A new organization has been in contact with some of our members with the goal of raising funds. I refer to the “Fareplay Legal Action Fund,” an organization in Santa Monica, California, which has undertaken the task of raising funds for “legal bills on behalf of our musical community.” It has set the goal of raising $1.2 million per year for the task. It seems we are in uncharted territory here: at least part of our membership may be at war with the AFM.
Concurrent with this, a petition is being circulated in New York. It is authored by members of the Executive Committee of the New York RMA in response to threatened action by the AFM International Executive Board against the Recording Musicians Association. It advocates to the IEB that it not revoke the Player Conference status of the RMA International within the AFM.
Given that little information was provided with the petition, I believe members who are approached need a more complete picture of the situation before deciding whether or not to sign the petition, or whether to contribute to Fareplay if they are approached by that organization.
It is probably no secret that the relationship between the RMA International and the leadership of the AFM has been contentious in recent years. I will not attempt to outline the history of this conflict, but will limit my comments to issues surrounding the dues structure passed at the last AFM convention, which, in my opinion, has added fuel to the fire.
Many will remember that there were a number of proposals put forward at the 2007 AFM Convention to bridge the funding gap that the AFM faces in future years. The proposals included sizeable increases in per capita dues owed by locals to the Federation, increases in work dues owed to the Federation for symphonic work, institution of Federation work dues on theatre work and establishment of work dues on “back-end” payments under recording contracts.
As a member of the Finance Committee I expended a great deal of effort to mitigate the impact of any increase on Local 802 and its members. I also argued vociferously against the back-end work dues because I thought the Federation should make a greater effort to obtain the agreement of the RMA before imposing this policy in order to avoid the very situation we now face. In the end, Local 802 representatives were successful in preventing an increase of work dues for symphonic and theatre musicians and in limiting the size of the per capita increase. The convention, however, passed a package that included work dues on the “back end.” Our local voted against this package.
Having outlined our opposition to the dues packages and the principles upon which it is based, I should say, however, that there is no doubt in my mind that the decision of the convention should be honored by those who work under AFM recording contracts.
First, representatives of the RMA had the same access to the Finance Committee as did ICSOM and ROPA delegates; their case was fully heard by the body that is charged with formulating a dues package for consideration by the convention.
It is also a fact that the AFM negotiates all recording contracts, including the back-end provisions, and has on a number of occasions foregone wage increases at the behest of the RMA in order to increase these yearly payments.
It is only fair that work dues be paid on income generated and increased by the collective bargaining power of the union.
Theatre and symphonic musicians, who pay dues on all of their income, cannot continue to share a disproportionate burden of the cost of running the Federation.
Unfortunately, the fall-out over this and other issues that divide the RMA and the Federation has continued, as we at Local 802 had anticipated.
Charges have been filed against some members of the Federation alleging that they are in violation of Article 10, Section 3 of the bylaws, which prohibits membership in a rival organization undermining the interests of the AFM.
A class action suit against the Federation has been filed on behalf of members of Local 47 to recapture work dues that have been paid under some AFM agreements.
As I pointed out above, Fareplay is actively seeking contributions, apparently to support legal action against the Federation.
It is hard to say how these actions will end and what will be the effect on the AFM and — indirectly — Local 802.
One thing is certain: none of this will make the Federation a stronger and more effective advocate for musicians.
Given the historic antipathy that some rank-and-file musicians feel toward the AFM, it may be tempting to align oneself with any group or organization that finds itself in opposition. This is more than a little dangerous.
I certainly believe that the AFM is woefully in need of change and restructuring, but if the Federation fails, another organization will not easily pick up where it leaves off.
Much of what is found in Federation agreements, including the much-valued back-end payments, would likely be lost. It is folly to destroy the national organization that we have without a clear plan to preserve all that is good about AFM agreements.
Furthermore, whether it is the Federation or some other organization, any national entity will not run on air. That is my final and most important point. At times there are hard choices to be made, particularly when it comes to finances. If we cannot agree that all payments negotiated by the union require a work dues payment, we have to acknowledge the fact that the result will be higher dues on those wages that are subject to dues deductions. Before any Local 802 member signs a document in support of the RMA International in this dispute, or sends a check to an organization which has as its purpose the financing of legal proceedings against the Federation, he or she should consider the ultimate result. That result may be higher dues for many who are even less able to pay than those who are now expressing outrage. That result may be higher dues for you.
Orchestrators are artists, and the New York Times wrote a credible story on Aug. 17 about the skill and creativity of orchestration. However, the article implied that orchestrators’ wages eat up so much of a budget that producers use this as one reason to utilize smaller ensembles and hire fewer musicians. President Landolfi wrote a letter to the editor of the Times, which was published on Aug. 31. We’re reprinting it below.
To the Editor:
Re “Off the Stage, What’s Behind the Music” by Susan Elliott [Aug. 17]:
Thanks to Ms. Elliott for describing how glorious a full live orchestra sounds on Broadway and sharing with readers the important creative work of Broadway’s talented orchestrators.
The cost of creating the wonderful music of shows like “South Pacific” or “Gypsy” each night on Broadway, however, are not as Ms. Elliott suggests, “staggering.”
For an $8 million to $10 million Broadway musical (hardly an unusual budget today) the cost of orchestrating and copying — putting the music on the stands — is typically less than $175,000, or barely 2 percent.
This is a tiny fraction of what is typically spent on sets, costumes, lighting, etc., which quickly runs into the millions. As a part of a $120 ticket for a musical like South Pacific, the orchestra costs are about $15, a bargain by any standards and a compelling argument for the full lush orchestrations that Ms. Elliot and audiences so love.