Solidarity in Las Vegas

Views from the Board

Volume 123, No. 7July, 2023

Bud Burridge

What has the AFM done for you?

Probably more than you know.

The idea of holding a national convention in Las Vegas might sound like a cliche of historic proportions. However, the recent AFM Convention was all business. Delegates of 132 locals, large and small, from across the United States and Canada, gathered for the four-day event, along with AFM officers, staff, attorneys, a parliamentarian and even guests who attended to observe the proceedings.

During full workdays, delegates debated and ruled on resolutions proposed by the International Executive Board, locals or individuals, to address specific issues. These resolutions were first examined by committees, who met in the evening to discuss, amend and ultimately recommend, favorably or unfavorably, to the larger body. Delegates had little downtime.

I attended the 2023 AFM Convention (my fourth), mindful that unions face attacks not only from employers, but frequently from members as well. Social media, of course, makes it easier for any individual complaint, fact-based or not, to be accepted as truth, sometimes spreading a virus of unjustified outrage.

Coincidentally, many of this year’s speakers seemed to address this very concern.

There are only two reasons to have a union: to organize and to negotiate.”

  – AFM President Ray Hair

The familiar platitudes , “unity” and “solidarity,” were often mentioned, but Actors Equity President Kate Shindle noted an important distinction: Solidarity is not unanimity. It is consensus.”

Outgoing AFM President Ray Hair added a related thought: “What is necessary for employment success is unified collective action. We need to reject the self-centered path of individualism. Only disunity can defeat us.”

Some speakers addressed the dangers of workers partnering with employers.

SAG/AFTRA negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland observed, Employers dont see creators as partners; they see them as resources to be exploited.” President Hair agreed, stating, We are senior partners when things are going well, an asterisk when theres a crisis.”

The largest arts funding is not from governments, corporations or employers, but from underpaid, underemployed workers.”

 – ActorsEquity Association President, Kate Shindle

Other speakers included John F. Smith from the International Federation of Musicians (yes, that is a thing). We heard reports from the Music Performance Trust Fund, Sound Recording and Film Special Payments, SoundExchange TEMPO, Intellectual Property Rights, the Office of Labor-Management Standards and more. Alfonso Pollard was acknowledged for his lobbying efforts (including the pension, terrestrial broadcast rights and instrument carry-on among many others).

All these organizations face challenges and successes managed by people working on our behalf behind the scenes. It’s shocking how much work is done around the world against incredible odds by such unsung heroes. (For a revealing glimpse of how nameless people get things done within our national government, I recommend Michael Lewis’s excellent book, The Fifth Risk).

An election was held. Retiring officers Ray Hair, Jay Blumenthal and Bruce Fife will be succeeded by Tino Gagliardi, Ken Shirk and Dave Pomeroy. I believe Local 802 President Gagliardi’s years of union experience and negotiating expertise will serve him well in his new office. It’s noteworthy that he is also the first 802 president to lead the AFM (Local 802 Executive Board member Sara Cutler, another formidable negotiator and union activist, will now serve as 802 President).

Importantly, some candidates for office who were not elected expressed their respect for the outcome and their commitment to continue serving the AFM. That kind of unanimity is uncommon in American politics. Union musicians are setting a fine example on the national level. We should support and emulate that behavior. It represents real solidarity, which helps us to succeed.

Personal experience is the best teacher in the world of labor. I encourage Local 802 musicians to get involved. Join a committee, participate in negotiations and eventually run for office. Build our collective strength by contributing your own solidarity.

Kudos to fellow 802 delegates Lynne Cohen, Martha Hyde and Greg Riley. See several of my photos from the AFM convention below…