Art is labor. It’s really that simple. Creative professionals — cultural workers — have crafted art into a career. While there’s no dispute that the work of musicians, writers, actors, and dancers as well as visual, film and performance artists begins with visceral inspiration, our pride lies also in our success. Art is labor. It’s highly specialized, requires countless hours, and boundless energy. Art is work that deserves to be paid. This is the mission of Local 802 and as such, we stand with all arts unions.This article will explore the fight for workplace justice launched in recent months following expiration of the national screenwriters contract, and also speak to our own upcoming negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).
Over recent months, the Writers Guild of America, faced with demoralizing responses during negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), voted almost unanimously to strike — and strike they have! On both coasts, the Guilds East and West have taken the streets and organized mass rallies, successfully shutting down film production, leaving corporate bean-counters wondering just how they’ll end this quagmire. I think most of us would recommend that the wealthy AMPTP and its horde of attorneys get back to the table and offer these film and television writers a fair contract.
You may wonder just what among the WGA demands is so “radical” to the CEOs, producers, and other profiteers; yes, it’s STREAMING RIGHTS. For those who write the films and TV shows, like those who act in them, and compose and record the music scores, there is no plausible excuse for media streaming on Netflix, Hulu and other services to pay so vastly different than theatrical releases or network television.
In the wake of the WGA strike which has already earned global solidarity, SAG-AFTRA actors, preparing for their own AMPTP negotiations in July, took a pre-emptive strike authorization vote. As Allegro goes to press, negotiations have not yet begun, but the message is clear. SAG-AFTRA’s President Fran Drescher stated in June: “Together we lock elbows and in unity we build a new contract that honors our contributions in this remarkable industry, reflects the new digital and streaming business model and brings ALL our concerns for protections and benefits into the now!”
HOW MUSICIANS ARE AFFECTED
The membership of the American Federation of Musicians, our international union, is as diverse as the work itself, from orchestral concerts to Broadway houses, nightclubs to catering halls, colleges, and recording studios to an array of performance spaces over many miles, and every conceivable audience in the U.S. and Canada. And every one of these workplaces includes major concerns over streaming rights, both livestreaming in performance and the legacy of same when producers and venues maintain exclusive control over video on-demand libraries. By what authority do producers lay claim over OUR ART?
Studio musicians on film and television scoring dates have felt the indelible sting, along with WGA and SAG-AFTRA union kin, of the rapidly expanding and wildly successful direct-to-stream market. Up until now, only the studio heads and producers have reaped the profits; the professionals who create the means for this market are left closed out, struggling. What’s wrong with this picture? (pun surely intended).
FAIR SHARE FOR MUSICIANS: THE AFM FIGHT THIS FALL
Months ago, I was proud to accept a national assignment among my local duties, helping build Fair Share for Musicians. The steering committee of this organization, composed of Local 47 and Local 802 rank-and-file members as well as a Local 47 organizer and me, and headed by 47’s Vice President, meets weekly in the creation of a nationwide campaign for our own battle in the streaming war. The campaign is fully supported by the AFM’s player conference for recording, the Recording Musicians Association (RMA).
This November, the national contract for film and TV score recording expires. And guess what? One month later, so does the national CBA for live television musicians. These near-simultaneous contract expirations offer the AFM a wonderfully unique position of power — particularly when paired with our writer and actor cohorts — to sever the stranglehold that corporations have clamped around streaming.
Our ability to gather together over these two major contracts will stand us in good stead in building power to take on music streaming services like Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify and other sources. In Local 802 meetings with indie artists that I’ve called or participated in, as well as within our Jazz Advisory Committee, the message from members is clear: we need national, ultimately international streaming protections with a contract similar to that for major-label recordings
WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW
The larger picture remains in our sights, but it needs to be realized as part of the more immediate goals. And this begins now. We ask you to join the rallies of the WGA East as often as possible. Solidarity with the writers, and then with the actors, is vital to our upcoming contract fights. Hey, their fight is OUR FIGHT.
Want to find out more? Please visit https://www.wgacontract2023.org/strike/picket-schedules-and-locations and https://www.sagaftra.org/sag-aftra-members-approve-strike-authorization-9791-yes-vote for info on WGA and SAG-AFTRA, respectively.
Moreover, I urge 802 members to learn more about streaming within our AFM realm. Stop by https://fairshareformusicians.org/ for news and downloads specific to these upcoming contracts. The Web site is new and will be updated soon, but it’s an important resource. Also, consider following the Fair Share for Musicians social media pages.
Even if you don’t work in studios for film/TV scoring, or on the air in a live television band, remember: this battle will be the shot heard ‘round the world, moving at the speed of streaming!
You can reach Local 802 Organizing Director John Pietaro at firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 245-4802, ext. 230