The 2001 Players’ Conference

Volume CI, No. 10October, 2001

David Lennon

This past August, musicians throughout the country once again came together for the annual Players’ Conferences of the Theater Musicians’ Association (TMA), Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA) and International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), held in St. Louis, Cleveland and San Diego, respectively. All three conferences provided an invaluable opportunity for musicians to share solutions to common problems and work collectively toward mutual goals. Following is a summary of some of the key issues addressed by each group.


The TMA was founded to promote the interests of both local and touring musicians. The challenges faced in the upcoming negotiations for the Pamphlet B agreement, covering touring theatrical musical productions, provided the impetus for unifying these musicians as never before. The need to find a radically different approach to these negotiations was the conference’s primary focus.

The goal of expanding the agreement to cover both touring and local musicians was initially explored at a meeting called by Local 802 President Bill Moriarity at the AFM Convention in July. Officers of the Federation, the International Executive Board and the locals most affected by Pamphlet B met to discuss the possibility of unifying all members employed in touring productions under one agreement.

A subsequent meeting, chaired by Local 10-208 President Ed Ward, was held in Chicago just prior to the TMA Conference. This meeting proposed creating a Pamphlet B negotiating committee, comprised of the AFM President, AFM Secretary-Treasurer, AFM Vice-President from Canada, two Pamphlet B musicians, one TMA representative and seven local officers. Each affected local would have to sign off on an agreement to allow this committee to negotiate the agreement. (At present, 21 locals have theatrical collective bargaining agreements.)

Several members of this committee present at the TMA conference and AFM Legal Counsel George Cohen outlined a set of proposals that the committee had endorsed. The perspective is to retain autonomy over most elements of the agreement at the local level, with the expectation of blending those agreements and Pamphlet B over time. Principal areas to be addressed will, however, include wages and minimums.

The committee emphasized that any proposed changes to the local agreements would require local player ratification. They reported that the League of American Theatres and Producers, the management representative for Pamphlet B touring productions, supports this initiative to expand the agreement to include local musicians because they would gain labor stability for touring productions.

The proposal to approach the negotiations in this manner was met with overwhelming support by the TMA membership. By the close of the conference, several locals had already signed off in support of the proposed bargaining committee. In just two days, the TMA took an enormous step toward truly unifying its local and traveling membership.

The second day of the conference focused on the threat to live musical theatre that all theatre musicians face as the result of such technical “advances” as the Virtual Orchestra, a computerized simulation of live musicians, and the ever-present threat of the use of taped music. As chair of TMA’s Live Music Public Awareness Campaign, I outlined Local 802’s efforts in strategic planning and the ongoing development of our Live Music Campaign in preparation for the 2003 Broadway negotiations, and showed the SFX CD-ROM video footage that Local 802 produced last summer. Discussions were held on how this material might be expanded as part of a nationwide, coordinated effort to alert the public to management’s ongoing assault on live music.

Although the TMA includes 802 musicians in its membership, a New York chapter has yet to be formed. The time to do so may well have come. Issues of mutual concern warrant our active involvement in the TMA. The Broadway Theatre Committee will be discussing these issues in meetings during the coming season. You may also contact the Local 802 Theatre Department for more information on the TMA.


Delegates to the ROPA and ICSOM conferences represent symphony, opera and ballet musicians from orchestras across the country. Each conference takes place over five days and includes forums that provide delegates the opportunity to get current on important issues affecting their orchestras. The primary distinction between them is that ROPA membership is comprised of regional orchestras, many of which have fought hard – and in some cases are still struggling – for survival, while ICSOM represents the higher-profile major orchestras with somewhat greater stability.

The conferences, however, share an interest in collectively exploring solutions and strategies toward mutual goals. They also provide an invaluable opportunity to meet with the staff of the AFM’s Symphonic Services Division, whose support is tremendously important to many orchestra committees throughout the year.

This year delegates also had a chance to meet the newly-elected AFM leadership, President Tom Lee and Secretary-Treasurer Florence Nelson. Both spoke of their vision and plans for the Federation’s future direction. Nelson’s election as secretary-treasurer was particularly meaningful since she began her distinguished journey in the labor movement as an ICSOM delegate.

A particular focus of both conferences was the upcoming negotiations for a new CD agreement. A thorough and informative presentation on the Electronic Media was given at both conferences by Deborah Newmark, AFM Director of Symphonic Electronic Media. Brad Buckley, the ICSOM media chair, also spoke pointedly about the inevitable impact of rapidly advancing technology on the symphonic recording industry.

The discussions sparked impassioned debate on how to proceed in the upcoming negotiations, particularly on the issue of maintaining up-front payments whenever symphonic musicians are engaged to record.

Although views varied greatly, the final outcome strengthened the democratic process, with a commitment from the AFM – in response to a resolution passed by ICSOM delegates – to survey the rank and file before proceeding with negotiations.

Equally rich in diversity of opinion were discussions on bargaining techniques and strategies, particularly an increasing and, to some, an alarming willingness to explore the concept of Interest Based Bargaining. This process breaks from the traditional concept of “two teams” meeting across the table: in IBB, management and union representatives alternate seats around the table. Other ground rules may include the elimination of caucuses on either side.

Those who support IBB stress the benefits of maintaining non-hostile management/labor relations throughout the process. Those opposed to IBB contend that, although good management/labor relations are desirable, in reality IBB puts the cart before the horse, since the foundation for the parties’ relationship will be determined through the power struggle at the bargaining table. Ultimately, it seems clear that the success or failure such bargaining techniques will be determined by the results of the contracts negotiated.

It is crucial that every rank-and-file member involved in the negotiation process become as informed as possible about labor law, contract interpretation, grievance handling and arbitration procedures. There is arguably no team more qualified to educate members on these aspects of collective bargaining than ICSOM legal counsel Leonard Leibowitz and arbitrator Peggy Leibowitz, who led seminars at both the ROPA and ICSOM conferences.

While these conferences are exactly the place for diverse views to be expressed and appreciated, the meetings play an equally important role in increasing awareness of one another’s perspectives and strengthening communication and solidarity among participants. Certainly that was the outcome of this year’s conferences.