Every year we have several requests from members who work freelance for help concerning a problem with a job. Usually, they either haven’t been paid at all, or were paid too little. Sometimes it involves working conditions. Unfortunately, usually the person(s) requesting assistance did not use a union contract on the gig. Sometimes we are able to help them get a satisfactory outcome anyway, but if you are working without a signed contract, you are at risk of losing your pay, as there is little the local or the AFM can do legally without an agreement.
You can download a contract blank from our website – just log in, click on Documents, and in the drop down menu choose Contract Forms. Our Local 72-147 Single Engagement contract form will come up, and there are also links to the standard AFM ones. They are easy to fill out – they only require information such as the date, time, and place of the gig, the number of musicians playing, and the contact information for both the signatory musician and the purchaser. There are a couple of different options in the different versions online, such as language that determines how disputes are resolved, or language that makes it a single engagement CBA, which allows the employer to pay pension on the gig if they are signatory to the AFM-EP.
Once you have a completed and signed contract, file it with the local. Then it will have all the force of law and the AFM behind it, and both the local and the AFM will do all we can to help enforce it, including taking the purchaser to court if necessary under certain circumstances. This is part of what your 2% Casual Work Dues pay for.
One thing to beware of when signing a contract is any sort of rider that wants your consent to make an audio and/or video recording of your performance and that wants you to transfer your media broadcast rights to them. This means that the purchaser can use that recording, but that they will not pay you the extra money that you are entitled to. Always insist on a union contract so you are protected from this kind of exploitation, which is becoming more and more common.
If the employer is leery about a union contract, you can point out that it protects them legally as well if they are not satisfied. And please don’t let any employer talk you into playing for less “for exposure.” That same club owner or indie label scout who you are hoping notices you are part of the industry that wants to exploit us, and they benefit by devaluing you and your art and your work. I’ll end this with a quote from the great “Deacon” John Moore, president of the New Orleans local: “It’s time to stand up to the venues and demand fair compensation for our time and efforts. We’re artists and entertainers; but for some reason the venues and fans feel we’re not worth very much because we’re local acts…If we don’t put a reasonable value on our music, no one will. And soon enough, we won’t be playing at all.”