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Vice President from Canada

awillaert

Alan Willaert – AFM Vice President from Canada

    Don’t Quit Your Day Job

    The campaign to get musicians paid for showcasing at the BreakOut West festival in Edmonton this year spawned three weeks’ worth of radio interviews, print, and online media coverage, as well as social media jousting, and effectively polarized two viewpoints. While most articles were fair in representing the views of the CFM, as well as the festival’s organizers, the notion that musicians should be paid for their performances should have been a clear winner in the opinion polls, especially with effective adhesion to the social justice issue of a fair minimum wage.

    Yet out of the woodwork came arguments so ludicrous (albeit to me) that I had to stifle the chortles and guffaws. Somewhat miraculously, those arguments were embraced by a portion of the media and, by extension, their readership. I think it is noteworthy to review, if for no other reason than to apprise members.

    One assertion by the festival organizers was that many of the musicians were, in fact, being paid to perform through individual grants from the provincial government or their music industry association, and in some cases, the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR). They claimed that this was the “model” of the future. This claim was usually followed by, “There was once a need for a musicians’ union, but not anymore.”

    I consider this to be one of the most ludicrous positions ever presented. The notion that musicians should no longer encumber an employer with such trivial things as fees and pension, in favour of asking for government handouts as a means for surviving in the music industry, borders on ridiculous. Only an employer would have the audacity to suggest this and musicians are the only genre of worker that would give it a morsel of credibility. Imagine the response from actors, directors, screenwriters, or stagehands were it communicated that they should no longer look to the film producer for remuneration, but instead seek government grants to provide for their families.

    As for the value judgement on a need for the AFM, that rhetoric is not new. It’s used by every employer to dissuade every member of every union in the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) from participation. It is part of the perpetual attack upon the labour movement, right-wing style.

    Another offering by the press suggested that it should be the musicians’ choice whether they wish to donate their services, or that perhaps the whole thing should be treated as a large audition, not a gig. Perhaps this would have merit if the organization involved was a charity, not a well-oiled machine that makes deliberate “policy” to pay everyone involved, except the musicians (who, by the way, are the folks the event is all about).

    In addition, these nonpaid “showcases” take place in licensed venues, packed with festivalgoers and making huge profits from liquor sales. A venue that would normally be required to pay for their entertainment, during the festival, gets to watch the bands sweat the night away for free. As for treating it as an audition, I pick no. Real auditions are in a private room to a select few, not in a club where the audience dances, tickets are sold, and beer is swilled. You audition to find work, not to be selected for a chance to perform gratis at yet another festival, and then another. And no, there is no major label A&R person waiting to sign you at 2:00 a.m. in an Edmonton bar.

    Finally, the big carrot offered by the festival—a wristband; in other words, a free pass to your own show. By my loose calculations, each band spends hundreds of dollars for travel, accommodations, and food, but are not offered even the price of parking.

    The bottom line is that festivals providing no remuneration for services have no regard for the music industry at all. If they did, they would acknowledge that musicians are a fragile part of the music ecosystem, the roots if you will, and must be nourished and fostered to encourage them to seek music as a viable career option. Instead, these festivals choose to build an industry that, as a part of Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is larger than mining and lumber combined, yet there appears to be no sustainable livelihood for the musicians.

    So in the end, the BreakOut West Festival did, indeed, impart great wisdom upon those musicians in attendance, a message of enormous gravity and substance: Don’t quit your day job.

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    Musicians “Broke, Out West”

    At the time of this writing, I have just stepped off a plane from Edmonton, Alberta, having spent the last few days organizing a demonstration/rally, juggling interviews with the press and radio reporters, and meeting with a politician of the ruling provincial New Democratic Party (NDP). At the core of it all was the ongoing effort to get an agreement with the Western Canadian Music Alliance (WCMA), the entity that operates the BreakOut West music festival (BOW).

    As I have reported before, the WCMA have an operating budget of roughly $600,000, with a substantial amount of that derived from various government grants and funding, along with private sponsorship. While they have no choice but to pay the “headline” acts fairly, as they have the effect of validating the festival, the lion’s share of the musicians are not paid. Previous agreements with the festival did provide for payment, but BOW has changed their “business model” in favour of belittling musicians even further.

    BreakOut West music festival

    More than 50 musicians and supporters picketed the BreakOut West (BOW) festival’s host hotel. BOW has refused to negotiate a contract to pay musicians.

    This type of social injustice is not just a problem for musicians, but for all Canadian workers, and that premise was why we approached the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) for their assistance. They were eager to help, as our message was a perfect fit for “$15 And Fairness,” a nationwide campaign of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). The AFL folks were instrumental in producing themed signs and handouts, issuing an “Action Alert” to their affiliates and media to announce the day and time of the rally, and then bringing their staff to participate.

    Special thanks must be given to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, who sacrificed their break time to help bolster our numbers to more than 50—plenty of folks to fill the street in front of BOW’s host hotel. In addition, in a stunning show of solidarity, we were joined by international jazz great P. J. Perry and blues artist Graham Guest of Local 390 (Edmonton, AB). With chants of “Pay the band, not the man,” our group was successful in sending a strong message.

    BreakOut West music festival

    (L to R) At the BOW Rally are AFM Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert, Supervisor Electronic Media Services Canada Daniel Calabrese, Director of Organizing & Education Michael Manley, and Negotiator Todd Jelen.

    I would also like to thank the AFM Director of Organizing Michael Manley, along with Negotiator Todd Jelen, and Supervisor Electronic Media Services Canada Dan Calabrese, who rounded out the AFM’s onsite personnel. In addition, a special thank you to Local 390 President E. Eddy Bayens and Secretary Edith Stacey for their assistance and outreach to members, and to Local 547 Secretary-Treasurer Doug Kuss, who took the day to travel and support our event.

    Following the rally, Bayens and I met with a member of parliament to impress upon him the government’s error in not being more careful about what they were providing grants for. Since the NDP are currently in power in Alberta, one would have to believe that more serious consideration will be forthcoming, as it was pointed out that musicians were paid nothing, not even minimum wage, as required by law.

    The demonstration and show of solidarity is only the beginning of this story; pressure must now be brought to bear upon all sponsors of the festival, to ensure that next year’s event is either under a CFM agreement or doesn’t happen. Members, please take note that the WCMA continues to be on the International Unfair List. No contracts should be entered into with them or their affiliates for any performances, until further notice.

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    BreakOut West—Still No Deal Do Not Work for BOW

    While talks have continued with the executive director of the Western Canadian Music Awards, which presents the BreakOut West (BOW) festival, there is still no appetite on their part to enter into an agreement for the services of musicians. While the CFM has pitched a three-year deal to cover minimum basic fees, pension, and distribution of recorded performances, BOW is refusing to bargain even one year.

    The festival is employing a classic “divide and conquer” maneuver. Artists who they consider headliners and therefore essential to the visibility of the festival, are paid handsomely. But the vast majority of the musicians showcasing—in excess of 250—will receive no compensation. Additionally, they are presented with a contract that states they can be recorded and BOW will be held harmless from any payment for the use of any such recordings, in perpetuity.

    Since the festival continues to be listed on the AFM International Unfair List. Musicians must not provide services for BreakOut West.

    Let me repeat that: Do not perform at BOW!

    As unsavoury as this is for everyone, there is much more at risk than what some musicians may consider valuable “exposure.” There are many important festivals in Canada, and failing to get an agreement with one, risks similar consequences elsewhere. All employers everywhere must be held to the same standards: if you engage musicians, they must be properly compensated and treated as professionals.

    As AFM President Hair has stated many times, “An injury to one is an injury to all. Together, we are stronger.”

    Another important factor in this scenario is the venues. While BreakOut West is not providing compensation, neither are the clubs that are being used for the performances. They can expect a packed house, high liquor sales, and no-cost entertainment. Free music. Anyone who performs under these circumstances is merely contributing to the “pay to play” problem.

    Our issues with BOW are not so different from dark recordings that went on years ago, when there were several important recording studios in Toronto. The business representative at the time, Murray Ginsberg, would often visit studios to ensure that the employer on the gig was signatory to the Sound Recording Labour Agreement.

    The players would, of course, be annoyed by a visit from Murray “the Mountie” and the disruption but, in the end, extremely grateful when they were paid appropriate session fees. In addition, there was the increase in the monthly pension payout upon retirement, and also the cheque from the Special Payments Fund, which arrived each year for five years after any such sessions. Not only that, but recordings that were properly documented on B4 Report Forms were subject to new use payments, for subsequent release in other medium or when otherwise repurposed. The promise of “50 bucks cash” could turn into tens of thousands, when it was done properly.

    By not obligating the employer to sign a contract for appropriate fees and pension, you are letting them off the hook, cheating yourself, and making it that much harder the next time. By giving BOW your services for free, and not having a contract in place to protect any recording that ensues, you are doing yourself a huge injustice. It also sends the message that your product has no value. The minimum you perform for becomes the maximum employers are willing to pay.

    The time for solidarity is now!

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    While Talks with WCMA Hit a Wall, New CBC Agreement Comes to Fruition

    The Canadian Office continues to bargain with music festivals, award shows, and music industry events, with a view to having all such work under a union scale agreement. We were successful recently in negotiations with The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), who each year present the Juno Awards, along with several days of young artists performing live in venues surrounding the host city. The three-year deal represents significant enhancements, including a pension and a streaming component that is separate from the broadcast deal. We are currently working on a similar agreement with the Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMA), another major event held in a different Canadian city each year. Saskatoon is the choice for 2017.

    WCMA Stalemate

    In pursuing what is best for musicians, we have run into the proverbial brick wall with the West Coast Music Alliance (WCMA), which since merging its event with both the Western and Prairie Music Awards, has hosted a festival and awards week called Breakout West. After several unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a more than reasonable agreement, the WCMA has refused to come back to the table.

    There is much more at stake than making sure the awards show and live streaming are properly contracted and paid. Inexplicably, the position the negotiators took was: “Musicians should not think of Breakout West as a paid gig. They should consider it a networking opportunity.” In other words, showcasing at the event pays zero. There is no payment, no pension, and no protection against unauthorized recording and streaming.

    Yet the organization receives roughly a half-million dollars in government grants and private sponsorship, let alone what it charges for admission and participation. Where does all that money go? Therefore, the CFM office had no choice but to request placement of the West Coast Music Alliance, and its board of directors, on the AFM International Unfair List. Members must not perform at, or in association with the Breakout West event in September 2017. While we continue to be open to bargaining, we are committed to all the pressure we can administer in an effort to bring fairness to this unconscionable working environment.

    New CBC Agreement

    On a more positive note, after two years of on/off bargaining, a new agreement has been reached with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Along with substantial increases in fees, there are now residual payments on underscore and themes for episodic and dramatic series, along with older programming from the CBC archives (subject to limitations). Our agreement with Canada’s public broadcaster remains the only union contract to contain a guarantee of yearly expenditure.

    Final language will be completed in the next few weeks, followed by the ratification process. I would like to personally thank members of the CFM negotiating committee, who dedicated many days of their time to ensure a fair deal for our members. They are: Eddy Bayens, president of Local 390 (Edmonton, AB); Doug Kuss, secretary-treasurer of Local 547 (Calgary, AB); Michael Murray, executive director of Local 149 (Toronto, ON); Francine Shutzman, of OCSM  and president of Local 180 (Ottawa, ON); Robin Moir, secretary-treasurer of Local 180; Luc Fortin, president of Local 406; and Varun Vyas, secretary-treasurer of Local 571. Also special thanks to Canadian Office staff members Executive Director Liana White, Administration Director Susan Whitfield, Contract Administrator Dan Calabrese, and Symphonic Services Canada Director Bernard Leblanc.

    SoundExchange Acquires CMRRA

    Of interest to Canadian artists and publishers, SoundExchange has acquired the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA). For many years, CMRRA collected mechanical rights for artists and also handled synchronization rights. But for the past few years, CMRRA passed that responsibility along to the Canadian Music Publishers Association (CMPA). SoundExchange, now the largest Collective Management Organization (CMO) in the world, is expected to keep the operations separate, at least for the time being. Watch for more information in this regard.

    Read More

    Small Spark of Hope for Ontario Status

    The 420-page final report Ontario’s The Changing Workplaces Review, by C. Michael Mitchel and John C. Murray, was released in late May. As previously reported, the review is designed to provide a framework for upcoming changes to the Ontario Employment Standards Act and the Ontario Labour Relations Act. The CFM provided submissions and recommendations, specifically stressing that musicians are not sufficiently protected under existing laws, and that the only resolve for a largely freelance community is provincial status of the artist legislation. To that end, our submissions included a comprehensive comparison of federal status and Quebec status, as well as suggested language.

    While arts and entertainment was certainly not centre stage in the review, it did find its way into the report in section 11.6.3, page 364, describing how artist groups have “… urged us to adopt some of the philosophy and general approaches of the Quebec status of the artist act, modified to some degree …” While no direct credit is given to the CFM, footnote 498 is a direct reference, stating “… very late in the process, we received a draft model act from one group but there was no opportunity to discuss it, much less consult with respect to its contents …”

    On the negative side, the employers have been working hard at recommending the status quo. For example, the Canadian Media Producers’ Association (CMPA) made this statement: “… the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA), which is involved in English language television, film, and digital media production, has warned us about the high costs of the Quebec system, including constant negotiations, labour relations instability and competition, and a lack of certainty, which is antithetical to the needs of a project-oriented, time-sensitive industry … the association argues that the sector is already heavily unionized, highly organized on a craft and sectoral basis, and successfully serves the needs of the various interest groups and, therefore, should not be interfered with.”

    More importantly, the report goes on to seemingly disregard the CMPA and finalize the section with this recommendation: “… that Ontario conduct an inquiry and consultation with all affected interest groups to examine potential changes to the laws, which affect how personal services and labour are provided in the arts and entertainment sectors of the economy, for the purposes of supporting the artistic endeavour in those sectors and those who work in them.” While consisting of only a small speck in a large document, this capsulizes the most significant recognition of artists’ dilemma with collective bargaining to date, and with it, a glimmer of hope.

    CFM General Counsel Alan Minsky generously summarized other aspects of the report. Proposed changes include:

    1) Raising the general minimum wage to $15 an hour by January 1, 2019.

    2) Changing various features of union certification and first contract dispute resolution procedures, including:

    • extending card-based certification to the temporary help agency industry, the building services sector, and the home care and community services industry, where a union can show 55% support in the proposed bargaining unit;
    • allowing unions to access employee lists and obtain employee contact information where they can show 20% support in the proposed bargaining unit;
    • making access to remedial certification and first contract arbitration easier, giving the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) more power to ensure votes are conducted fairly, and allow telephone and electronic voting;
    • providing just cause protection from the date of certification to the date of the first collective agreement.

    3) Important changes to regulations governing unions, including:

    • successor rights for building services contracts;
    • empowering the OLRB to consolidate bargaining units;
    • strengthened protections for striking workers, including grievable just cause protection and a right to priority in rehire, even where a strike exceeds six months;
    • increased penalties for violating the Labour Relations Act;
    • reviewing exemptions to the Labour Relations Act (no immediate changes are set out in legislation).
    • 4) Improvements to minimum employment standards,
      including:
    • three weeks of paid vacation for employees with five or more years of service;
    • changes to simplify public holiday pay calculations and clarify how overtime is calculated when an employee has multiple jobs with the same employer;
    • equal pay for part-time, casual, temporary, and seasonal workers relative to full-time workers performing the same work, and for temporary help agency workers relative to permanent workers, subject to certain exceptions;
    • enhancements to Personal Emergency Leave (PEL) and other leave provisions;
    • new scheduling protections for workers;
    • several changes to Employment Standards Act exemptions and a review process for remaining exemptions.

    5) Measures to provide better enforcement of employment standards, including combatting the misclassification of employees as independent contractors.

    Now begins the process of providing Ontario locals with a script with which to go to their MPP and make the most of this slim opportunity to add compulsive collective bargaining as a component to the CFM toolbox.

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Official Journal of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada