Charges, Bylaws and Common Sense

Recording Vice-President's Report

Volume CIX, No. 7/8July, 2009

Bill Dennison

Looking past political agendas to do what we’re elected to do: fight for musicians!

The Local 802 membership meeting on June 10th was crowded and contentious – far more contentious than I believe it needed to be.

A good portion of the meeting was devoted to charges against the three full-time officers and the nine members of the Local 802 Executive Board.

The charges allege that officers exceeded their authority by ruling that earlier charges filed against two of our officers were submitted beyond the 60-day statute of limitations contained in the 802 bylaws.

At issue were not the original charges, which were indeed “time-barred,” but whether or not the board had the authority to make such a “procedural” ruling.

The Executive Board and union counsel believed that under our bylaws we not only had the right but the responsibility to make such a determination.

Otherwise, the union could be constantly tied in knots by year-old or even decade-old charges of little or no merit.

Common sense would argue that there needs to be some level of timeliness or seriousness to charges against officers before they are presented to a membership meeting.

The other side argued that any charge, no matter how old or inconsequential, had to be presented directly to a membership meeting. It defies logic that an organization could operate on that basis. But, giving the devil its due, one could interpret our bylaws that way.

Given these different interpretations and the fact that both sides firmly believe their view is correct, it would make sense for the union to ask an independent outside counsel to look at our bylaws and, in the context of what is appropriate and typical for unions and organizations like ours, to give us a clear recommendation. If the bylaws need to be re-written or clarified, let’s get it done.

Getting back to the meeting, it is hard for me to understand its tenor – and the behavior of some.

Local 802 member David Finck, who had brought the charge and was presumably the aggrieved party, was calm.

Others were simply out of control.

A former Executive Board member took control of a microphone and felt it his duty to interrupt the meeting whenever the spirit moved him.

Several took turns shouting down members with whom they disagreed.

It was simply inappropriate behavior. And to what end? What is this really all about?

Finck’s original charges were based on a survey distributed at a meeting outside the union and organized by a broad group of folks involved in New York City’s recording scene. Finck took issue with the survey and filed charges against some officers, followed by additional charges, and then charges against all the officers.

No matter how inconsequential, these charges have now become political fodder both within Local 802 and within the AFM.

In both settings they are a source of division that has nothing to do with helping musicians and everything to do with political agendas.

At Local 802 the charges have been seized upon by the political group that supported our former president. They have been critical of the current officers from the day we took office with a level of bitterness that I simply do not understand.

As one member suggested, “We haven’t figured out how to be a two-party union.”

That is, once an election is over, the parties should work together to move the organization forward. Differences become constructive criticism that leads to meaningful debate – not charges.

That may be difficult, but it is certainly something we should all strive for.

Within the AFM, as many know, political problems have also become an unfortunate diversion.

Local 802 and several sister locals along with the AFM have struggled to develop some common-sense approaches to bringing jobs and recording work back to the U.S. and Canada under agreements that we think are appropriate for new parts of a changing business.

There are others who believe we can simply say no and ignore the manifest changes caused by technology and a global economy.

While I believe all of us have the same goal – protecting jobs and income – we cannot accomplish that if we fail to recognize and adapt to change.

It is no secret that union members are increasingly engaged in nonunion work to survive. That in itself tells us the union must find ways to adapt and develop strategies to empower these members. It’s the only way to protect our income, pension fund and health benefits.

How we do this in a rapidly changing industry is a legitimate subject of debate. It should not be the subject of charges and lawsuits.

As one member told me, “All of this time and effort and I didn’t even get a gig out of it.” It’s true.

Hours of officers, union staff, and members’ time have been and are being consumed by charges and bylaw debates that have absolutely no practical impact on the extraordinarily difficult problems we face today.

Not a day goes by that doesn’t present President Landolfi, Financial Vice President Blumenthal and myself with a new crisis – another orchestra on the verge of collapse, another arts organization with no money for payroll, another member in need of emergency assistance. It’s unconscionable that some continue to play politics in this time of crisis.

Three years ago we faced a similar internal debate, although far more serious because we had a president who actually had violated federal law in his misuse of union funds.

I clearly remember one of that former officer’s supporters declaring at a meeting, “Let him do his job; there’s an election in December where the members can decide.”

That is true today as well. The ultimate judgment of the members is at the ballot box. In the meantime, we’re going to try and do the best job we can on behalf of Local 802 members.