New Year, New Challenges

Recording Vice President's Report

Volume CIV, No. 1January, 2004

Bill Dennison

First of all, thank you for electing me to the position of Recording Vice President. I look forward to serving the members of Local 802 and working with the other elected officers, President David Lennon and Financial Vice President Jay Blumenthal.

2004 is going to be a busy year for all of us. At the top of the list are the national elections in November. It’s frankly hard to imagine working people in our country making any progress on a host of issues without changing the administration in Washington and the direction of Congress. Over my several decades in the labor movement I have not witnessed a more anti-union, anti-worker group in charge of our national government. We need to be an active part of the labor movement’s efforts to change this country’s direction by changing the occupant of the White House and as many anti-labor members of Congress as possible.

Members passed a dues increase in November, half of which is mandated for public relations efforts. I believe the most important thing we can do with those resources is keep in the public’s mind the value and unique quality of live performance art. Whether it’s theatre, ballet, opera, classical, jazz, rock, a wedding or other special event – nothing can replace live music. And New York City happens to be the world capital of live performance art in its many and varied forms.

On April 15 our master club date agreement expires. This is one of our union’s most important contracts. It protects scale wages and provides access to health insurance and pension benefits for hundreds of musicians who would otherwise have no benefits. We are determined to protect and improve that agreement.

In June our agreement with the New School University covering teaching artists in the Jazz and Contemporary Music Program expires. As with the club date contract, this agreement insures access to health and pension benefits for over 70 jazz musicians. It was Local 802’s first music education contract and it continues to set a pattern for our subsequent agreements with six other music education programs. As such it too is a contract that we will fight hard to move forward.

Around the same time the AFM is hoping to begin negotiations with the recording industry for the new Sound Recording contract (formerly called the Phono Agreement). The focus of these talks will be the revolution taking place in the distribution of musicians’ recorded products. How do we insure that those who create the music, whether side musician or royalty artist, are properly compensated for distribution of music through the exploding digital universe? It’s a daunting fight and one that will require a new level of unity on the part of recording musicians nationwide.

With that in mind I was fortunate to be able to participate in a meeting of the International Recording Musicians Association (RMA) held at Local 802 this past December. The Sound Recording negotiation was, of course, discussed. Unfortunately a crowded agenda didn’t permit the kind of in-depth discussion and planning that is required to prepare for negotiations of this nature. Our hope is that a national meeting of locals involved in the recording business will be convened in the next few months to continue this discussion.

Particularly in these negotiations, we make a serious mistake if we view ourselves more as a professional association and less as a union involved in a fight. As the former we make demands and then complain when we are rebuffed. As the latter we educate, organize, and mobilize to insure we have the power to win a fair contract. That is exactly what Nashville recording musicians, members of AFM Local 257 did two years ago to bring the Jive/Zomba label under contract.

Lastly, on a personal note, it’s with mixed emotions that I begin a new year at Local 802 without Bill Moriarity. Bill served as President of Local 802 for the last eleven turbulent years. His was always a steady hand at the controls. He was a friend and mentor and I will always be indebted to him.