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Home » Officer Columns » Theater Musicians Association—25 Years of Workplace Involvement

Theater Musicians Association—25 Years of Workplace Involvement

  -  AFM International President

I’ll have the privilege of attending the 23rd conference of the Theater Musicians Association (TMA) on August 20, at Local 47’s new offices in Burbank, California. TMA is the newest AFM player conference. It began its journey 25 years ago, and is now comprised of chapters organized among locals that negotiate local agreements with theatrical venues and presenters that book Pamphlet B tours.

As background, the Federation’s Pamphlet B Agreement, bargained with The Broadway League and Disney Theatrical Productions, establishes employment terms for musicians working on the road in touring musicals. The Federation’s Touring/Theatre/Booking Division, headed by my assistant and division director George Fiddler, administers the Pamphlet B Agreement.

Historically, Pamphlet B covered only musicians on the road, traveling with the show. It does not set wages and conditions for local musicians who are engaged to augment or replace touring musicians in cities where the shows are eventually booked, but it does regulate the hiring of those local musicians in certain jurisdictions, which is where TMA’s story began.

For clarification, Pamphlet B terms specifically provide that the agreement is not applicable to productions performed within the jurisdiction of Local 802 (New York City). The agreement came into being many years ago to cover out-of-town touring engagements only. Nonetheless, Local 802 plays a prominent role in Federation Pamphlet B discussions because most musicians traveling with the shows are members of Local 802. Also, the League and Disney triangulate their labor relations strategy to impact both Pamphlet B and Local 802’s Broadway contract.

TMA originated as a rank-and-file movement, in response to the Federation’s 1991 Pamphlet B negotiations that saw the Federation bowing to regressive employer demands, which negatively affected local theatrical employment, particularly collectively bargained local minimums. These were the required minimum number of local musicians to be hired to augment any tour—that standard had ruled for decades. With local minimums, theatergoers could attend a show where original orchestrations could be heard, guaranteeing patrons an artistically legitimate Broadway experience. Minimums also prevented the tours from reducing the scores. Today, TMA helps balance the Federation’s approach toward Pamphlet B negotiations, since those discussions directly affect the welfare of both local and traveling musicians. 

The 1991 Pamphlet B contract settlement adversely modified, and in some circumstances eliminated, protections that preserved minimum numbers of local musicians hired to augment the tours. A number of larger AFM locals with collectively bargained minimums were hurt by new Pamphlet B provisions that restricted and reduced local employment. Several locals filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Federation to set aside the offending provisions. That regressive deal, and those that followed, permitted touring shows to perform with drastically reduced scores, generating additional profits for producers, but diminishing work opportunities for both local and traveling musicians.

Against this background, with theatrical employment threatened in major jurisdictions, concerned local theater musicians organized. Determined to strengthen and improve their workplaces, pit musicians from San Francisco, Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Denver, and Dallas-Fort Worth formed committees to share information.

In April 1993, TMA published their first newsletter, The Pit Bulletin, where founding chair and Local 6 (San Francisco, CA) member Gordon Messick, announced the goal of becoming a recognized AFM player conference. By fall 1993, regular publication of The Pit Bulletin began, and for the first time ever, itineraries and instrumentation for touring shows and contract information from various locals were shared with affected members and locals.

By 1996, TMA counted its membership in the hundreds and it organized its first international conference in San Francisco. I attended that conference as a local officer and I was delighted to see highly motivated musicians from across Federation field work together to identify, articulate, and prioritize their workplace needs and develop plans of action to address those needs. TMA was granted player conference status a year later, December 5, 1997.

From my vantage point, the need for local theater musicians to organize themselves as an intermediate AFM body was a direct result of the Federation’s Pamphlet B bargaining approach, which did not allow input during negotiations from a significant number of musicians who would be directly affected by the outcome.

There were also threats by The Broadway League and local presenters to utilize a virtual orchestra machine (VO)—a sophisticated synthesizer capable of reproducing an entire score. The VO could eliminate jobs of both traveling and local musicians. The dire threat it posed may have led to agreements that resulted in conversion of full Pamphlet B employment to lesser-paying tiered work in the 2000s, lowering the wages and benefits across the board for many traveling musicians.

Pamphlet B negotiations were extremely difficult after the regressive local minimum settlements because of increased friction between traveling musicians and their local colleagues over the distribution of work. Traveling musicians felt that, once they’d been engaged for a tour, the work in all venues should be theirs and not subject to layoffs to accommodate local minimum hiring. Local musicians believed their employment had a history of reasonable expectation and that their leverage with local presenters was a crucial ingredient in focusing union power to improve touring conditions.

Having been involved with the TMA from its very beginnings almost 25 years ago, I can see and understand the process from a longitudinal perspective and how it relates to the big picture. The challenge for the Federation, its locals, and its members, regardless of the type of work represented, is always the same. You can’t reach your potential in union negotiations without unity in the workplace, which is necessary for stakeholders to organize and apply pressure toward employers.

Today, our negotiations are much different, not only toward touring musical producers, but for all Federation negotiations. It’s about inclusion in the process. TMA now occupies a major role in Pamphlet B negotiations. We build strength and credibility toward employers by formulating proposals that dovetail the attitudes and needs of all who are affected by the outcome. This policy is a hallmark of my administration, and it works. It has produced progressive Pamphlet B settlements in 2011 and 2016 that benefit local and traveling musicians alike.

Happy 25th birthday, TMA. Thanks for showing us the way.

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