The 93rd Convention of the American Federation of Musicians was held July 19-21 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The 338 delegates in attendance, representing 227 AFM locals in the United States and Canada, re-elected the current AFM leadership and acted favorably on several resolutions that were either submitted or supported by Local 802.
One of the early actions was to rescind a measure enacted at the 1997 convention that allowed the Federation to deduct attorneys’ fees or collection agency costs from settlements won for musicians under electronic media agreements. Among the sponsors of this action were the Recording Musicians Association and Local 802. “This was a travesty when it was passed at the last convention,” said 802 President Bill Moriarity, “and I am glad delegates saw the wisdom in scrapping it.”
Local 802 submitted a resolution to increase the number of convention delegates from large locals and eliminate the cap on the number of votes a local is allowed to cast in the election of officers. AFM bylaws had limited the number of delegates to three, whatever the size of the local, and allowed each local one vote for every 100 members, capped at a maximum of 20 votes. While convention delegates did not adopt the 802 proposal, they agreed to a compromise resolution that increases the maximum number of delegates to six and raises the cap to 30 votes.
Speaking from the convention floor, President Moriarity urged delegates to support this compromise resolution. He said that Local 802 members “find it difficult to feel they are fully a part of the AFM as long as they are unable to have a full voice in the election of leadership.” After a good deal of debate the resolution was passed, 171-133. “This compromise was an important step forward that I believe helps to unify our union,” said Moriarity. “Delegates should be applauded for taking this action.”
Another measure that Local 802 viewed as important was a resolution giving the International Executive Board the authority to assign collective bargaining rights from one local to another, under a procedure that includes consultation with the locals involved and approval by the affected bargaining unit. The importance of the proposal was dramatized during the convention when, on July 20, the Tucson Symphony voted to decertify the AFM as its collective bargaining representative, at least in part because of problems with the Tucson local. If the IEB had had the authority to reassign the symphony to another local, the decertification might have been prevented.
A measure that failed to pass, despite strong backing by 802 and the other larger locals, would have precluded personnel managers and contractors from serving as local officers. Delegates, primarily from small locals, vigorously opposed the proposal, arguing that the issue should be left to “local autonomy.” A modified proposal that would bar only personnel directors was finally adopted. The incoming IEB was directed to study the impact of contractors serving as local officers. Personnel directors, contractors and leaders are currently barred from serving as officers of Local 802.
Delegates rejected a proposal to hold conventions every four rather than every two years, and another proposal to elect officers at every other convention. Convention action eliminated an AFM bylaw that required symphony musicians to join a local where they perform, even if the work is very short-term and done on a limited basis.
Other actions taken that were supported by Local 802 delegates included:
- Measures to strengthen and expand the Symphony-Opera Orchestra Strike Fund and the Theatre Musicians Defense Fund.
- Adoption of a procedure for dealing with a potential merger with another international union. The procedure would require that any merger be approved by a two-thirds vote – taken either at a regular AFM convention, at a special convention called to discuss the issue, or in a mail-ballot referendum of all AFM members in good standing.
- The convention expressed unanimous support for the efforts of Tejano musicians to achieve union representation in the recording field. The STAR campaign (Support Tejano Advancement in Recording) has attracted wide support from labor and religious organizations and elected officials across the country.
Despite positive action on these and several other measures, the convention did not attempt to resolve the Federation’s more fundamental organizational and financial problems. While the AFM’s most recent financial reports show the organization functioning with a surplus, a downturn in the economy could quickly reverse this situation. No new money was made available for organizing, restructuring was not discussed, and proposals from a player conference task force that would have created a new governing structure were shelved.
In his remarks to the convention, AFM President Steve Young did present a number of new initiatives that the union will pursue over the next two years. He announced the formation of a Health and Welfare Task Force to be chaired by Local 802 President Bill Moriarity. The task force will examine the feasibility of a national health fund that would make health insurance coverage available to AFM members anywhere in the United States. A second task force, to be chaired by Vice-President Harold Bradley, will examine how the AFM might better serve the needs of casual musicians.
Young also announced that the AFM will conduct a month-long “millennium membership drive” in the year 2000. The AFM initiation fee will be reduced to $20 during the drive and per-capita payments for new members will be waived for the ensuing quarter. Thus, the total cost to join the AFM for three months during the membership drive will be only $20. Locals may reduce the waiver of a re-entry fee from four years to one year as part of the drive.
Rank-and-file Nashville recording musicians Steve Gibson and John Hammond reported to the convention on the long and difficult fight waged by members of Local 257 to bring the Christian recording labels under contract. The labels’ owners had refused to sign the new AFM Phonograph Record Contract following last year’s industry negotiations.
The 60 recording musicians who do an estimated 90 percent of the Christian recording work in Nashville signed a petition pledging not to work for the labels until they signed the AFM recording contract. They backed up their pledge by stopping work and essentially shutting down Christian recording for five months – until the labels cried uncle and signed the agreement.
John Patrick, president of the British Musicians’ Union, addressed the convention. He welcomed the AFM back into Federation Internationale des Musiciens (FIM), the international musicians’ organization based in Paris. Patrick stressed FIM’s importance in assisting musicians’ unions in developing countries and in the nations of Eastern Europe. “In too many countries,” he said, “there are many fine musicians with very weak unions, subject to exploitation by the global entertainment industry. They need our help.” He noted that FIM’s recent growth – adding eight new unions from South America and nine from West Africa – have added to the organization’s importance in a changing world. He also stressed the important role FIM plays in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and its attempts to protect musicians’ rights.
Patrick urged more cooperation in dealing with the recording industry worldwide, and pointed out that the British Musicians’ Union had played “at least a small part in the settlement” of the Nashville musicians’ struggle with the Christian recording labels. When the labels threatened to move their recording work to London, he said, a call from Local 257 President Harold Bradley alerted the British union, which got the word out to its members. “We think we were able to discourage this work from being done here, and we hope this helped to resolve the issue,” Patrick said.
Delegates also heard from Marc Brownell, an aide to Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.). Peterson, who was unable to attend himself because of a particularly important vote in Congress, is a member of AFM Local 382 in Fargo, N.D.
Brownell told delegates that Rep. Peterson is deeply concerned about the employee status of performing artists. Legislation that would ensure that musicians are treated as employees, have the right to organize and the right to enter into pre-hire agreements, “is a top issue for the Congressman,” Brownell said. He also expressed support for the AFM’s organizing efforts in the Tejano music scene.
As a performing musician, Peterson is working on establishing a Congressional Caucus of Performing Artists. Brownell reported that, to date, 10 potential caucus members are serving in Congress.