A little more than three years ago, we at Local 802 began a discussion about the future of the AFM. Our primary concern was to maintain and increase our strength at the bargaining table for the Federation recording contracts, which we considered to be the yardstick by which the musicians’ union is measured in the industry and, by extension, among the entertainment public at large.
At least in part because of this discussion and the reports pertaining to it that appeared in this column, I was elected to the International Executive Board in 1995. While serving as a Federation officer, I came to understand that the initiatives we were proposing could not be put into practice due to the AFM’s dire financial condition. This realization led directly to the turmoil of the 1997 Convention, where another IEB member – Ray Hair of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth) – and I insisted that delegates examine the most recent financial report and take appropriate measures to put our house in order.
Acting through the joint Law and Finance Committee, the Convention did address these problems. It recommended a stringent financial package that included strict cost-containment measures. For the last two years the AFM has been operating under these guidelines and its financial picture has improved fairly dramatically. Much credit for this series of events should go both to the individual delegates to the 1997 Convention, and to the AFM officers put in place by that Convention.
However, we should never lose sight of the fact that a union is not judged by its financial statements alone. More often, its philosophical, political and social positions are the yardstick. The most important measurement, as I indicated above, is its strength in its employment field.
To have this strength we must continue the Federation’s economic recovery while at the same time turning our attention to activities that will maintain the leverage we now have and expand it in areas where we still need it. Chief among these activities is organizing, in all its various aspects.
Organizing is, of course, an endeavor with a price tag and no guarantees (or, rather, only one guarantee – if you don’t do it you continue to decline). But, more to the point, it is a vision of the union that demands the commitment of International officers, local officers and important rank-and-file membership groups.
Coming out of the 1999 Convention, I believe we are prepared to begin to consider some new ideas and activities.
Elsewhere in this issue the Recommendations and Resolutions adopted by the delegates are summarized and commented on. Taken individually, none of the changes – the transfer of bargaining rights, a mechanism for merger, the increase in the number of delegates for locals of more than 2,000 members – is startling.
But considered together – and especially considered in the light of a newly demonstrated willingness by delegates to look seriously at the important concerns expressed by the working musician groups, and to continue to discuss them – these measures reflect a new outlook within the AFM, along with an emerging realization on the part of international and local leadership that workplace concerns are a union’s greatest responsibility and strength.
The discussions that took place within the Law, Finance and Measures & Benefits committees, and between those committees and individual delegates expressing opinions on various bylaws modification, was open and serious. No ideas were dismissed out of hand. Newly modified proposals were given extraordinary consideration and, where no immediate solution could be aschieved, further discussion was proposed.
Speaking personally, I thought that the floor vote on the increase in delegate strength and electoral votes for locals of more than 2,000 members was an amazing demonstration of trust and confidence on the part of a large majority of delegates in a much smaller number of large locals’ officers. I can only assure you that the increased responsibility that this carries with it will be borne in mind.
All of the delegates share the credit for this change. We must all continue to grow as we travel this road together.