As AFM members are confronted with the uncertainties of both tax and pension reform, AFM President Ray Hair has refocused the work of the union’s Office of Government Relations to maximize its visibility and effectiveness relating to issues that impact our jobs and lives.
As I have stated previously, it is important for us to build relationships with coalitions that have similar interests. For some time now, the AFM has joined forces with nationally respected groups that come together to enhance our power of persuasion. One group we work with every year is Americans for the Arts, a nationally recognized organization that enhances the public policy voices of hundreds of national, state, and local arts organizations across the country.
For Arts Advocacy Day this year, in cooperation with the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees (DPE) Arts, Entertainment, Media Industries group (our primary coalition partner on most issues), American labor affiliates came together March 12-13 to make your concerns known to federal legislators who are recognized leaders on our issues. Seven meetings, attended by 12 union entertainment affiliates, worked both House and Senate offices on a variety of issues, including unreimbursed tax expenses; pension reform; support for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; music licensing; and arts education policy.
Through one collective voice, key legislators learned of the negative impact that the elimination or weakening of these programs will have on artists, American communities, and the overall national economy.
National Endowment of the Arts: This federal program is one of a few that actually pays dividends back to the economy. We emphasized that NEA grants are not frivolous giveaways of public dollars to elite arts groups. In FY 2017, the NEA’s $150 million budget generated more than $500 million in matching support in communities across the country. For each of the 16,000 communities in every congressional district served that takes advantage of the process, every dollar in grant money awarded generates a $9 (9:1) return. As for the artistic value of the NEA, between 2012 and 2016, NEA grant programing reached 24.2 million adults and 3.4 million children. Challenge America grants also supported projects in communities where the arts are limited by geography, economics, or disability.
NEA school and community-based programs supported adult and student programming, state arts collaborations, and programs between arts institutions and pre-K, college, and university educators. Art Works supports art that meets the highest standards of excellence, and inspires public engagement and lifelong learning in the arts to strengthen communities. Last but not least, NEA grants support military veterans and their families through the Creative Forces Program, in cooperation with the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
The NEA and NEH were not terminated and will each see a $3 million increase to
$152.8 million in the omnibus budget bill, which passed the Senate early March 23. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting received level funding at $445 million. This is a huge Congressional win for AFM members.
Taxes: For musicians suffering from shortcomings of tax reform changes in the new tax law, during lobbying visits the AFM and its affiliated unions made clear the disadvantages posed by the loss of itemized deductions. We took time with legislative staff to detail the effect of the shortsighted elimination of these deductions, specifically we listed items that will no longer be deductible for musicians working as W-2 employees. This issue also affects members of affiliate unions. Our concerted effort will help move this matter to the front burner when new tax negotiations begin.
As a tool to help understand the tax dilemma, in each office I left a copy of the article by Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX) member Scott Stratton, CFP, CFA, that appeared in last month’s International Musician on page 2. This useful tool was shared with each congressional member and his/her tax staffer to use as resource material. (We thank Stratton for his timely article and AFM President Hair for its prominent placement in the IM.)
Music Licensing and Protection of Intellectual Property Rights
As Congress prepares to introduce the comprehensive Music Modernization Act, affiliate unions joined in raising awareness in each legislative office about the importance of supporting new copyright reform/music licensing reform, which has not been updated in more than 30 years. Our primary ask was for members to sign onto one of the principal components of that bill, the Classics Act, which would require digital services to pay both rightsholders and artists for the use of recordings made before 1972. As the musicFIRST Coalition works closely with members of Congress to introduce the overall Music Modernization package, which includes the Music Modernization Act, the Classics Act, and the AMP Act (with willing buyer, willing seller language), the AFM and its affiliates continue to lobby legislators to increase cosponsorship of the Classics Act.
Overall, the DPE-coordinated labor lobbying group left a profound impact on staff and legislators. Many saw this as the first time organized labor made a concerted visit during Arts Advocacy Day to push their powerful arts and entertainment agenda. Though this lobbying group was organized by the DPE, it is our hope to reduce costs in 2019 in order allow more AFM Signature and rank-and-file members to join our lobbying efforts in Washington, DC.
AFM President Hair, along with the AFM International Executive Board and the AFM-EPF trustees, has made it a priority to engage pension concerns on every level. Official word on AFM pension comes directly from the Office of the President in cooperation with pension plan trustees. However, Hair has instructed the AFM Office of Government Relations, after endorsing S.2147, the Butch Lewis Act of 2017, to monitor and report ongoing Washington, DC, multi-employer pension reform debate activities. Under the last continuing resolution, Congress inserted language that created a new Joint Select Committee to take up the issue of pension reform and solvency.
The comprehensive budget bill that passed February 9, formed the bipartisan-bicameral Joint Congressional Select Committee on Multi-Employer Pension Plans, comprising eight Democrats and eight Republicans from the House and Senate. It is governed by the rules of the Senate Finance Committee.
On process, the United Mine Workers of America reports on its website:
Committee members must be selected by February 23, and the committee must hold its first meeting by March 12 (which took place March 14). The committee is required to make a report to Congress by the last week of November 2018. If there is an agreement to take action, the committee will draft and submit legislative language as part of that report. Agreement to move forward will require at least five Democrats and five Republicans. Any bill they propose will go before the relevant committees in the House and the Senate, where it cannot be amended or voted down. The bills will get expedited votes in both chambers. There will be no amendments allowed. The committee will hold at least five meetings, of which at least three must be public hearings. The committee is encouraged to hold at least one field hearing, away from Washington, DC.
At the initial meeting, it was clear that there is a real need to come up with a solution to this issue. Failure to do so could have devastating consequences for all workers, retirees, affected plans, the public in general, as well as the national economy.
The responsibility of the AFM Office of Government Relations is to engage congressional staff, do real-time reporting of pension related events, and work directly with other AFL-CIO affiliated unions to coordinate information for the AFM President’s Office.
Now that the Select Committee is in full operation, the focus will shift momentarily to policy matters relating to the committee’s design on these troubled pension funds. Committee appointees include Republicans: Co-Chair Orrin Hatch (UT), Rob Portman (OH), Lamar Alexander (TN), Mike Crapo (ID), Virginia Foxx (NC), Phil Roe (R-TN), Vern Buchanan (FL), and David Schweikert (AZ); and Democrats: Co-Chair Sherrod Brown (OH), Joe Manchin (WV), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Tina Smith (MN), Bobby Scott (VA), Richard Neal (MA), Debbie Dingell (MI), and Donald Norcross (NJ).