The 20 musicians who performed on the MTV Video Music Awards show on Sept. 7 with the musical group ‘NSYNC did so under union contract, after a whirlwind organizing campaign by Local 802.
This was an important achievement for several reasons. It brought a job involving artists on the non-signatory Jive Records label under contract. It made an inroad into the largely nonunion territory of cable television. And it means that the musicians who played on the show – ‘NSYNC band members and the New York studio musicians hired to augment the band – received scale wages of $1,091, full pension and health benefits and all applicable premiums, and will receive new use payments if the music from the show is used in any other form.
Jive Records is a hugely successful label (its artists have produced three of the ten top-selling albums in the last year) but a non-signatory to the AFM phono agreement. Four contractors were approached to do the MTV awards show – but when they learned that it was a nonunion job for Jive Records, all of them turned it down, and some of them alerted the union.
In the two-and-a-half days leading up to the show, Local 802 put out the word that musicians taking part in it would be violating union bylaws and risking their union membership. This brought an immediate response from the label, which instructed one of its subsidiaries, Reunion Records, to sign a union contract.
The key to success said Jay Schaffner, supervisor of Local 802’s Recording Department, was the unity of the musicians involved. “The key is that musicians have to know that they’re not alone in a free market economy – and that when they act together, and in concert with their union, they can effect change,” he said. “We want to put the word out that if anyone is called for a date with an artist signed to Jive or Silvertone or Zomba records, they should call the union. With sufficient advance notice, there is a good chance that we can turn these particular dates into union dates.”
But he points out that organizing cable programs and the growing nonunion sector of the record industry requires a united effort by the AFM and its locals. “That’s because production can take place anywhere in the country, or the world. It’s not enough for Local 802 to be vigilant and committed to organizing. Unless the same thing is being done by other locals and the Federation, all we will succeed in doing is driving the work out of New York.”
The cable industry, which is largely nonunion, recently passed a significant benchmark. Cable stations, taken together, now have more viewers than the networks, as a group. And the gap is likely to widen since the broadcast bandwidths available to network television are fully utilized, while cable has room for almost unlimited expansion.
The growth of a nonunion sector in television is paralleled by the growth of nonunion recording labels. As indicated above, Jive Records produces three of this year’s top-selling artists: Backstreet Boys, ‘NSYNC and Britney Spears. Schaffner pointed out that if these artists’ most recent albums were to sell 10 to 15 million copies each, that represents about three million dollars the Special Payments Fund would have received if the recordings had been made under union contract. “Until we can get Jive Records to sign the full phonograph agreement, there is a possibility that we can get them to sign one-shot deals on a project-by-project basis,” he said. “So it’s important that musicians called to work for any Jive artist contact the union immediately.”