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February 1, 2014Alan Willaert - AFM Vice President from Canada
Film work in Canada, specifically music scoring, has declined significantly over the past few years. There are many reasons, but the Canadian dollar attaining par with the US dollar, producers outsourcing to Europe and Seattle, and the fact that tax credits currently do not require the postproduction to be done where the film is shot, are high on the list. Studio musicians in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver have been hurt (as they have been elsewhere).
In an effort to regain that work, Local 145 (Vancouver, BC), entered into an agreement with the owner of the Vancouver Film Orchestra (VFO) September 2012. Unfortunately, this was done in relative secrecy and prior written permission was not obtained from the AFM International President’s Office, as required. Approval would not have been forthcoming in any event, as the agreement allowed for significantly lower fees than what had been established as the national rates, pursuant to the Canadian Content Production Rules (CCPR), which is a Canadian addendum to the Motion Picture and Television Film agreements. The agreement also allowed for a reduced demo rate, compared to the rate prescribed under the Sound Recording Labour Agreement, and included a buy-out of New Use for subsequent video games, as well as a video game recording rate lower than the current agreement.
I first heard rumors of the agreement’s existence in May 2013, and immediately made inquiries to the Local 145 officers, who replied affirmatively. At this point, the fuse was lit for a potentially explosive situation. The whole point behind the requirement for presidential approval is to prevent a local from doing exactly this, undercutting national agreements, making sweetheart deals with employers, and entering into the proverbial and unwinnable, race to the bottom.
The officers and board of Local 145 were removed from office, and the local was placed in trusteeship in June 2013, as provided for by the AFM Bylaws. As a courtesy, recognizing that the secretary is hired by the board, we consulted legal counsel and drafted an appropriate termination letter, in accordance with employment standards. In a timely manner, a trusteeship hearing was held in Vancouver, chaired by a hearing officer appointed by the AFM President, to determine whether or not the trusteeship should be maintained. While the meeting was well-attended and extremely emotional, no substantive arguments to withdraw the trusteeship were in the written report to the International Executive Board (IEB), who voted to maintain the trusteeship.
In an effort to provide the utmost fairness, the trustee appointed the former president and secretary of Local 145 to act as delegates, that they may appeal the trusteeship to the AFM Convention. Their appeal to end the trusteeship was denied by the Hearing Committee, and when reported to the convention, sustained by the delegates.
I have, since the convention, received comments from various members who believe the actions of the IEB to trustee the local were “draconian,” “heavy-handed,” and that some other solution could have been found. Let me be honest and clear about this. When I first heard of, and then discussed the local agreement with the secretary, I asked that he immediately call a meeting of the board, so that I may address this issue with them. The earliest date that could be arranged was June 12, 2013, and while it was unfortunate the secretary was on vacation, I was able to travel to Vancouver and meet with the president, two board members, and their legal counsel. I was accompanied by a representative from Local 149 (Toronto, ON).
The meeting was amicable but straightforward. I implored them to let me help negotiate a way out of the agreement, to make it go away before the IEB was forced to act. We pointed out that they had not advised the CFM office, or any other local, of this agreement, or they would have learned there was zero support. Their legal counsel tried to make the case that our Bylaws had no standing in British Columbia, and that they were within their rights under the Labour Code. I argued, with all due respect, that it was inappropriate for a labour lawyer to advise their clients to violate their own bylaws, AFM Bylaws, and their oath of office. Locals do not have the right to decide which bylaws they like and which ones they don’t, which ones they will adhere to, and which ones can be violated. In the end, I was thanked for my efforts, but told the local would continue to use the agreement.
Since the Convention, there have been other events. There was a hearing before the British Columbia Labour Relations Board (BCLRB), essentially to determine which took precedence—the AFM Bylaws or Local 145’s ability to negotiate agreements under the BC Labour Code. The AFM was the respondent in this action, brought by the former officers and the owner of the VFO. The board’s decision was that the agreement entered into was invalid, because both parties knew of the Bylaw requirement, and conspired to ignore it. Further, the agreement was not a recognized CBA as there was “no actual and apparent authority to bargain.” The subsequent appeal to this decision has been denied. The AFM is the respondent in another hearing pending before the BCLRB, regarding the termination of the former secretary.
I was sad to learn of the resignation of the long-time office manager. For 35 years, Doreen Lee had been the “rock” of Local 145. While she will be missed, we cannot afford to lose a step with regard to service to the membership. I therefore assigned two of my staff from the CFM office to visit Vancouver and document the nuances of how that office functions in order to train a new person as necessary.
As for the future, there are plans for an advisory council to be appointed from the membership, with a view to begin the restructuring process. With their advice and guidance, we will be able to work toward the nomination and election of a new board and return the local to self-governance as quickly as possible.
While the events of the past eight months have been regrettable, it should be noted that the AFM has taken the high road throughout, adhered strictly to what is required of a parent organization under these circumstances, considered the choices carefully, and shown strong leadership, based on what was in the best interests of all 17,000 Canadian members.