Let’s start with some good news this month. We have an agreement with the Stamford Symphony and we were able to avoid a strike. The memorandum was still being prepared as Allegro went to press, so we’ll report on the details next month. Thanks to our hardworking and courageous Stamford musicians’ committee as well as to Financial Vice President Jay Blumenthal.
More good news: the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is back – with a union contract in place. There were many of us who believed that DSO management had intended to bust the union completely. Thankfully, musicians fought back with a highly successful campaign. I can tell you that the AFM was involved both up front and behind the scenes helping the orchestra’s deeply committed musicians. This is a victory for all of us. Thanks to the Local 802 members who supported this effort. And thanks to the audiences in Detroit who came through for the musicians.
In the end, Detroit musicians succeeded in fighting back a real union-busting effort. But they also agreed to cuts, including 23 percent of their base pay.
These are truly dark times. Unions everywhere are on the defensive, fighting to maintain wages and benefits in a financially challenging atmosphere.
The larger solution is to get out of this recession – but not on the backs of artists, working people or the poor.
I have to say something publicly to the DSO management which I hope will be heard loud and clear in New York as well: was it worth it? You forced a strike…why? Musicians were willing to submit to binding arbitration. You lost credibility in the eyes of the public, and now you have to mend bridges with both musicians and audience members. You have to start from scratch with many relationships, including donors. You lost so much…and for what? Musicians know how to compromise; we know how to work together. But if you make unreasonable demands, we have no choice but to fight back.
UNION FINANCES WERE STRONG IN 2010
In this issue of Allegro, we print the audited financial reports for the calendar year Jan. 1 thru Dec. 31, 2010 as well as the official reports from the financial vice president and the controller.
I’m happy to tell you that the union’s finances were strong in 2010. We realized a gain of almost a half million dollars and came in under budget, in welcome contrast to the loss of $180,000 in 2009. Additionally, our reserve remains strong.
It’s too soon to say that the Great Recession is over, even though economists would like us to believe that. It continues to be a worrisome time for arts funding in America.
We know that New York City is the flagship community of the arts in this country and that Local 802 has a huge responsibility to keep the arts front and center. We don’t take this lightly.
Our job is to run the union as efficiently as possible, but we also know that you can’t cut your way out of a recession.
We will do everything in our power not only to protect our musicians but to defend the arts in general. That takes money, time and commitment.
The bottom line is that we’re not going to pinch pennies – we’re going to invest in the future. We have no choice.
UPDATE ON RECORDING NEGOTIATIONS
The AFM and the record companies are in negotiations right now for the Sound Recording Labor Agreement, which is the AFM’s master recording contract. The recording industry is in a state of real flux and it’s safe to say that nobody knows where the future lies.
However, we can agree on one thing with the record labels: piracy hurts everyone’s bottom line.
I don’t think I’ve said it here before, so let me tell members now: don’t pirate music! That means you shouldn’t download music without paying for it and please consider not “sharing” your music collection with the world. This ultimately hurts your fellow musicians.
For the moment, music labels are still making money and they are still hiring musicians. We have to support that.
The union side representation is strong – we have delegates from Los Angeles, Chicago, Nashville, Toronto, and, of course, New York.
Add into the mix the RMA – the player conference representing recording musicians – and you have a front line of true experts in the field.
The field of New Media is and will remain a large component in these talks and I’m confident that we have the right people sitting at the table to address this component in an insightful and knowledgeable fashion.
Also affected by these negotiations is the future of the Music Performance Trust Fund, which provides funding for live concerts and work opportunities for musicians. We are committed to ensure that the MPTF stays alive.
PERFORMANCE RIGHTS FOR MUSICIANS
On the legislative front, we recently sent Paul Molloy to Washington, D.C. for Arts Advocacy Day. This is when arts organizations around the country – including the AFM – push for better arts funding.
Paul carried with him a letter signed by the presidents of all of the AFM locals in New York, including myself. He hand-delivered the letter to 25 members of the New York congressional delegation, urging them not to co-sponsor Concurrent Resolution 21, which opposes performance rights for artists whose work is played on AM/FM radio.
We’ve covered this issue many times in Allegro, but here’s the brief summary: when songs are heard on the radio, the songwriter gets a broadcast royalty but not the musicians. We’ve been trying for years to change that, most recently with the introduction of the Performance Rights Act. But the broadcasters have fought back and they are trying to pass a law that would prevent performance rights for musicians. That’s what we’re opposing.
UNION INVOLVEMENT: IT HAS TO START NOW
May is Labor History Month, chosen to commemorate the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in May 1886 at which Chicago police fired on workers during a general strike for the eight-hour day. John O’Connor has a column this month that touches on something I wrote about last month: union discipline.
Additionally, Local 802 is going to reinstate the “Unfair List,” which is a list of employers for whom our members should not work. I believe this will help musicians recognize those employers who continue to undermine and exploit our livelihood and our artistry.
More and more, I receive calls of complaint from musicians who are tired of the lack of respect shown to them by clubs, employers and even other musicians. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy.
O.K., we get it: we all love to play. It’s why we practice; it’s why we’ve made and continue to make the sacrifices in our lives to accommodate the drive to express ourselves through our music.
But where do we draw the line? Why do we continue to undercut ourselves and our colleagues by allowing our employers to pay us less than we are worth, or even pay us nothing with the allure (or “carrot,” if you will) of finally having an audience.
It’s time to stand up and take stock of where this is taking us all. We need to act as the collective that we are. If only more musicians would come forward, walk into our union and take an active role in their business. Without the musicians getting involved, any initiative by our union will be blind. Musicians need to be aware of what we are trying to accomplish, which is shedding away years of neglect in the club date, jazz, and even the chamber music scene under the excuse that the musicians don’t want “union interference”! I disagree.
Our union is the singular resource that can bring people together but only if the musicians that own the union recognize that.
We can do this. We can bring respect and value back to what we do – but only if we work together and stand as one to preserve our standards. This means not allowing club owners or any employer to cheapen our product and our music by not offering compensation that matches our value.
Musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra are being targeted. Management has filed for bankruptcy even though it has an endowment of $124 million! Is that just a ply to weaken contracts and bust the union? The AFM is fighting back. Photo: Chris Hayner
PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA: BANKRUPT?
In mid-April, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s board of directors voted to petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This will be the first time a major American orchestra has filed for bankruptcy protection. Local 802 and the AFM reject the board’s decision because of the size of the orchestra’s current endowment.
Claiming that it only has funds to pay the bills for two more months, and projecting a $5 million deficit this year, the board claims that the move was necessary in order to save the orchestra in the long run.
We have to question how the board and management can say the orchestra is out of money when it has a $124 million endowment.
The use of Chapter 11 bankruptcy to try and rid the orchestra’s obligation to pay benefits and wages per the collective bargaining agreement with AFM Local 77 (Philadelphia) is particularly egregious given the circumstances.
Is this Detroit all over again? It seems that once again an orchestra association is willing to sacrifice its world class status and reputation to compensate for inadequate funding efforts.
“This bankruptcy filing is a clumsy, flatfooted attempt by management to free itself from musicians’ pension benefit obligations and leverage unjustified contract concessions from the orchestra,” said AFM President Ray Hair.
Hair added, “Fortunately, the bankruptcy judiciary is well equipped to handle the dangerous game the company is playing – a game that the AFM will expose and oppose – a game which threatens the livelihoods of the finest musicians in the world.”
The Philadelphia Orchestra is continuing to present concerts as scheduled.
GOODBYE, MORT AND KEN
The final curtain has come down for two personal friends of mine and I want to say a special good-bye. Both Mort Silver and Ken Adams were friends and colleagues on Broadway and elsewhere, veteran musicians that helped me when I was first getting started as a freelance musician in NYC. It was a pleasure and honor to know you, my friends.
Let me finish on a light note. It’s spring, and it’s ball season. Thanks to increased interest, Local 802 is now sponsoring two softball teams. You can watch our teams in action Mondays at noon and 2 p.m. at the Heckscher ballfields in Central Park (enter at 62nd Street and Central Park West). Come out, enjoy the beautiful weather, and support our teams!