101st Convention Report
Report Submitted by Aaron Pino
This past June we had both the annual Southern Conference of Locals, and the triennial AFM Convention. During the Convention years, the Southern Conference meets in Las Vegas in the same hotel as the Convention, the weekend prior. President Williams, as the Vice President of the Southern Conference, was seated at the dais and served on the Agenda Committee. Alternate Delegate and former President of our Local, Ken Krause, served as the chair of the Bylaw Committee, and I again served as the chair of the Finance Committee. During the conference, we had presentations from the International officers, as well as a panel from the AFM-EP fund trustees. There was also a presentation from the Organizing Dept. on building locals. Alfonso Pollard, the AFM’s Legislative and Political Director, gave a presentation on TEMPO and how to form a local legislative political committee, something we would like to put together in this local in the near future. If you are interested in serving on such a committee, let me know.
The biggest news for our local from the conference is that President Williams is now also the President of the Southern Conference, and therefore our local will be hosting the 2020 Southern Conference in June at the Renaissance Dallas Hotel in Addison. The new Vice-President of the Conference is Megan Chisom, who is the President of Local 80, Chattanooga. Lovie Smith-Wright, the President of Local 65-699 Houston, was re-elected Secretary-Treasurer.
Alternate Diversity Delegate Fred Nichelson joined us for the AFM Convention, and International President Ray Hair gave all four of us committee assignments. President Williams again served on the Finance Committee, I served on the Good and Welfare Committee, Ken served on the Measures and Benefits Committee, and Fred served on the Organization and Legislation Committee. International President Hair, Vice-President Bruce Fife, Vice-President from Canada Allen Willaert, and Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal were all unopposed and re-elected by acclamation. Re-elected to the International Executive Board were former Local 802 (New York) President Tino Gagliardi, Local 257 (Nashville) President Dave Pomeroy, Local 47 (Los Angeles) President John Acosta, and Local 105 (Spokane) President Tina Morrison. Newly elected to the IEB was Local 161-710 (Washington D.C.) President Ed Malaga. Lovie Smith-Wright was re-elected Delegate to the AFL-CIO Convention by acclamation.
The theme of this Convention was Together We Can. President Hair’s opening address updated everyone on the Federation’s current activities. The office has finally moved, under budget, to a new floor in the same building as before. He gave a passionate speech about unionism and unity and the issues with the pension fund and the exploitation of musicians. He said that the re-classifying of musicians as independent contractors in 1978 was the worst thing that ever happened to musicians. Venues and purchasers could no longer be considered employers, and free-lancers were suddenly unprotected by labor law. Membership dropped “like a rock” afterwards. This has also had a negative long-term effect on the pension fund, with the union’s inability to bargain in that sector. In speaking about dealing with the current pension fund situation, Hair said “I drank from the firehose of frustration.” But the theme was overall a positive message about all of the new money being generated by streaming, and that this revenue is a potential solution to the problems of the AFM-EP. President Williams is writing much more on the subject in this issue.
There were several guest speakers over the four days of the Convention, almost all of them speaking on the theme of negotiating new streaming revenue. The CEO of Sound Exchange, Mike Huppe, noted that while sales of physical media have plummeted, streaming now makes up 74% of total revenue for the music industry. He urged everyone to get to know the Music Modernization Act, and spoke about how the radio broadcast industry makes much more money off music than the music industry does, but pays musicians in the US zero performance rights. David White of SAG-AFTRA gave a passionate speech about how unionizing is not dying, but is making a comeback, and collective action is the only way we will make change. He spoke of all the new streaming content being created by Netflix, Apple, Disney, Amazon, etc., and thanked musicians for what they do to help everyone else get through life. Similarly, Kate Shindle of Actor’s Equity spoke about the first Broadway strike in over 50 years, and that audiences do care about the quality of production, and they want to know that working artists have reasonable benefits and working conditions. “We were the gig economy before it was a catch phrase…live arts cannot be outsourced.” She noted that the alternative to solidarity and organizing is being forced to find patronage. Stefanie Taub from the AFM-SAG-AFTRA Fund explained how the fund works and how to check if you have any money there, and to make sure that your beneficiaries know about it. Kim Roberts Hedgpeth of the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund gave a talk about how working with a union contract is not really that difficult, and that since 2016 over 2.5 million dollars has been contributed to the AFM-EP. Residuals collected were in excess of 115 million over the last year, due to streaming. There were also speakers from some of the international musicians unions – John Smith, President of FIM International Federation of Musicians), as well as Benoit Machuel, General Secretary of FIM, who said “I am breathing the air of trade unionism…united we bargain, divided we beg.” Horace Trubridge of the British Musicians Union is worried that only middle and upper class families will have music education anymore. “There is talent everywhere, but there isn’t opportunity everywhere.” The Sound Recording Special Payments Fund reported that about 7 million dollars was paid out to almost 24,000 musicians last year. Streaming revenue was 8 million dollars for 2018, is expected to be 10.5 million this year, and projected to be 13 million in 2020. Five years from now, if this trend continues, and it is expected to, revenue should be at least 18 million.
President Hair spoke about the new money achieved for the pension fund from the re-negotiated Sound Recording Labor Agreement, and how we are determined to do the same with the TV and Film Agreement as well. To paraphrase his remarks: If we do not secure fair contracts covering streaming, musicians doing that work could see their income drop over 50% over the next decade, which would leave the pension fund looking at millions in losses. But in spite of the fear surrounding the pension fund, a movement has begun that gives new hope and faith in fellow musicians. “What can we do for ourselves?” he asked. The old way of negotiating is no longer working, and we need to leverage the power we have, which is ourselves. He is forming a Contract Action Team. Currently there are 40 musicians involved, but the goal is to very soon be at 100, which would represent 10% of the LA bargaining unit. Musicians are increasingly understanding that we are the union, and for the first time in decades, we are speaking with a united voice, demanding respect and a right to a full voice to be partners. We are taking on the companies that dominate the media that everyone sees every day. This fight will come to everyone’s doorstep at some point, and we need to be ready. These companies are all in our locals, and we need to show that all musicians are working for pension security and fairness. This will affect all musicians, because streaming does. This model of bottom up organizing will work – not by talking, but by demonstrating strength and standing together and demanding a future to which we are entitled. A decade from now we will be able to say proudly that our world has changed, but our future is secure.
Other notable happenings at the Convention included the Chicago delegation speaking on the two recent strikes in their jurisdiction, a presentation on the recent organizing of the Boise Philharmonic, and a surprise presentation from our own local – FWSO members Dan Sigale and Julie Vinsant joined us for a presentation about the 2016 strike (which took place after the 2016 AFM Convention), which included a video commissioned by our local for the occasion, which went over very well. The biggest news, however, was the lockout of the Baltimore Symphony musicians on the first day of the AFM Convention. During the course of the next few days, over $100,000 was raised for the musicians. Our local also pledged $1500 to Local 40-543 Baltimore.
The various Player Conferences gave their reports. The Recording Musicians Association President Marc Sazer spoke about unity and organizing now being at the core of our survival, and that not getting streaming income is an existential threat to the whole AFM. He mentioned that each unallocated dollar that President Hair has negotiated for the pension fund is worth 3 dollars allocated to individuals. Regional Orchestra Player Association President John Michael Smith reported that they now have 91 orchestras, representing over 6000 musicians. The Organization of Canadian Symphonic Musicians has almost 1200 musicians now. They talked about the stereotype of musicians being out of touch with the world, and urged musicians not just to vote, but to campaign for issues. The Theater Musicians Association President D’Amico mentioned the issue of keyboard subs, who do hours of prep work and then only are paid for one or two shows. The International Congress of Symphony and Opera Musicians Chair Meredith Snow spoke about pay equity for subs and extras, and social media campaigns. Brian Rood mentioned when one bargaining unit is attacked, all are.
The Small Locals Committee reported that they felt that their concerns were not well addressed, and that the speakers at the Convention had no relevance to them.
The outcomes of the various Resolutions and Recommendations are printed in the International Musician, and President Williams writes elsewhere in this issue about Resolution 8 in particular. I will mention one, Substitute Package Resolution No. 1, which was interesting and partially controversial. It gives the AFM power to negotiate individual agreements for some of the national tours, as an experiment over the next few years (as opposed to the current system of each local negotiating with the tour separately). It will be revisited at the next Convention. IEB Member Pomeroy, a proponent of one of the resolutions this one disposed of, mentioned that this resolution does not interfere with normal traveling work dues. Speaking of traveling musicians, another member of our local, Jim Suhler, addressed the Convention about a job he played in Omaha in November of 2017 and the help both the AFM and Local 70-558 gave his band.
There was a beautiful memorial service for all the former delegates who have passed away, including our own Marjorie Crenshaw. Our retiring International Representative, Cass Acosta, was given a Lifetime Achievement Award. Our new International Rep is Steve Begnoche, recently the trustee of Local 433 Austin, and a member of our Local. He is scheduled to visit us in October.
So despite some divisive rhetoric out there from a group calling themselves Musicians for Pension Security, this 101st AFM Convention was an inspiring demonstration of unity and had a focus on solutions rather than blame, something President Williams eloquently stressed from the floor during debate over Resolution 8. IEB member Dave Pomeroy put it best in his remarks to the Convention: “We have to get over ourselves, and think about the future of the union for a long time to come, including pension.” President Hair summed up by stating that “we will work tirelessly to change the culture of this union from one of divisiveness to one of unity.” He mentioned our FWSO video again and the inspiration of our example, saying “Real unionism is our purpose and we are restoring that purpose.” I’ll close this column by urging everyone to contact our US Senators and asking them to pass the Butch Lewis act. It passed the House with more bipartisan support than expected, so there is more hope now that the Republican controlled Senate will pass it as well.