Recording Musicians Benefited From Union Intervention in ’99

Collections Approach $1.5 Million Mark

Volume C, No. 4April, 2000

Jay Schaffner

Local 802 recording musicians received almost $1.5 million in grievance collections and late payment penalties in 1999 – a huge sum they would not have received without union intervention.

Grievance collections ran about 25 percent higher than the previous year – $1,282,730 in 1999, compared to $1,037,185 a year earlier. Meantime, the union collected a record $196,708 in late payment penalties. Taken together, the 1999 collections totaled $1,479,437, or about 4 percent of the total scale wages 802 members received under national recording contracts in 1999.

These figures point up the continuing importance of the union’s contract administration and enforcement efforts in a segment of the industry which generates high payrolls along with frequent contract violations.

Almost half of the total grievance collections resulted from violations of the phono agreement. Local 802 collected $591,632 for 1,043 musician sessions (compared to $508,066 in ’98). Grievances under the videotape agreement produced $243,372, or 19 percent of the total, for 974 musicians. (This was a 30 percent increase over the $186,316 collected in 1998.) Violations of the jingle and cable agreements each generated about $135,000, just over 10 percent of the total, while film and public television produced $73,048 and $71,926 respectively. The remaining $33,640 was generated by violations of the radio agreements. Collections in virtually every field were higher than in 1998.

Local 802 stepped up its collection efforts in 1994, and the results were dramatic and immediate. Since 1995, union collections have never fallen below $1 million a year – and usually they have been substantially higher. And each year we have predicted that they were bound to taper off, as employers became more familiar with contract requirements or cleaned up their act to avoid further penalties. Yet collection levels have remained high throughout the 1990s.

One explanation may be that producers and employers are operating within the constraints of an international market, which is forcing them to cut corners. Unfortunately, many have chosen to try to cut labor expenses, making the union’s contract administration work more important than ever.

Recent issues of Allegro have reflected an ongoing discussion in the AFM about the loss of recording work to low-wage, nonunion areas. This is a difficult issue with many contradictory aspects. For example, concern is sometimes expressed that stringent enforcement of our agreements drives the work elsewhere. Yet, despite the fact that work has been lost, the volume of filed dates for phono sessions has increased in New York, as a result of Local 802’s vigilance. While strong enforcement may drive some work away, it also creates conditions for musicians to report work and ensure that union standards are maintained.

The phono agreement: Sound tracks produced the largest portion of these collections last year. You’ve Got Mail, 8 Millimeter, A Night at the Roxbury, Snake Eyes, Excess Baggage – those were all situations that required the union to work closely with contractors to ensure that musicians received everything they were due. Another important source of collections involved efforts by the labels to cut costs even on recordings made by some of their top-selling artists, by underpaying the salary or benefits of the musicians who contributed so much to the product. And a major portion of our collections continues to come from the release in CD form of previously unreleased material.

Standard television: The most significant increase in collections, over the previous year, was under this agreement. The number of musicians affected more than doubled, and the dollars increased by 30 percent. In addition, a very substantial part of the late penalties we collected were for regular television shows that are being paid late. There is a growing tendency to produce cheaper shows – but these shows still need new themes, and themes require regular payments on a timely basis. In addition, more musicians are now employed on a regular basis on television shows than at any time in recent memory, and Local 802 successfully pursued many grievances on their behalf.

Cable television remains the largest nonunion sector of our industry. The recent mergers of cable giants with more traditional media empires will generate pressure to bring regular television down to the level of cable. It seems clear that, unless we are able to bring cable networks like MTV, VH1, BET, A&E and Discover into the union fold, the overall wages and conditions of musicians working under the AFM’s regular and cable television agreements will gradually decline.

The jingle agreement: Grievances last year benefited a substantially larger number of musicians than ever before. Local 802 worked closely with the Federation’s Electronic Media Services Division to look up the original contracts and contact the agencies for new use payments for musicians who performed on tracks recorded in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s – product that is now in great demand for commercials. We were able to collect almost double the wages achieved a year earlier from jungle grievances, payments that were shared by 560 musicians.

Film work is definitely declining in the United States, and musicians in both Los Angeles and New York are suffering. Despite this, we collected $73,000 for 118 musicians in grievances under the film agreement.

Effective enforcement of the agreements requires cooperation between members and their unions. The box below lists information needed to confirm that you have been paid in full and on time – or, if this is not the case, for the union to pursue a grievance. We encourage every musician involved in the recording field to gather and save the information whenever you are called for a job.