A Coast-to-Coast Solution

Views from the Board

Volume CV, No. 11November, 2005

Jay Schaffner

At the recent AFM convention, members sent all of us a loud signal that they want a union that is inclusive and united. I’m happy to report that the IEB has met this challenge and bridged a gap that had threatened to divide us.

What was this gap? Prior to the convention, the Recording Musicians Association was advocating for an increase in the ratification eligibility thresholds — the amount of work that recording musicians must do to be able to ratify collective bargaining agreements. (See the July/August issue of Allegro for more background.) The RMA’s position was that increasing the ratification eligibility thresholds would give more appropriate representation to the major stakeholders working under the agreements — basically, that full-time working musicians should be allowed to influence and ratify the contracts under which they work.

We were concerned about this because professional musicians in New York and elsewhere do a variety of work: freelance classical, recording, performance, weddings and Broadway, for instance. And depending upon the mix in any given year, they might or might not be able to reach the eligibility threshold, depending on how high that threshold is.

A lot of debate and discussion surrounding this issue took place at a meeting in May in the 802 Club Room, which allowed rank-and-file musicians to directly question members of the IEB. It was the first meeting of its kind.

Following our meeting, there were more gatherings in other cities.

Finally, following the convention, the question was called. What should the eligibility threshold be? The matter was pressing since it was time for recording musicians to vote on the new theatrical film and television film agreements.

The two locals whose members perform the majority of work under the agreements — New York City (802) and Los Angeles (47) — felt they had a responsibility to help unify the AFM while addressing the concerns of rank-and-file recording musicians.

The two presidents, David Lennon and Hal Espinosa, told AFM President Tom Lee that they thought they could work out a compromise and would seek to reach a consensus that would be helpful to the IEB in its deliberations on this issue. They turned to Phil Ayling, who is the international president of the RMA and a member of Local 47. They also called on me for suggestions. We sought a deal that would meet all objectives.

In the end, we found a solution that brings all parties together. The IEB approved it and we think it’s the best of all worlds.

In a nutshell, the eligibility threshold will increase, but in a way that should work for everyone. Under the old system, musicians had to earn $2,500 in work over a two-year period. The new rate is $3,500. While this is an increase, it really means that musicians only have to do two additional film sessions each year to make the new eligibility threshold. And remember — work under both agreements combined is applied towards the threshold.

Also, for future ratifications, musicians will vote separately on each agreement and there will be different eligibility thresholds for each agreement. The reasoning behind this is that we recognize that the work under each agreement is very different. The work for television films often involves less musicians playing on less sessions. There is simply more music in feature films. Television films also tend to include more low-budget product — and low-budget sessions in general engage fewer musicians. So we think there is a basis to separate the two agreements.

We anticipate that the ratification level for theatrical film will remain at $3,500. We are urging that the ratification level for television film should be set at $2,000. We think these levels reflect how the work is really done by the working musicians in the field.

This proposal to split the thresholds for each agreement is tentative — no decision has been made by the IEB yet. (There’s time — the next round of ratification won’t happen until four years from now.) But the concept came from talking to the musicians themselves in New York and L.A.

By solving the eligibility problem in this way, the IEB has proved that they want to move the union forward and make the AFM a united organization representing the needs of all working musicians. I think it was a great solution.

Jay Schaffner is an elected member of the Executive Board and the supervisor of the union’s Recording Department.