the AFM Is and Should Be......It's Up To Us!
Moriarity (Used by permission)
What our union is today and what it needs to be tomorrow must
become the concern of each member and officer of the American
Federation of Musicians. It is true for us, as it is for the rest
of the labor movement, that if we are to survive we must adapt
and change. There is, quite frankly, no other way.
This booklet is a compilation of articles that appeared in the
pages of the Local 802 newspaper, Allegro, between February
and June 1996. The articles present my thoughts as well as some
of the concerns, questions and ideas of other musicians and local
officers across the country who I have spoken with over the past
I believe that a number of the problems we face are presented.
And, while the solutions are not quite so easy to lay out, it
is clear in my mind that the challenges we face require us to
rethink how our union is structured. Our industry has changed
dramatically over the last century, but our union structure has
changed very little. Of the 300 locals that make up the Federation,
many are barely able to survive despite some dedicated and persistent
local officers. Among the problems they face, in addition to a
decline in work, is the absence of a new generation of leadership.
At the end of this booklet, I propose the establishment of a union
wide committee to examine the current structure and to suggest
changes. if such a committee is to be successful it needs support
and input from rank and file musicians, as well as from local
and international union officers. There needs to be a union-wide
wide discussion on the future of the AFM. And most of all if change
is to occur, there must be a political constituency for such change.
My hope is that the articles collected in this booklet help in
some small way to build the support needed to bring our union
into the 21st century.
Moriarity, President, Local 802 AFM, AFM International Executive
What the Musicians' Union Is and Should Be
1996 marks both the 100th anniversary of the American Federation
of Musicians and the 75th anniversary of the Associated Musicians
of Greater New York, Local 802. Both are historic milestones.
We should use the occasion to review where we have been and to
look ahead to where we need to go, and the changes that may be
necessary to get there. History is important. It helps us put
our successes and achievements in perspective. And, perhaps most
importantly, it helps us understand our mistakes.
The AFM was created by combining the remnants of a New York-based
national craft union called the National League of Musicians with
those musicians' locals that had been chartered by Samuel Gompers'
American Federation of Labor. The primary impetus for this new
national organization came from within the German musical communities
in several of the larger cities, chiefly Cincinnati and St. Louis.
Musicians' locals at that time most often took the form of "Mutual
Benefit Associations" or "Mutual Protective Societies." They were
clubs that unilaterally set wage scales (usually at price list
meetings) and promulgated and attempted to impose the scales on
employers, both by internal union discipline against members and
concerted action against the employers.
In addition, these "clubs" often provided a place for social gatherings,
usually a meeting hall where food and drink were available, and
a very minimal social service benefits program, most often a "death
After the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935,
which more clearly defined the role of unions under federal law,
the national organization and a few of the larger locals moved
towards becoming collective bargaining representatives for their
members - real labor unions - albeit in a fitful, staggering manner.
Article 2 of the AFM Bylaws states clearly and succinctly the
philosophy which forms or should form the foundation of all unions
within the American labor movement:
object of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States
and Canada shall be to unite all professional musicians without
discrimination, regardless of race, creed, sex or national origin,
through Local Unions into one grand organization for the purpose
Elevating and bettering the economic status, social position,
and general welfare of its members;
2. Negotiating collective bargaining agreements with employers
on behalf of its members;
3. Providing assistance in contract administration and enforcement
for the protection of its members;
4. Resolving grievances, disputes, and controversies among Locals,
members, and employers;
5. Encouraging and training Local officers in representing their
6. Advocating the interests of members and Local Unions to the
public and governments...
Meeting these lofty goals requires an organization that is democratic
in its processes, so that members' needs may be understood, and
effective in its structure, so that these needs may be effectively
Although much has been done to democratize the union -as evidenced
by the increased influence of the player conferences, especially
the RMA and ICSOM, at the Federation level - the organization's
basic structure has changed little in the last 75 or 100 years.
It is an organization of locals conducting business with members
and employers at the local level, loosely tied together at the
These locals vary greatly in outlook and makeup. Some, like Local
802, cover large amounts of employment within their jurisdiction
but also have much non-covered work going on simultaneously. Some
have no work at all. A few (or maybe more than a few) are little
more than work dues collection agencies, unconcerned about the
work-related problems of musicians. Some have work taking place
but, for esthetic or generational reasons, ignore it. Some act
primarily as booking agencies; some as insurance providers.
Many wish to address the problems they know to exist but are without
the necessary resources to do so. Many have officers who want
to do the right thing but lack training and manpower. And many
are worried that the next generation of officers does not seem
to exist, and that the union they have spent so much of their
lives supporting will disappear. A great many officers of medium-sized
and smaller locals have no access to legal counsel and no training
in the intricacies of U.S. labor law - this, in a business that
is, in the words of Local 802 Counsel Leonard Leibowitz, "one
of the most highly-regulated activities" in our governmental system.
At any given time, these locals - small or large, prepared or
not - can be called on to deal with large multinational corporations.
A major recording company may begin operation in San Antonio,
a large theatrical company moves into Branson, Mo., or Disney
comes to New York City.
For unfortunately, while our structure has remained static, the
world around us has changed. Fifty or 60 years ago the musicians'
union, representing the overwhelming majority of performing musicians
and riding on the coattails of a surging American labor movement,
was able to impose its programs on the music business. Today,
in many areas of the business, we speak for only a minority of
musicians. Meanwhile, the employers we sit across the table from
regularly embrace and encourage revolutionary technological innovation
in their pursuit of profit and have the ability to go next door,
across the ocean, or halfway around the world to obtain the best
If we are to meet the challenges set forth in Article 2 we must
find a way to re-establish our authority and recreate some negotiating
leverage. In order to do this, a thorough reevaluation of the
Federation's structure may be beneficial.
The purpose of this booklet is to help initiate a discussion about
what the AFM is and could be, to engender an examination of the
problems we face and the potentials for growth, and finally, to
look at how the Federation and its locals might be better structured
to meet members' needs.
This is our union. It is a great union, but it is important that
we continually reevaluate its place in our lives.
How Union Structure Affects Democracy
Figuring out the most effective forms, procedures and structures
for our organization requires that we first define as clearly
as we can what we are and what our mission is. In years past there
might have been some debate as to whether the AFM is a professional
association (akin to the American Medical Association or American
Bar Association) or a union. In my mind, there is no doubt about
this. We are a trade union of professional musicians. Our goal
is to improve our members' wages, benefits and working conditions
through collective action.
To marshal its members' collective power effectively, a trade
union must first of all be as democratic and as open as possible.
It must be driven by its members' needs, open to their input,
and structured so that the working members determine policy and
direction. And, much like an army, collective action requires
an organization that is able to maintain order and discipline.
Earlier, I described the AFM as "an organization of locals conducting
business with members and employers at the local level, loosely
tied together at the Federation level." For change to occur it
is first necessary to understand how this loose organization operates,
and how changes may occur within it.
Our organization is a political entity. It has come into existence
as a reflection of the needs, beliefs and influence of subgroups
within the whole. The structure thus created is, in and of itself,
a powerful policy statement.
Leadership Is Elected and Policy Set
The AFM's leadership is not chosen directly by the membership.
Rather, leadership is elected at biennial conventions attended
by delegates who represent the approximately 300 locals within
the Federation. These locals' voting power is determined by a
formula that does not reflect their real membership numbers. One
vote is allocated for each 100 members, with a minimum of one
vote and a maximum of 20.
At the last convention, for example, the Denver local (1,032 members)
had 10 votes, the Philadelphia local (1,982 members) had 20 votes,
the Tacoma local (103 members) had one vote, the Joliet local
(281 members) had three votes, and Los Angeles (9,503 members)
and New York City (11,438 members) had 20 votes each.
Obviously, the vote of a musician from L.A. or New York is worth
far less than the vote of a musician from, say, Denver or Philadelphia.
Most decisions to modify the bylaws are taken by voice vote. Since
locals are allowed a maximum of three delegates (plus one additional
African-American delegate for those locals merged as a result
of the AFM's civil rights policy) it is evident that numerical
power, and therefore political power, rests not with the larger
locals which almost invariably have the bulk of work within their
jurisdictions, but with the approximately 80 to 90 locals of 300
to 1,000 members.
It is clear that the current structure of the AFM does not provide
for the democratic input of the AFM's membership on a one-member,
one-vote basis, nor does it reflect the jurisdictional breakdown
of the work.
This lack of democracy reflects itself in a number of different
ways, perhaps most importantly in collective bargaining. For example,
the Federation's principal collective bargaining is in the recording
field. Yet from 1989 to 1995 the IEB, the chief policy-making
body within the Federation, contained no representatives from
a major recording local.
Similarly, bylaw changes beneficial to working musicians in the
larger locals can be very controversial and difficult to pass.
(The financial packages put in place by the 1991 and 1993 conventions
had support primarily from the larger locals, especially Local
802, and were approved by roll call vote, not voice vote. In 1993,
it should be noted, many mid-sized locals ultimately, and at great
sacrifice, backed the increases. More on that below.)
Democratic and thereby effective leadership demands that: (1)
the needs of the majority of working musicians be addressed, and
(2) the needs and concerns of other groups of musicians be respected.
This is at times a difficult and complex process. Under the current
structure it leads to situations in which groups that have no
practical input are rendered irrelevant, no matter how much power
they seem to possess structurally. The IEB - the Federation's
chief policy-making body, according to the bylaws - takes no part
in the AFM's negotiating activities. It does not approve initial
proposals. It does not appear at the table as a body or vote on
the final settlement.
Several decades ago, the Board designated the President, the two
Vice-Presidents and the Secretary-Treasurer as the Federation
negotiating team for national contracts. That has been modified
- for reasons both good and practical. But to the best of my knowledge,
the Board played no part in that modification.
This modification has consisted of adding several consultants:
usually former officers or supervisors of Federation departments,
who are important sources of advice on the negotiating history
of an agreement; a rank-and-file representative; and, most importantly,
the leadership of one or more of the player conferences, almost
without exception the president of the National RMA and, less
often, the chair of ICSOM. The individuals who currently hold
these two positions are the most powerful and influential persons
in the Federation, aside from the full-time officers: President,
Vice-President from Canada and Secretary-Treasurer.
In the collective bargaining process, identified in Article 2
of the AFM bylaws as being of fundamental importance, these two
organizations have supplanted the IEB in its negotiating function
as provided for in Article 3, Section 7(e)(i) of the bylaws. That
this has taken place shows how powerful, indeed inevitable, are
the forces for a practical approach to negotiations.
In essence, anyone elected to AFM leadership at the highest level
is faced with the task of reconciling two disparate representative
bodies: first, the IEB elected by the locals in accordance with
the AFM bylaws, and second, the RMA and ICSOM leadership elected
by working musicians because of their need for a voice in the
process. In the 1960s this latter group, finding themselves powerless
and underrepresented within the formal structure, formed highly
effective pressure groups which have, over the past several decades,
achieved limited formal recognition under the bylaws and a seat
at the bargaining table. They have forced a policy of rank-and-file
involvement in major national collective bargaining.
This change is of fundamental importance and cannot be overestimated.
It has brought the AFM into closer conformity with the essential
ideal of the union movement - to provide an effective mechanism
for the worker to take part in the process - and has also, as
with all efforts towards more inclusive democracy, inevitably
strengthened our hand.
If the Federation is to regain the influence it had in the past,
a major effort must now be made to modify the formal structure
so as to increase this participation by working musicians while,
at the same time, recognizing and addressing the needs of the
locals. It is absolutely essential that the concerns of these
two groups be reconciled.
Both local and national officers need to consider the degree to
which our organization's credibility rests on the gains won at
the bargaining table for working members. Since any structural
change must come from action by the Convention, the large group
of mid-sized locals must be persuaded that restructuring will
be beneficial to the Federation as a body and to each of its components.
Even if it were to become necessary to utilize a roll call vote
to achieve change, these locals would be important players.
This is by no means an impossible task. At the 1993 Convention
the combined Law and Finance committees, made up of delegates
from locals of every size, recommended a package of per-capita
and dues increases substantially in excess of that originally
recommended by the IEB. This committee action, which placed the
interest of the Federation before the locals' own self-interest,
was approved by a roll call margin of nearly two to one. The delegates
proved that, after receiving all the information and hearing all
the arguments, provincial politics could be put aside and the
good of the national organization prevail. It can be done - but
a convincing case must be made that what is being proposed will
On the other hand, working musicians must realize that their strength
derives, in great part, from the solidarity offered by the diverse
nature of Federation membership and by the sheer numbers of those
under the AFM's umbrella.
In addition, organizing efforts among groups of working musicians
currently outside the union must be aggressively pursued. This
will, when successful, lead to increased credibility and prestige.
Greater numbers of under-employed and part-time musicians will
then see the union as a potentially strong advocate for their
The AFM Phono Agreement
Having discussed the AFM's structure and how it evolved in somewhat
general terms, it is also worthwhile to examine specific situations
so that theory does not stray too far from reality. A brief look
at the history of our phonograph industry agreements and the Recording
Industries Music Performance Trust Fund may help to explain my
sense of urgency about the need to revitalize the AFM through
structural reform and through organizing the unorganized.
The recent AFM Recording Industry negotiations, while fascinating
enough because of the issues involved and the personalities of
the principal negotiators, were made even more interesting by
who is not at the table.
For management, the six major companies (CBS/Sony, BMG, Polygram,
Capital-EMI, Warner and Atlantic) are present in force. However,
a significant percentage of today's recordings are not produced
by these six labels. Missing from the bargaining table are a host
of other labels and production companies. While some of them are
small, others have become important players in the industry We
have not been able to convince many of them to sign onto what
is probably our union's most important single collective bargaining
agreement. Obviously, this creates an awkward situation and severely
weakens our hand in these talks.
On our side of the table, the locals whose members do most of
the recording work and are the most affected by the contract's
provisions are not primary participants in the negotiating process.
That is, they are not members of the negotiating subcommittee.
Neither are those locals which are most affected by the contract
provisions that created the Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF).
None of these locals, either large or small, were directly involved
either in creating proposals for the negotiations or in ratifying
the final package. However, since MPTF is part of the glue that
holds the AFM together, these locals form a looming political
presence in the background.
MPTF Was Won
MPTF had its origins in the shutdown of the recording industry
from June of 1942 through November 1944, when then AFM President
James C. Petrillo called on all AFM musicians to refuse all phono
recording work. His goal was to force the industry to recognize
- in economic terms - the vast numbers of live musical performances
and venues that were being negatively impacted by the existence
of recorded product. This strike, euphemistically called the record
ban, was totally successful. Instrumental presence on recordings
of every genre ceased. Petrillo was able to demonstrate his and
the union's ability to control this industry.
Out of this strike came the Music Performance Trust Fund, a revolutionary
concept that set aside the fruits of the labor of one relatively
small group of workers and made them available for a far larger
group of workers, in the form of wages for musical performances
free to the public. There has been much debate over whether President
Petrillo (who was quoted as stating, "When you make a recording,
you're playing for your own funeral") was acting purely out of
concern for live music or was propelled by narrow political motives.
But' it cannot be denied that the concept had a profound political
impact on the Federation's policies and politics - an impact that
continues to the present day.
In the 1950s and early '60s, for example, the fact that money
normally negotiated for salary increases for the musicians who
were actually making recordings was instead being allocated to
the MPTF finally led to the creation of a rival union. Primarily
centered in Los Angeles, it was headed by Cecil Read, a Local
47 studio trumpet player. The realization that he would be forced
to reach an accommodation with this group of musicians led to
Petrillo's decision to decline nomination for another term as
president at the AFM's 1958 convention. His successor, Herman
Kenin, finally reached an accommodation which resulted in the
creation of the Phonograph Special Payments Fund.
In 1987, again, the Federation's position in the phono negotiations
led to substantial disagreements between then AFM President Victor
Fuentealba and the presidents of Local 47 and Local 802, Bernie
Fleischer and John Glasel respectively. This dispute was no doubt
the biggest factor in President Fuentealba's unseating by Marty
Emerson at the 1987 convention. The fundamental issue involved
cuts in MPTF and Special Payments funding. Fuentealba was the
only incumbent AFM president ever denied re-election.
At this year's phono negotiations, as in the last several contract
talks, the AFM suffered cuts in MFTF funding. How-ever, the negotiating
committee is to be congratulated for holding those cuts to a minimum
and winning modest increases in other contract areas. For the
undeniable fact is that we no longer possess the leverage that
Petrillo had in 1942. A concept such as MPTF - which is intrinsically
onerous to management - can only be sustained with the kind of
strength we demonstrated at that time. Unless and until we represent
recording musicians in the same proportionate numbers and variety
as we did in the 1940s, our hard-fought gains will continue to
We Must Organize
The recording industry is a hugely profitable industry that reports
multi-million dollar profits every year. But protecting past gains
and winning our fair share of these profits requires real bargaining
strength. Regaining that organizational strength is not solely
the responsibility of the Federation. It is also the responsibility
of every local whose jurisdiction includes young recording musicians,
no matter the ethnicity or genre of music. They, too, face abuse
and exploitation in this extremely cut-throat but very profitable
industry. Their needs and concerns deserve our attention. We ignore
them at our own peril.
Organizing them is a top priority and, while it may require new
and innovative methods, we must do it. If it means rethinking
our scale structure, we must do it. if it means creating new contract
forms, we must do it. if it means developing appropriate public
relations and marketing initiatives, we must do it. And if it
means that the union must look the same at the bargaining table
as it does in the field, we have no choice; we certainly must
do that as well.
We cannot continue to tolerate a 40 to 50 percent rate of non-union
recordings on the charts. We can't be satisfied with only representing
"session" players. We have to develop relationships with the groups
that are actually providing profits to the companies - and we
have to do it early in those groups' careers.
The union cannot exist effectively as an organization by representing
only those who are relatively financially successful. A union
attitude and a union mentality take time to develop, and individual
musicians need to have the benefits of collective action demonstrated
early in their careers by caring, trustworthy officials.
At this point in its history the AFM and its locals cannot afford
to ignore any groups of musicians, any musical genres or any performance
settings. We cannot assume that any musicians are beneath our
notice or outside our purview. At the highest level, we need to
make certain that all economic strata are heard and considered
and that each member understands his or her dependence on the
strength of the whole. That can only be accomplished through a
structure that more accurately reflects the numerical and employment
demographics of its membership.
Organizing: the AFM's Most Important Challenge
In 1991 and again in 1993, delegates to the AFM Conventions acted
to stave off financial insolvency by mandating greatly increased
per-capita payments from the locals and work dues payments from
members. In 1991, per capita - the amount each local pays annually
to the AFM for each member - was increased from $12 per member
to $36 per regular member and $24 per life member. In 1993, the
delegates increased the per capita to $46 for regular members
and $30 for life members.
At both conventions, discussions on the floor about the increases
did not center on members' ability, but on their willingness,
to pay. At issue was the Federation's relevance to the vast majority
of its members. Time after time, I heard someone ask, "What do
my people need the Federation for?"
For Local 802, with its large share of national contract work,
the answer is obvious. We need the AFM because it is essential
to maintain a Federation-wide level playing field in as many areas
as possible, and particularly in the recording and electronic
In 1993, my first year as president, Local 802 again supported
per-capita increases - but for somewhat different reasons. Our
local was scheduled to negotiate one of its cornerstone agreements
- the Broadway contract - in the late summer and fall, and it
would have been catastrophic to enter that negotiation (even though
it was a local contract) with a weakened or potentially weakened
AFM. I came to realize then, that without a viable national structure
even the largest locals would be immeasurably weakened. And many
mid-sized and smaller locals, even those whose members have no
contact with the Federation, would all but disappear. The idea
of a national organization holds us together and provides a single,
unified message to our members and to the employers we deal with.
A passive AFM is better than no AFM because it contains, dormant
within it, the potential for unified action. A strong AFM - such
as we had in the 1940s and '50s - can unleash that potential at
every level if a viable representative structure is in place.
Of course, we cannot return to the '40s and '50s. We must recreate
that power in a way that reflects today's realities.
Power of Collective Action
When James Petrillo became president of the AFM, he assumed that
he spoke for the membership and that the membership included all
working musicians. The labor movement was vigorous and working
people held union values in high regard.
Petrillo's assumption proved correct - but unfortunately the same
assumption can no longer be made. Musicians are not as unified
and society does not as readily accept organized labor's message.
However, that message - with its advocacy of strength through
collective action - remains the only viable alternative to the
weakening of the workers' voice over the past four decades.
This is why organizing is the single most important task facing
the AFM. Unless we organize and once again become the voice of
all musicians working in various fields, we will disappear as
an effective organization representing musicians' interests.
The labor movement as a whole has reached the same conclusion.
Unions today represent only about one in ten private sector workers,
down from nearly one in three 30 years ago. The new AFL-CIO leadership
has pledged to devote $20 million a year to organizing and some
of these resources are being made available to affiliate unions
and their locals.
The guidelines for the organizing grants speak about the need
for "strategic planning" and about selecting targets that "have
the potential for shifting the balance of power in a region or
industry" These are important concepts, and I will come back to
In recent years the AFM has taken some small but important steps
in the same direction. Five years ago the IEB established the
Organizing and Recruitment Task Force, to help locals start organizing
and recruitment efforts. Some people were hired and efforts were
begun in several areas. However, the Task Force faced a number
of problems. The most important was a general lack of clarity
as to the goal: was it organizing or was it recruitment, and what
is the difference?
Some of those hired believed that their job was to recruit new
members for a particular local. But this can become a frustrating
job, particularly if there are no long-term prospects for collective
bargaining agreements that improve wages, benefits and working
conditions for the new members. Not only was such recruitment
difficult, it was confounded by the problem of retaining the new
members when there seemed to be little real value in being an
However, through the experience of the task force we learned what
organizing means and came to have a better appreciation of the
fact that the goal of organizing must be collective bargaining
By action of the last convention the AFM now has mandated in the
bylaws an Organizing and Education Department with a director
and a small staff. The question, now, is what kind of resources
will be devoted to this department? What kind of "strategic planning"
will go into its work? What kind of priority will organizing have
within our organization, and what will be the involvement of those
at other than the Federation level?
I believe that we need to take a serious look at the music industry
and consider where we need to focus our resources. In what areas
has the "balance of power" shifted against us? What areas are
strategic to our long-term goals of protecting and advancing musicians
While it is difficult to get a firm grasp on what percentage of
the music business is organized, we can make some educated guesses.
In the recording field, for example, less than half of the recording
going on today is under union contract (and some estimates put
this figure as low as 30 percent). Our strength at the bargaining
table in the recent Phonograph negotiations was a direct function
of the fact that we do not have a larger part of the recording
Basically, we have three years to turn this around before we again
face the recording industry across the bargaining table. It seems
to me that this has to be a top priority. We must build a true
rank-and-file movement among recording musicians in all fields,
strong enough to force more labels to become signatories, to end
the dark dates, and to involve the musicians who are working in
the many new areas of recorded product.
For decades we have ignored jazz record dates, blues recordings
and Hispanic music. More recently, we have turned our backs on
hip-hop and rap rhythm sections. In many parts of the Federation,
we are still questioning whether rock and roll is here to stay.
This cannot continue if we are to survive. We cannot maintain
even our tenuous hold on the industry without substantial progress
in organizing in all areas of recording.
There is an explosion of growth in the cable television industry
Almost none of this is organized. Musicians in this field generally
have no benefits, work with no set scales and have no job security
of any kind. This growing electronic media field is an important
In the musical theatre field, we are in a somewhat stronger position.
Productions in the major theatrical venues around the country
are mostly done under union contracts. However, a large and growing
number of regional and summer theatres are non-union. An entire
tier of split-week touring companies remains non-union, exerting
downward pressure on wages and other standards. while these smaller
summer theatres and split-week tours may require agreements somewhat
different from our larger theatre contracts and Pamphlet B agreement,
it is important to organize musicians who work in this area.
Musicians working in theme parks and music centers like Branson,
Mo., continue to look to the AFM for help. They include many current
or former AFM members. Besides the terrible wages and oppressive
working conditions, most of these full-time musicians have no
health insurance and are losing the opportunity to build on their
pensions. Here, as in theatres, joint organizing with Actors'
Equity and the Stagehands may be productive. AFM efforts in this
direction must continue.
In addition, many touring musicians perform without the benefit
of a union agreement. Festivals of all kinds, from jazz to chamber
music, are produced every year without union agreements.
Even in the symphonic field, there are now major orchestras that
are not covered by AFM agreements. These orchestras are being
used to undercut scales in our film and TV agreements.
Area Is Secure
From New York, Los Angeles and Nashville to San Antonio, Miami,
Branson and Seattle and on to all the cities visited by touring
musicians, all of us in the AFM - the IEB, local officers and
every rank-and-file member - have an enormous stake in organizing.
The simple truth is that there is no secure area of work - no
field that is not threatened by the growing pressure of non-union
and even viciously anti-union employers. It will become increasingly
difficult to raise musicians standards as long as the non-union,
unorganized parts of our industry continue to grow.
None of these tasks can be accomplished by the national organization
alone. All will require unprecedented cooperation between the
Federation and its subsidiary structure. Democratic representation
of musicians at the local workplace level is absolutely essential
to increase our organizational strength. How the AFM's subsidiary
structure might be modified to better represent its members is
an important question.
Restructuring Is Key to the AFM's Renewal
So far we have looked at the AFM's stated objectives, examined
its political structure, discussed its most important collective
bargaining agreement - the phono agreement - and discussed the
importance of efforts to organize non-union electronic media,
theatre, symphonic and touring activities.
Given the changes in the entertainment industry and the giant
corporations that today control a good portion of it, we also
have to take a long and serious look at the structure of the American
Federation of Musicians. I have come to believe that the organization
as a whole is mired in a structure that is outdated, outmoded
and simply inappropriate for the real world of today's music industry.
If we are to survive, change is necessary.
Too many locals are struggling to survive with too few members.
Our structure does not maximize our leverage in national contract
negotiations. In addition, we must make further progress in moving
the AFM toward one-musician, one-vote democratic unionism. All
of this requires re-examining how we operate.
In their day-to-day performances, musicians deal almost exclusively
with locals. Even when their activities occur under the auspices
of national contracts, individual members only rarely have contact
with the Federation. This makes it very difficult for members
to feel genuine workplace solidarity with their fellow musicians
across the United States and Canada.
The Federation, which could serve as the unifying force, is perceived
to be removed from the daily concerns of members and local officers
and, many times, unresponsive to urgent cries for help. While
both perception and reality have changed over the last nine or
ten years, I do not think that further significant improvement
can be made without a change in structure.
All truly effective organizations which have endured over time
contain the capacity for change within their structure. Without
the ability to adequately meet new challenges the AFM is destined
to become a fond relic of the past. However, if we are willing
to take on the hard task of reformation, we can again aspire to
the strength we once had.
Despite the profound changes that have occurred since the AFM
was founded, unions remain the only answer to the problems faced
by working men and women as we prepare to enter the 21st century.
At the beginning of this publication we reprinted most of Article
2 of the AFM Bylaws. This section is the cornerstone of Federation
policy and contains the seeds from which a new and more vital
organization can grow. Here, again, is the beginning of that Article:
object of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States
and Canada shall be to unite all professional musicians without
discrimination, regardless of race, creed, sex or national origin,
through Local Unions into one grand organization...
The central organizational "idea" expressed here is of a strong,
pro-active national union "[uniting] all professional musicians"
and operating administratively through local unions to form "one
grand organization." This does not describe the AFM of today nor
the Federation of the past -but it does set forth an ideal which
may help generate the strength to solve today's and tomorrow's
problems. How do we begin this transformation?
One step is to examine other unions' structures. While not necessarily
models for the AFM, these may provide insight into what works,
and what does not.
The basis for most unions' organizational structure is either
the workplace, a geographical region, and/or a craft or profession.
For industrial workers, the workplace generally dictates structure.
For professional and craft workers, the profession or craft itself,
combined with a geographic region, is often the basis for the
In either situation, if the number of workers in a particular
workplace or profession is small, several workplaces or geographical
areas are grouped together to create a body with the critical
mass to be effective. In some unions these "super locals" are
simply the product of merging smaller locals. The larger locals
then serve to reflect workers' needs, support the national organization
and carry out policies formulated at the national level.
Other unions establish regional structures between the locals
and the national organization. The regional bodies often play
a major role in organizing and collective bargaining, while the
local unions focus on local workplace problems.
The entertainment industry contains a wide variety of organizational
structures. Actors Equity (as well as SAG and AFTRA) has a single
national structure and no local organizations. Regional offices
administer their national agreements.
The structure of the International Alliance of Theatrical and
Stage Employees (IATSE) is based both on region and on craft jurisdictions.
For example, there are two locals for film editors, one on the
west coast and one on the east coast. They basically share jurisdiction
for all film editors across the country. In contrast, the stagehand
locals cover much smaller geographical areas and can include a
wide variety of craft workers, from carpenters to electricians,
in the same local.
Do any of these models fit the needs of musicians and the AFM?
And what can we learn from looking at their structure and operation
Today the Federation is made up of approximately 300 local unions.
Many have fewer than 100 members and cover jurisdictions with
less than a quarter of a million in total population. These locals
are simply too small to be effective. They do not have the resources
to support full-time staff. They often have no collective bargaining
agreements and more often than not function out of an officer's
Many of these small locals are led by dedicated and committed
officers but, given the small amount of full-time work available
for musicians, these officers operate under very difficult circumstances.
They can do little more than promulgate scales for the work that
does exist and then try to collect work dues. Under these circumstances
it is next to impossible to maintain membership, let alone grow.
Some of these locals are led by former or current band leaders
and/or contractors, making it even harder to operate on trade
Another significant portion of the AFM's locals exist in cities
with populations of over half a million. They are often anchored
by symphony orchestras and have the resources for offices and
some full-time staff. Yet these locals have a hard time organizing
in today's climate, and often a good deal of music takes place
What do these locals need in order to grow? If they formed the
anchors of a regional structure that included a greater metropolitan
area of perhaps a million or more, could that strengthen their
ability to protect and advance musicians' welfare? Wouldn't it
be possible, by combining locals in a rational way, to create
larger entities capable of effectively organizing, enforcing contracts
and collective bargaining?
Perhaps less than five percent of the AFM's locals exist in major
cities where the entertainment industry is a significant contributor
to the regional and national economy. Most of the work under national
contracts takes place in these major cities, where the industry
conglomerates that account for much of the film, TV and recording
product on the market are headquarters.
While these are the largest AFM locals and they have a firm grip
on important segments of the entertainment industry, they still
face serious threats. Increasingly, TV, film, jingle and recording
work is being "contracted out" to smaller out-of-town production
companies. No work or wage rates are secure as long as it is possible
to find areas of the country (or the world) where work can be
done non-union, and at rates dictated by employers.
If a regional structure were set up centered in these major metropolitan
areas, could small nearby locals that are viable retain some identity
and autonomy? Could a regional structure help to keep the work
union, even if it does leave town? And wouldn't such a structure
address the problems caused by widely varying casual dub date
and concert scales within relatively contained geographical areas
Finally, shouldn't we take seriously the long-ignored recommendation
in the 1989-90 Roehl Report to the AFM that a trade division concept
be considered? Under such a plan recording musicians, theatre
musicians, symphonic musicians, traveling and touring musicians
and casual club date musicians would be serviced by divisions
dedicated to these fields.
Since our needs and problems are unique, the answers may not lie
in any of the ideas mentioned. But I would hope that they could
serve as a stimulus for discussion, and a starting point. In the
process, we must be careful not to become too enmeshed in politics.
When this happens the best interests of the membership can quickly
How do we avoid this? How do we focus any discussion of restructuring
as much as possible on the needs of the rank-and-file musician?
Maybe by concentrating on some basic principles, such as: Any
new structure must ensure that every member has an equal voice
in his/her union. It must be effective in unifying musicians across
the continent, across areas of work, and across genres of music.
And finally, it must be the most effective structure possible
for dealing with our major adversaries across the bargaining table.
In 1990 then AFM President Marty Emerson created a broadly based
ad-hoc committee, the Deliberative Committee, charged with finding
a way out of the financial corner the Federation had painted itself
into. It worked. The committee came up with a set of bold proposals
to solve our financial difficulties. These were considered and,
in the main, adopted by the 1991 Convention. In 1993 the Convention's
Law and Finance committees, acting in much the same capacity as
the Deliberative Committee, reformulated the IEB's financial recommendations
in a more far-reaching way. They presented a plan which, after
some modification and much discussion, was adopted by that convention.
Isn't it time to take our philosophical and structural problems
as seriously as our financial problems? And isn't it possible
that solving these philosophical and structural problems will
help to solve our financial problems?
I would like to see the formation of a broad-based Federation
Task Force to examine possible modification of the AFM's structure,
similar in make-up to the Deliberative Committee. This should
be done as soon as possible, so that its recommendations can be
considered by the 1997 AFM Convention. The ideas outlined above,
supplemented by ideas submitted from rank-and-file members, Federation
and local officers, convention delegates, and/or possibly even
some input from the AFL-CIO, could be the basis of its agenda.
Such a committee should be as inclusive as possible and should
be chaired by someone known and universally respected. Scheduling
of its meetings should be given the highest priority and the Federation's
resources put at its disposal.
This would be the first step toward a renewed Federation.
ideas expressed here came from many discussions, over the years,
with members and officers of Local 802 and other AFM locals. The
help of Assistant to the President Bill Dennison was invaluable
in this process.
Moriarity, President, Local 802 AFM.