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November 14, 2016Bruce Fife - AFM International Vice President
Every six months, or so, I am tasked with writing an article for the International Musician. More often than not, the impetus for the topic relates to something that I’m dealing with as president of Local 99 (Portland, OR). As I’ve stated before, it’s one of the true positive outcomes of our AFM structure, in that, as an officer of a local, I can bring the daily, real world issues directly to the international governing body, which can then lead to the change and growth required in these challenging times.
Such is the case with this article. In recent months, Local 99 has seen a significant number of violations by employers in both our national agreements and some of our local agreements. In most of these cases, they are not circumstances that are being brought to my attention by musicians working under the agreements. They are violations that I have been able to ascertain, based on report forms, or research that uncovers new and/or false information.
Following the discovery of these contract violations, I locate and reach out to the musicians (not always so easy, as some may not be members yet), explain the circumstances, and with their help, work to rectify the situation. When successful, that usually means additional payments to the musicians in the form of wages, health care, and/or pension. In reaching out, I have been met with the full range of reactions: from “I don’t want to bother with this” to “let’s take them down,” and every level in between. In one recent case, the musician didn’t want to pursue a claim, then changed his mind, and we (the local and Federation) were able to procure almost $11,000 in wages and benefits for him.
As I ponder this situation, it naturally occurs to me that, if I’m the one catching these contract violations, covering dozens of contracts and completely different work locations, activities, and employers, this must be just a small percentage of what is really taking place. That leads me to question why the musicians working under these agreements, who often complain about not being able to make enough money, do not contact their local or the Federation about these contract violations.
There are two obvious reasons for this. The first is knowledge. If you don’t know the terms of the agreement you are working under, you don’t know how you are supposed to be treated or paid.
That is an easy fix. If it’s a national agreement, the terms are located on the AFM website for you to review. If you can’t find them on the site, contact your local and I’m sure they can help track them down. If it’s a local contract, ask for a copy, or talk with your local officer about the terms. Knowing and understanding the terms of the contract(s) you’re working under is a pretty easy way to determine if you’re being paid and treated properly.
The other reason is fear. Believe me, this is a big one and can be very difficult. You might think that, if you stand up for your right to be treated as required by the contract, which the signing company or organization has agreed to, you could be let go, not hired again, or disrespected in your music community, depending on the scope of the contract. Know that I, as a local officer, don’t want to see this happen to anyone. It is my job to deflect and take the heat away from musicians as we work through the issues. It should be noted in all these cases: the contract is between the union and the producer (employer). An individual musician does not have the authority to waive the terms of that agreement. Working together, though, we should be able to navigate the issues, protect your relationships, and get you the money you’re owed.
Beyond the realm of these two examples, though, I’m sure there are other reasons why musicians don’t bring contract violations to the attention of their local officers. If we don’t know about something, we can’t work to resolve it. So I’m going to do something crazy here (at least it might prove to be). I would like to hear about all your reasons for not communicating with your local about contract violations, especially the wage violations that you have experienced. I encourage you to read and understand the contracts you are working under so you at least know if there are violations. You can email or snail mail me your story. Mail makes it easier to protect your anonymity, but whichever you choose, your identity will not be shared. I only ask that you identify the local you are a member of.
You can send your story to either email@example.com or to Bruce Fife, PO Box 42485, Portland, OR, 97242.
Know your value and stand up for your rights!