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Home » Legislative Update » Why the AFM Should Care About the Government Shutdown

Why the AFM Should Care About the Government Shutdown


The AFM cares deeply about promoting growth and innovation within our industry. Our careers are linked to copyright protection, performance rights, grants to artists and arts organizations, worker protections through the NLRB, and a host of other government programs that supplement our professional efforts and define us as workers. Union resources help us drive the notion that through our talent and dedication, musicians in our organization since 1896 have been a major driving force behind the growth of arts and culture in the United States. The American arts and entertainment industry is the most innovative in the world setting new standards that fuel the global entertainment economy. That growth very much depends on the talent of our artistic creators who fuel that innovation.

The federal government shutdown not only had a negative impact on the economy, but the withdrawal of services led to the loss of much needed government revenue while debt ceiling brinksmanship sparked a tremendous reduction in consumer confidence. It should be underscored that federal government services are not exclusively contained within the Washington Beltway. Hundreds of federal facilities are located across the country. Salaries earned by federal workers staffing these facilities fuel local economies large and small. So when government workers don’t work, local economies suffer, and it is proven that residents spend fewer dollars on entertainment in order to focus on saving more for another rainy day.

The numbers are still coming in as respected national think tanks and government agencies continue to assess the true economic impact of the shutdown. More than 800,000 federal government employees across the country, many of them family and friends of our members were hit the hardest by the closures. Most notably in the beginning stages of the shutdown, unemployment insurance claims rose as out-of-work employees hunkered down seeking ways to make up for the possible loss of a paycheck. Happily, as a part of the Reid-McConnell US Senate debt ceiling deal, government employees were guaranteed back pay.

White House Immigration press conference on October 24. Photo: Alfonso Pollard

White House Immigration press conference on October 24. Photo: Alfonso Pollard

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A just released White House report entitled Economic Activity During the Government Shutdown and Debt Limit Brinksmanship, issued by the President’s Council of Economic Advisors dated October 22, 2013 indicated that approximately 120,000 non-government jobs were lost during the shutdown. Standard & Poor’s, a trusted national financial services company that publishes financial research and analysis “estimated that the partial federal shutdown took at least $24 billion out of the US economy.”

For the arts and entertainment community just prior to the government shutdown, there was further pain. The government sequester drove agencies to make mandatory across the board cuts. In particular, the National Endowment for the Arts suffered a $7.3 million loss to its budget. The reduction is still in place, spread out over the course of the 2013 fiscal year. This example shows clearly that federal arts related agencies have been confronted with the duty to work with less. Moreover, on July 25 of this year the House Interior appropriations committee majority voted to slash the NEA budget even farther, by a whopping 49%. Even though the Senate responded with proposals that would return the arts agency to the President’ s FY 14 levels of $155 million, the reasonable voices of compromise on an Interior appropriation’s bill were drowned out when the government closed its doors. The protracted shutdown battle centered on a massive war of words that overshadowed any possible discussion about compromise on the Interior budget.

Why Should AFM Members Care?

On October 1st, President Hair sent a blast email to our members outlining the government funding dilemma. At the conclusion of the 16 day shutdown ordeal he again reported to the union on the progress of negotiations over the debt ceiling and the important fact that the federal government would finally reopen. But what difference does it make to us? President Hair put it succinctly. “The chaos in Washington only served to set back and prevent our progress in the areas most important to the union such as keeping the doors open to the National Labor Relations Board so it could continue adjudicating labor cases, keeping the doors open to the National Endowment for the Arts, the employees of which keep the grant-funding process operating smoothly. Shutdown of the Copyright Office also meant possible delays in administering copyrights while interruptions in agencies that protect, service and regulate arts policy created a negative economic trickle-down at state and local levels both for governments and for artists.

It may appear to those living outside of the Washington Beltway that most of the political pain was self-inflicted and that things ran fairly smoothly in outlying communities. However, the true story has not yet been told about the impact on artists across the country who depend heavily on services such as grant distribution, issuance of copyrights, a functioning Copyright Royalty Board, processing of CITES applications, and review of artists visas. An interruption in our business can mean loss of income and in some cases loss of important contracts.

When the Music Stops: The Trickle-down Effect

The impact of the shutdown, though not fully realized as of today, surely had a negative effect on major music markets across the country. Case in point: Las Vegas Nevada, anchored by Local 369 suffered losses in tourism which means that fewer people attended cultural events and shows, hence slowing revenue. AFM Local President Frank Leone sees it this way. “When residents and vacationers don’t receive a paycheck, the first thing that suffers is arts and entertainment. If this shutdown had lasted longer, the devastation to our economy and the music industry here in Las Vegas would have been catastrophic”. President Leone goes on to say, “No local labor organization can weather a long term storm like this. Most people don’t know how workers in entertainment, the arts, and the government are all intertwined. Add this crisis to a possible default on our debt, sooner than later a large segment of entertainment and arts supporters will stop attending shows and other cultural events altogether.”

Untold numbers of performances across the country, especially those scheduled in our US parks and national monuments were curtailed because these facilities were shut down. When the government is not there to support the artistic and cultural fabric of this great nation, the voices that would tell the American story are eventually silenced.

We Are Not Powerless

Regardless of what legislators do, we as union members have never acted like victims. We speak out! We join in! The AFM through the work of its national officers and its government relations office in Washington continue to develop and support friends in government who care about our union. Our members contribute in substantive ways to our legislative and political activities on a daily basis. If the shutdown did one thing, it clearly illustrated the importance of engaging our government and how our professional and personal lives are inextricably linked to policy and the need for federal access. However, there is always room for growth. The AFM is working hard to bring our government affairs activities more closely into a modern political environment, pushing the envelope to improve access through the use of modern digital tools and appropriate metrics that guide our thinking and help measure our success.

In today’s world, information is disseminated in real time. Legislation and politics move “at the speed of sound”. The AFM will provide the tools. We simply ask that you go to our website and sign a petition, visit your lawmakers, write letters, and learn how you as an AFM member can better support TEMPO. We invite each of you to support our leadership, the work done by the Office of Government Relations and by your Local programs. From the White House to the Congress, we are committed to building a strong legislative-political movement that will assure in perpetuity that the AFM remains the largest organization in the world committed to building a permanent future for all musicians.

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