Director

Staff Additions

by Rochelle Skolnick, AFM Symphonic Services Division Director

The past month has brought a flurry of activity for US and Canadian symphony, opera, and ballet orchestras.

Unfortunately, none of it has to do with the musicians of those orchestras reaching new heights of music-making on stages or in orchestra pits—and all of it has to do with each institution’s response to the sudden and complete cessation of live performance work for the near and foreseeable future. Together, the musicians, managers, and boards of our institutions are writing a chapter of symphonic history none of us could have anticipated nor ever hoped to write.

As in any saga, there are those who emerge heroic, those who stumble before finding their footing, and those who act destructively, showing themselves ill-suited to the leadership roles they occupy. In many cases, the managers of our symphonic institutions have risen to the current challenge by continuing compensation for musicians and assuring they will have access to health care, a right that has never been more essential than it is now. Some have done so with the assistance of institutional loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, created by the CARES Act (which went into effect on March 27) or the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (which went into effect on March 15). Others have provided only token compensation or left musicians to fend for themselves. These are among the darkest spots in a dark time.

Musicians are inherently creative. “Driving-for-dollars” orchestra musicians, in particular, are accustomed to cobbling together a living from many different income sources. But the current circumstances—in which many musicians are left to weave their own safety nets from rounds of Zoom lessons while waiting for unemployment claims to process and federal subsidies to arrive—try even the most resourceful souls. Those of you who are struggling—we see you.

International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) Chair Meredith Snow’s account in this section outlines where things stand for the musicians of many ICSOM orchestras as of press time. Like their ICSOM peers, the leaders of many Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) and Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) orchestras have chosen to do the right thing by continuing compensation for at least the remainder of the 2019-2020 season.

Among ROPA orchestras, the musicians of the Austin Symphony, Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Harrisburg Symphony, Houston Ballet, Los Angeles Opera, Lincoln Symphony, Madison Symphony, Memphis Symphony, Minnesota Opera, Omaha Symphony, Pacific Symphony, Reading Symphony, Rhode Island Philharmonic, and Richmond Symphony will receive full or nearly full compensation through the end of the 2019-2020 season. Many other ROPA orchestras have paid musicians for at least the first few weeks of canceled concerts or will provide partial pay through the end of the season, including orchestras in Akron, Arizona Opera, Chattanooga, Delaware, Duluth, Hartford, Kalamazoo, and Sarasota.

All six Canadian full-time orchestras that treat musicians as employees—Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Kitchener-Waterloo, Québec, and Nova Scotia—are eligible for assistance through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). CEWS pays 75% of weekly salaries up to $847; these orchestras will pay musicians an amount at least equal to the wage subsidy to the end of their regularly scheduled seasons. For Canadian orchestra musicians who have self-employed status, the picture is more complex. As of press time, it was not clear whether these orchestras would qualify for CEWS, but for now, every OCSM orchestra whose musicians have a guarantee of weeks or services is paying its musicians at least a partial amount. This includes a number of orchestras, such as the Windsor Symphony Orchestra and the National Arts Centre Orchestra, that have committed to paying their musicians their minimum annual commitment, despite the fact that they may not be eligible for the wage subsidy. Fortunately, self-employed Canadian musicians who lose work due to COVID-19 are eligible to receive the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) of $2,000 per month.

In a few cases, it has been a challenge to persuade managers to commit to paying musicians—even in orchestras that don’t have force majeure language in their agreements and do qualify for wage subsidies through Canadian or US governmental programs. The hard work, creativity, and commitment of our orchestra committees is always one of our greatest assets, and this has been especially true as we work to persuade orchestras to do the right thing.

AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) staff in the US and Canada work long hours every week with dozens of orchestra institutions, local unions, and orchestra committees to help finalize compensation packages and to craft media solutions that will allow those institutions to stay visible and remain connected with their patrons, donors, and community during this time when live performance in the concert hall is impossible. We check in each Monday at noon with the leadership of ICSOM, OCSM, and ROPA, sharing challenges and accomplishments. In these interactions, we have been moved, impressed, and encouraged by the dedication our musician representatives at every level have shown to their fellow musicians, their audiences, and their art. It goes without saying that we confront today challenges unlike any we’ve known before, but we do so unified in purpose and energized by the tasks at hand.

If you are a symphonic musician and you are struggling, please reach out to your orchestra committee, your local union, or directly to SSD. We will do our best to help in any way we can. Together, we will get through this.

electronic media

Symphonic Electronic Media During the COVID-19 Crisis

by Deborah Newmark, AFM Symphonic Electronic Media Director

As we all know by now, it has become impossible for orchestras to continue to perform concerts for their beloved audiences during the COVID-19 crisis. Music provides great comfort during challenging times, so it is extremely painful to our musicians not to be able to provide some solace as we move through this crisis. While this has been and will continue to be a rapidly evolving situation, the Symphonic Services Division (SSD) of the AFM jumped in early to negotiate a side letter to the Integrated Media Agreement (IMA) with the Employer’s Electronic Media Association (EMA) to cover electronic media that could be distributed to our audiences in place of live performances.

I, together with Rochelle Skolnick, SSD Director, had phone conferences with the EMA leadership and arrived at agreement on a side letter to cover streaming of either live performance taping without an audience present or use of archival material in case it was no longer possible for musicians to gather in their concert halls. When we first reached agreement, a few orchestras were still able to come into their workplaces and present a concert to an empty hall, but as days passed that option became impossible. As a result, orchestras who are EMA members or those signed to the IMA as an Individual Employer signatory, will be looking to their archives to stream performances to their ticket buying audience, their donors, and subscribers as well as those who provide contact information that will be useful for future ticket sales. Individual musicians or small ensembles from the orchestra’s roster will also be able to post material under the volunteer promotional language of the IMA (Article VIII.D) of material (expanded in this extreme case from a limit of 15 to up to 45 minutes in length) via their employers on the institution’s website or its social media pages.

The goal of the IMA side letter is to ensure musicians will be paid during this painful time. The agreement guarantees 30 days of wages from the date of the first posting. There are orchestras that would prefer to use some of the promotional opportunities available to them under the IMA or to release material for a media payment. Those options will always be available to IMA signatories.

If you have any questions about the COVID-19 side letter or use of any of the provisions of the IMA, please do not hesitate to contact me via email at dnewmark@afm.org or via cell phone at 646-269-1823.

Protect Musician Compensation

Symphonic Services Works to Protect Musician Compensation During Coronavirus Crisis

Staff Additions

by Rochelle Skolnick, AFM Symphonic Services Division Director

As I write this, it has been just two weeks since San Francisco Mayor London Breed ordered the closure for two weeks of the War Memorial Opera House and Davies Symphony Hall. That action cut short a run of San Francisco Ballet’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which had just received its first performance to rave reviews and triggered a then-novel request to the Symphonic Services Division (SSD): could the ballet capture a performance to an empty house and make the stream available to ticket buyers who would have seen the ballet live, but for the closure of the hall?

In a flurry of conference calls and emails over the next few days, AFM Director of Symphonic Electronic Media Debbie Newmark and I worked with the orchestra committee, Local 6 (San Francisco, CA), and the employer to hammer out an agreement to cover the project. At the same time, Debbie and I began talks with the Employers’ Electronic Media Association (EMA) to craft a side letter to the Integrated Media Agreement (IMA) that would allow similar projects by all 95 signatories to the multi-employer IMA (see Debbie’s article about that side letter elsewhere in this issue) and, in parallel, by employers who are signatory to the non-EMA individual employer IMA and by Canadian symphonic employers.

In every case, our top priority has been to secure employer commitments to keep paying all musicians—subs and extras as well as regular musicians—for work that was already scheduled to occur when the coronavirus crisis began, even if services could not proceed as scheduled. In the ensuing two weeks, as conditions have changed and all services have come to a halt, we have worked to adapt these temporary agreements to encourage employer participation and protect musician income streams.

At the same time, SSD staff in the US and Canada have fielded innumerable calls and emails from local officers, orchestra committees, individual musicians and, in at least one case, a musician’s concerned mom. We have answered questions about the specific application of contractual force majeure language, helped develop arguments and creative strategies to support continued compensation for musicians, and generally provided a sympathetic ear and a strong shoulder to musicians and their advocates reeling from the shock of what appears to be the new normal. SSD and the symphonic player conference leadership have worked in close collaboration throughout.

Some employers have been more receptive to our entreaties than others. No doubt employers, like all of us, are facing difficult decisions. In that context, many employers have chosen to do the right thing by continuing to pay all musicians, recognizing that musicians—especially freelance musicians, subs and extras—are the most vulnerable to a sudden loss of income. These are the true leaders of the moment. Others have steadfastly refused, hiding behind contract language to prioritize institutional infrastructure over the beating heart of the orchestra.

Where employers have faltered, musicians themselves have stepped up to ensure the well-being of their more vulnerable colleagues, as did the regular Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra musicians who agreed to a 10% reduction in their own pay for Lyric’s canceled Ring cycle so subs and extras would receive most of the compensation they had been promised for the work.

The nature of the current crisis presents particular challenges to AFM members, as both musicians and unionists. Musicians’ livelihoods and spiritual well-being depend on being in physical space together with one another and an audience, now impossible due to social distancing and shelter in place orders. These essential protocols also disrupt the concerted, collective action at the heart of the union movement which depends on our ability to look each other in the eye and share our struggles and victories.

But the current protocols also require and allow us to acknowledge our deep interconnectedness and the irrevocable impact of individual actions on the well-being of society as a whole. We, as musicians and unionists, know from personal and shared experience the power of acting together. The poignancy of the current moment is that our most powerful collective action consists in isolating ourselves from one another.

These are dark days for musicians. What keeps me going right now is anticipating the euphoria of those first concerts you all will play, post-crisis, when it is again safe to gather by the hundreds and thousands and audiences once again fill concert halls. Musicians will once again take the stage or fill the pit in concert black. The audience will hush, the oboe will sound the A and the orchestra will tune. A conductor will enter and the audience will applaud, thrilled to be participating again in the rituals of live music making. And then the musicians will play, on stages and in orchestra pits, in concert halls and theaters across the US and Canada, around the world. Musicians will breathe together and move together and feel the audience move and breathe with them. And those of us lucky enough to be in the audience will be absorbed into the music, full of gratitude that this still exists, as it surely will.


The Care and Feeding of Solidarity

by Jane Owen, AFM Symphonic Services Division Negotiator

What does unity look like for an orchestra? To our public, we appear unified in our formal attire performing with unity of thought and action. As any musician who has attended an orchestra meeting can tell you, however, that unity is always a work in progress.

In its makeup, the orchestra is already divided into the groups of strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion, as well as distinctions of those who are section musicians and those who hold principal or assistant/associate positions. In some orchestras, there are different tiers of contracts for members of the bargaining unit. Additionally, there are musicians of different age groups, gender, religion, and family configurations, and they all may bring different issues to the table. The challenge sometimes is to agree that we are in one union, and to find the collective path of bargaining to achieve the best outcome for the group as a whole.

This is a task which falls necessarily to the orchestra committee with the help of other union representatives in the group. We are reminded of the need for unity every time we are involved in a negotiation, especially in a difficult negotiation, but nurturing that unity is sometimes set aside in those years between negotiations. We’ve all been there; you want to take a break after a long negotiation, but this is not the time for a break. This is the time to get to work to maximize your power for the next negotiation. The more management sees the orchestra musicians communicating and working together, the more strength those musicians have at the bargaining table.

In the words of my colleague, AFM Negotiator/Organizer/Educator Todd Jelen, “We in SSD encourage orchestras and their committees to work with a negotiator during the last year of your contract to help with negotiation preparation, but internal organization with the musicians needs to be happening from day one of a new contract to ensure that the next negotiation can be as successful as possible.” Jelen observes that in addition to the basics of administering the CBA during the term, the following organizational tasks need to be done prior to the next negotiations:

• Discuss and evaluate objectives not achieved in the last negotiations.

• Organize new musicians through
orientations and discussion of
current/recurring issues.

• Track past and new issues in the workplace.

• Track importance of issues to musicians.

• Discuss and evaluate past
goals/strategic plan for musicians.

• Assert or re-assert goals/strategic plan of the musicians.

At the beginning of every season, all musicians must know who their orchestra committee representatives are and how to communicate with them. Identifying the union steward and members of other committees or liaisons to the management or board of directors is also important. This is especially true for new members, who may have only met management personnel in their introduction to the orchestra. Be sure your new colleagues know whom to go to with questions or problems, and that they know their Weingarten rights to have union representation in any meeting with management that could lead to discipline.

Communication with and connection to the local is critical as well. Some managements will try to divide the musicians from their local by requesting that the musicians negotiate without a union presence. While orchestra committee members act as agents of the local in the workplace, the agreement is between your local and management and they are the signatories. Therefore, involvement of the local is mandatory and crucial to the process. Be sure all musicians know who their local officers are and how to communicate with them. Encourage musicians to attend meetings of the local. Many orchestras have members who run for local leadership positions as officers or as board members. Unity of purpose is invaluable when bargaining.

Organizing requires two components: identifying key issues to the population and talking with our colleagues directly. This is much easier to do in our workplaces than in some others if we plan ahead. To encourage unity between negotiations, it is important to take reports back to the musicians after any important committee meeting with management, or after any resolutions of problems or grievances that occur.

Encourage musicians to come to the committee with concerns or questions. Maintaining regular communication makes it more likely that participation in surveys will be more complete when negotiations come around. As for those surveys before negotiations, try to ensure that all the musicians are heard. To achieve more complete participation for the pre-negotiation survey, some orchestras offer individual interviews by orchestra committee members with musicians to complete their surveys. Ongoing communication with other orchestras across the AFM through ICSOM, OCSM/OMOSC, and ROPA also promotes unity across the industry.

In order to approach a negotiation with focus, keep good records of goals not yet accomplished, document administrative challenges with the current agreement, and know the priorities of the musicians as seasons progress. Your power lies in that knowledge and the collective support for those goals.


“Gig”— An 800-Year-Old Word Musicians Have Used for Almost 100 years

by Christopher Durham, Chief Field Negotiator, AFM Symphonic Services Division

by Christopher Durham, AFM Symphonic Services Division Chief Field Negotiator

The word “gig” has been attached to a new economy whose workers drive for Uber and Lyft, who work from home as call center operators or medical transcribers, and who do errands and chores and provide professional services for people who prefer not to do those tasks themselves. Most of these workers are classified as independent contractors, not employees. Independent contractors are not permitted to organize a labor union or receive no employer-paid benefits such as unemployment, workers compensation, pension, or health care. In addition, they must pay both employer and employee FICA (Social Security and Medicare) contributions (the 7.65% of wages normally paid by the employer in addition to the same amount which is deducted from an employee’s pay, totaling 15.3%).

Freelance symphonic musicians share common ground with “gig economy” workers, from the multiple sources of their income to the variety of work they perform. But that is where the commonality ends. Symphonic freelance musicians have developed their classification as employees for both labor and tax purposes to a far greater extent than the new “gig economy” workers. These advances must not be taken for granted, nor should we allow our employers to draw any comparisons to the “gig economy” to weaken our classification and benefits.

Since the passage of the Wagner Act (National Labor Relations Act) in 1935, both full-time and part-time musicians enjoy the right to organize, form unions, and negotiate collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) covering wages, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment. As employees, symphonic musicians also receive federally mandated Social Security benefits.

More than two-thirds of our player conference orchestras do not provide full-time employment to their complete roster of musicians. Until 1984, per-service (part time) symphonic musicians (this also included substitute and extra musicians) were treated as independent contractors and not employees. The Social Security Amendment Act of 1983 provided that part-time workers in nonprofit organizations must be treated as employees for tax purposes. Until the passage of this law, weekly salaried musicians were treated as full-time employees and received lawfully required benefits administered by the employer, but per-service musicians were treated as independent contractors and left responsible to pay taxes out of their own pocket. Freelance symphonic musicians reap many benefits attainable only with employee status, including workers’ compensation, unemployment, health insurance, AFM-EPF pension, and Social Security contributions, with multiple employers making contributions on behalf of each individual musician.

Notwithstanding this, there are still symphonic employers who persist in treating musicians as independent contractors. It is to the employers’ advantage to do so because it saves them money and shields them from any responsibility to their workers other than paying a set rate for services rendered. Many employers strive to reduce their labor force and rid themselves of “employees” in favor of independent contractors. One example of this is certain newspaper writers who were once employees but whose jobs were eliminated and their work converted to freelance. They were reclassified as independent contractors and lost bargained benefits.

Gigging for many freelance per-service musicians has evolved from the days of regularly performing and working in their local communities to “driving for dollars” to a now-developing “flying for dollars” model. We work for multiple orchestras to cobble together an annual wage. When local work slows, we seek work outside of our own communities. We may live hundreds of miles from where we gig, which substantially alters our relationships with, and support for, our colleagues and our local unions.

In this context, solidarity becomes challenging. It is more critical than ever to work collectively with our colleagues to maintain the CBA of every orchestra with which we perform, and to organize in support of improved wages and terms and conditions of employment. Even if we only perform a couple of times per year with an orchestra 500 miles away, what happens at that orchestra’s bargaining table sets a precedent with other orchestras and will likely come back to haunt us in our home orchestra if there is a bad result. The best way to support your colleagues and improve wages and benefits is to join the local union wherever you work and band together with your colleagues (usually volunteers) who administer and enforce the CBA.

Symphonic musicians who are not treated as employees should discuss with the Symphonic Services Division how to remedy that. We must preserve our status as employees to maintain all the benefits we receive. However our gigs may evolve, we must recognize that federal laws governing employee rights—especially labor laws—must not be weakened, and we must do whatever we can to assure these benefits for ourselves and future colleagues.

When Organizing, There Is a Tool You Can Rely On: The Wage Charts Website

by Laurence Hofmann, AFM Symphonic Services Division Contract Administrator, Data and Communications Coordinator

No matter where your orchestra stands with regard to wages and working conditions, you still have aspirations. If you work under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), contract negotiations offer the possibility to make some of those aspirations a reality. If you work in an orchestra that is not yet organized, sharing your aspirations with your colleagues can form the basis for organizing in support of a first CBA.

We often hear from employers that our contract proposals are not “reasonable.” Using objective standards and data to support aspirational proposals helps ensure they will be based on common practice and industry standards, and that their reasonableness can be supported in negotiations. Objective standards and data can also support organizing—either in an existing bargaining unit or in a brand new one.

The best factual source for that information is the wage charts, which are a collection of data about each orchestra’s CBA (including wages, benefits, working conditions, committees, electronic media, etc.). Symphony orchestras whose musicians work under an AFM CBA are grouped for purposes of the wage charts by player conference: International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), and Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM). The CBAs and wage charts for these orchestras are hosted in the SSD Resource Center on the afm.org website. CBAs for orchestras unaffiliated with any player conference can also be found there.

Since 2016, the wage charts have been collected online to not only be edited in PDF, but also to build a seasonal dynamic and interactive database capable of creating ad hoc reports with the use of specific criteria: https://wagechart.afm.org/login.

Using data from the wage charts, you can ensure your aspirational vision is not a mirage and that there are other institutions where your aspirations are reality.

As a member of an orchestra, you are part of a collective. By finding common ground with your fellow musicians in the orchestra—organizing—you can establish a shared set of goals. While the work of organizing involves communication with every musician and the synchronization of desires and means to realize those desires, a part of that effort is based on an objective element: information about aspirational models.


Building a Movement in Boise

todd jelen

by Todd Jelen, AFM Symphonic Service Division Negotiator/Organizer/Educator

I was wrapping up a negotiation in Charleston, West Virginia, when I received an email from AFM President Ray Hair, SSD Director Rochelle Skolnick, and Director of Organizing and Education Michael Manley forwarding a request that came through the AFM website. The Boise Philharmonic Orchestra’s (BSO) principal flautist, Allison Emerick, was reaching out to inquire about organizing the musicians of the Boise Phil. We get requests like this each year, and most of them never go past a few phone calls before the effort is abandoned for one reason or another. This time something was different. As I found out in my first conversation with Allison that night as I drove back to Ohio, the musicians in Boise seemed determined to change their situation.

The next question was: Would they commit to doing the work? In the ensuing conversations with the organizing committee, we talked about the issues facing musicians in their workplace. Past agreements had been broken or ignored, and the musicians felt like they had no voice concerning the future of their orchestra. Rochelle, Michael, and I gave them a view of the organizing process and the amount of work that would be needed.

We explained that we could train and guide them, but if this effort was going to be authentic, they would have to do the work. The organizing committee agreed and committed to the rigorous process—and to each other. We held conference calls with the committee at least biweekly (if not weekly) at every stage of the campaign to complete the many tasks ahead of us. We gathered information on the BPO Board of Directors and the community in Boise to build the most complete map of both our opportunities as well as our potential challenges. The Idaho AFL-CIO office was instrumental in helping gather this information. President Joe Maloney, Legislative Director Jason Hudson, Teresa Thomason, and Tracie Roberts, as well as everyone at the IBEW Local 291 deserve commendation for their efforts during this entire process.

AFM Symphonic Service Division Negotiator/Organizer/Educator Todd Jelen (far right) speaks with Boise Philharmonic Orchestra Organizing Committee members Kate Jarvis and Allison Emerick during organizing training in Boise last year.

Then we determined whom we needed to talk to. Due to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) criteria for our industry, quite a few subs and extras qualified to be organized in addition to contract musicians. This number grew because more musicians met the criteria as the season continued. The list included 125 musicians by the end of the process. We then ranked the list according to the committee members’ experiences and past conversations with each individual. This spreadsheet would become the magnum opus of the campaign. Every detail was tracked and, over time, we were able to make surprisingly accurate predictions about how individuals and factions within the orchestra might side on a given issue. It helped us plan our strategies and it even helped us predict the outcome of the ballot down to one vote.

The next step was to train the organizing committee. Michael and I traveled to Boise for three days of training to get the committee oriented to what they would be facing. The training included the legal rights of workers on the job, the right to organize, how to build transformative rather than transactional relationships, concerted activity, labor history, and, most importantly, the organizing conversation.

The organizing conversation is the model we use to connect with our colleagues. It can, and should, be applied to any and all facets of what we do in the union movement. It is neither an elevator pitch nor a transactional one-sided conversation to extol a list of benefits one might get for joining the AFM in the hopes of “convincing” someone to be involved. Instead, the organizing conversation offers anyone who takes the time to train and practice the opportunity to connect with people in an unparalleled way and guide colleagues through their own thought processes to make their own decisions and to solve their own issues. If done well, and conversing with people interested in change, it will start a movement!

Over the next few months, we systematically held conversations with almost all of the musicians on our list. One by one, we filled out the larger picture of what it would look like to organize in Boise. Once musicians committed to the movement and signed cards, they were brought into the fold through meetings designed to inoculate against a possible anti-union campaign and to help them understand their rights in this process, including their right to participate in concerted activity. To keep musicians updated and engaged, each phase of this schedule occurred monthly, with new people coming into the process through organizing conversations each month. As more and more people became involved, the momentum built until we knew we had enough support to move forward and hold a successful vote.

After five months of intensive work, the musicians succeeded in starting a movement in Boise. Based on the extraordinary and diligent work of the BPO Organizing Committee and the commitment and participation of the musicians of the BPO, recognition was quickly achieved. The musicians are unified and focused on the goal of achieving a binding contract with growth as well as working to charter a new AFM local in Boise.

Just prior to the 101st convention of the AFM, the International Executive Board approved the charter of new Local 423 in Boise.

I have been privileged to build a truly transformative experience with both the organizing and orchestra committees of the BPO. We still have some distance to go together as we continue to work towards BPO’s first AFM contract, but I know that the determination of these fine musicians will continue, and the Boise Philharmonic will flourish in the future as the AFM’s newest orchestra.

Highlights of the New Integrated Media Agreement

by Deborah Newmark, AFM Symphonic Services Division Symphonic Electronic Media Director

On April 15, after 18 months of extremely difficult bargaining, the AFM and the Symphony, Opera and Ballet Employers’ Electronic Media Association (EMA) reached agreement on a successor Integrated Media Agreement (IMA). The term of the new agreement is June 14, 2019 through June 30, 2022.

The AFM national media committee for these negotiations, led by AFM International President Ray Hair, maintained a steadfast commitment to achieving a fair and balanced agreement. The committee included International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) media committees as well as a number of local officers, AFM staff, and esteemed counsel, Patricia Polach and Rochelle Skolnick. The EMA represents 94 US orchestras and it is the musicians in these orchestras that ratified the new agreement.

To be a signatory to the IMA, an orchestra must have a collective bargaining agreement with their local, a permanent roster, and an orchestra committee. The AFM soon will begin offering the new IMA to eligible symphony, opera, and ballet institutions that prefer to sign the agreement with the AFM on an individual employer basis.

Highlights of the New Agreement

The committee felt strongly that wages for audio streaming had to be increased, as this medium has become the primary vehicle for distribution of symphony, opera, and ballet product. Toward that goal, and in a thorough analysis of the state of other methods of distribution that have decreased in popularity, we conceived of and reached agreement on a Multi-Platform Rate (new Article X). This concept succeeds in achieving the much-needed increase in streaming rates while bundling other mediums of release into a single rate of 6% of weekly scale.

The employer must continue to maintain ownership and control of product but can enter into licensing agreements for distribution. Under this provision, the orchestra committee must participate in an artistic and financial consultative process with the employer, after having received detailed documentation including any licensing arrangements. The orchestra committee is also responsible for approving projects on a case-by-case basis.

There is a new provision called the Annual Media Commitment Payment that replaces the Audio Buffet. It requires the employer to commit to an annual media payment at one of three different payment levels for an additional 3%, 4%, or 5% of base annual salary with accompanying minimum payment requirements for each level. In exchange for making a commitment to an annual media payment, the employer receives specific discounts on IMA rates.

Payment floors that represent minimum requirements for all wages that are based on a percentage of local scale have increased 1% at ratification and then 2% each year of the three-year agreement. Per-minute television rates have increased 2%. Pension contributions increased to 13.2%, consistent with the August 1, 2018 Pension Rehabilitation Plan of the AFM-EPF.

One area in the prior agreement that generated the highest number of disputes and grievances was the promotional provisions, especially when the employer provided content to third parties. This was particularly problematic in the realm of broadcasts and streams of performances of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at sporting events that the EMA believed did not require media compensation. While we have always worked to find a balance between fair compensation for musicians while creating meaningful opportunities for the institution to promote itself, we were not going to agree to promotional provisions that would eliminate the need for the employer to engage in future paid-for media product.

The balance achieved provides payment for broadcasts and streams of live performances of the national anthem at “premium games.” It also ensures that any promotional activity provides recognition to the orchestra and its musicians. Promotional clips cannot be used as underscoring or backing tracks or as a jingle that would otherwise be covered under the AFM’s Commercial Announcements Agreement. Expanded third-party use cannot occur in the absence of orchestra committee approval. In addition, any third party that qualifies to use a promotional clip must sign an agreement with the employer ensuring payment in the event of a misuse. The employer has 30 days to cure an infringement for material they provide to a third party before becoming liable and must then enter into and fulfill all conditions required by the appropriate AFM Agreement.

Another new provision allows for capture by audience members at outdoor concerts and the ability for the audience to share material on social media in limited circumstances. There is also a provision to allow capture by audience members at up to two formal indoor concert programs and up to four informal indoor events per season. The employer must come to the orchestra committee in advance for approval.

Orchestra committee approval must also be sought when responding to requests from conductors, composers, soloists, and musicians of the orchestra for a private use recording. A private use tape agreement must be signed by the individual making the request in order to receive the recording. In addition, for personal study purposes only, the music director and the musicians of the orchestra can obtain access to a stream of materials via a password-protected portal.

In the realm of revenue participation, where we had encountered numerous problems in the past, the committee sought and achieved a much-needed change to the system. Instead of a 60% net revenue distribution after direct costs are recouped, there is now a new system that will share 55% of gross revenue after deducting solely musicians’ costs—nothing else. This should make it easier to see revenue distributions from the exploitation of our product.

In Conclusion

These were challenging negotiations where the union was represented by a strong and educated committee who went up against employers determined to erode hard-fought standards in the symphonic industry. Not only was there success in addressing the pressing need to increase payments for streaming, the new agreement also ensures that symphonic musicians continue to receive fair compensation for all of their media work while also expanding the platform for institutions to continue to promote themselves to ensure a healthy future for the symphony, opera, and ballet community.

Back to Basics

It’s Back to Basics to Maintain Our Rights as Workers

Todd Jelen, Negotiator, Organizer & Educator, AFM Symphonic Services Divisionby Todd Jelen, AFM Symphonic Services Division Negotiator/Organizer/Educator

During a recent AFM local officer training session, in the question session at the end of my presentation on “right to work” laws, a new officer raised her hand and stated: “It looks like we have to get back to basics.” Not coincidentally, this is also the current strategy that many unions, including the AFM, have adopted.

Over the past 50 years, laws that were fought for and won by workers using their voices in the public forum have been quietly eroded behind closed doors in our courtrooms and legislatures. If we become complacent, we risk losing the rights that we think are commonplace in our 21st Century workplaces. These rights were fought for and won by average workers in previous generations who did something about the injustice and inequality that surrounded them. We must get back to the basics of unionism, if workers are to survive and thrive in our uncertain future.

People working in a union has proven to be the number one check against inequality. The greatest victories in history were earned when people joined together for a common purpose. During the early 20th century, when work was often performed in dangerous and unregulated conditions and many jobs paid substandard wages, employers routinely exploited workers by finding loopholes in the law or breaking laws outright in order to maximize profits.

This was all overseen by a minority of wealthy individuals who wielded almost complete power to keep a system of inequity in place for their personal benefit. You would be correct in thinking that what I described sounds a lot like today, because our current level of inequality is about the same as it was 100 years ago. We must get back to basics, if we are to survive as workers.

There have been many challenges to our right to organize over the past 40 years. By the time this article is published, the Supreme Court may have decided the Janus vs. AFSCME case. If they rule against AFSCME (which looked certain when writing this article), then you are reading this in a world where every public sector job is right to work, regardless of the state. This decision and the overt attack on workers is a culmination of 100 years of effort by corporate America, through their think tanks, lobbyists, and legal teams, to destroy the rights earned by working people acting in union.   

The first part of this effort is right to work legislation. After right to work’s recent expansion to 28 states, the percentage of organized workplaces in the US private sector has dwindled to 6% in 2018. Janus focuses on public sector workplaces, which currently have a much higher density of 35%. We can only fight against power like this if all workers get back to basics.

When we get back to basics and work together, we can realize our incredible power as workers. When members are the driving influence in everything that we do, everyone develops ownership in the process. History has shown that we can use this power to both maintain and further our interests in our workplaces and communities. Many of our orchestras are currently using this model to organize and build power internally, even in off contract years. You too can begin to change your world, but only if you are active in doing so. There is no better time to start than now!