I hope you all read AFM International Executive Board Member Dave Pomeroy’s article in the May IM. I will use it as a jumping off point to continue the discussion of our union, our membership, and the role we all play in direct engagement and participation in our path forward.

Like Pomeroy, I’m somewhat optimistic that we’ve seen the worst of COVID. To that end, it’s time to start rebuilding our work and careers, for some, our families, and not surprisingly, our union. Just prior to the advent of COVID-19, we reported that AFM membership had grown for the first time in 20 years. I believe that was partly due to the tremendous work and investment in the Officer Training program that we implemented several years earlier, which is finally starting to show meaningful results.

That is, of course, no longer the case. We lost a good share of our membership due to the incredible financial burden placed on our members when their work stopped cold. If my local in Portland is any indication of other locals, officers worked twice as hard just trying to deal with all the challenges our members faced over these last two years.

We are seeing the tables start to turn. Local 99 is back to pre-COVID membership numbers and growing. I believe this growth, in part, is thanks to a renewed understanding of the faults in our economic system and its treatment of workers. This has led to a surge in active union organizing in the US, as well as some early signs of it ramping up in Canada. The Federation has created new officer training focused on bringing back musicians who dropped their membership during the pandemic, as well as internal local organizing.

Given all this activity, it is a perfect time for us to build our membership, which will increase our power and ability to stand up for what we want to see our industry look like. There is no one better equipped to do that than each and every AFM member. If we all got just two of our nonmember colleagues to join, we would triple our membership overnight. If we could do that annually, can you imagine what we could do with the power that sustained and growing membership would reap?

It’s not like everything is going swimmingly. I hear an endless stream of issues presented to me. However, the only way to change is with the engagement, activism, and organization around each issue, and a critical mass of musicians working toward a successful outcome. We should start small, get some immediate wins, and build our momentum and power to work our way up the ladder of issues.

To that end, one of the things I experience with new members as well as returning and existing members, is how little they know and understand, not just about labor, but about our union. Many members have no real understanding of what we do, how we can successfully organize around issues, or even what’s in the contracts they work under. (A good start is simply reading them). Just getting new members to come to an orientation is a challenge. Is it any wonder that they don’t appreciate the value of our union, when they don’t understand the scope of what we do?

The Federation has put together a new video that serves as a wonderful introduction to our union, available on AFM.org. Additionally, a new orientation presentation is available to local officers.

Whether you’re a new member or returning member, you can’t take full advantage of being a union member without understanding what it means. And to be clear, this isn’t just about “what can the union do for me.” We have the tools, experience, and methodology. When we combine those assets to organize around specific issues, we can successfully change our work environment, whether it be wages, working conditions, respect, or whatever else we face.

To repeat Pomeroy’s message, we have little chance of success when taking on issues when we do it by ourselves. It’s astounding what is possible when we work together, and the more of us working together, the better our chances for real success. Let’s build our membership!

As a quick addendum, we just got news of the loss of Pat Varriale, director of the AFM Electronic Media Services Division. I am grateful to have known Pat. His work ethic, his kindness, and all the good he did for musicians working in electronic media will be his legacy and he will be greatly missed. There is a hole in the heart of the AFM that will take years to mend.

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