Union Launches Campaign in Recording Field

Area Standards Campaign to Focus on 'Dark Dates'

Volume C, No. 11November, 2000

Tim Dubnau

In recent weeks union staff have begun to contact 500 of the busiest recording musicians in Local 802, requesting their help in a major new campaign to strengthen the union’s effectiveness in the recording field. This joint campaign by 802’s Recording and New Organizing departments is aimed at reversing the erosion of union strength, created by the entry into the market of nonunion corporations which have significantly undermined wages and benefits.

Although the union’s goal is to have all recording sessions filed with the union, the immediate campaign will emphasis certain types of work. Specifically, phono sessions and motion picture work will be targeted. Union staff will focus on some of the larger sessions in New York, especially those that employ many musicians. Another goal of the campaign will to ensure that all high-profile sessions – such as work for top-selling, mainstream artists – is filed with the union.

This campaign comes at a time when more and more recording work is being done nonunion. In fact, for the first time since the 1950s, part of the “high end” of the recording industry is undercutting union standards by paying less for musicians’ talents than its competitors. This tends to depress wages and weakens the AFM’s ability to negotiate improvements in the master Phono Agreement.

A good example of this trend can be found by looking at the Top Ten records sold so far this year. Four of the top ten records sold in 2000 were on the Jive label (featuring the artists ‘NSYNC, Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys). Local 802 research indicates that Jive pocketed about $2.7 million that would have gone into the Special Payments and MPTF funds in the past nine months alone, if the albums had been recorded under union contract. Jive – like other companies that do not file jobs – makes no contributions toward musicians’ pension or health fund. This trend is developing at a time of huge growth in the recording industry, which has grown a staggering 100 percent in less than a decade.

Jay Schaffner, Supervisor of the Recording Department, told Allegro, “When phono sessions are not filed, musicians receive nothing for health or pension. Nothing goes into MPTF, or the Special Payments Fund. This undercuts our standards and enables corporations to reap huge profits on the backs of professional musicians.”

The campaign will be built around a three-pronged strategy. The first step is to enlist the support of the union’s busiest recording musicians, asking them to simply call the union whenever they are hired for a significant phono or movie date. Local 802 has an excellent track record of turning “dark dates” into union dates when musicians alert the staff in advance.

The second step is to engage in a serious dialogue with New York contractors, urging them to pre-report all dates with the union. (A meeting to discuss the situation was to take place after this issue went to press, on Oct. 23.)

The third phase of this effort will be to educate the general public, politicians, friends in the arts and entertainment community and the general labor movement about how destructive it is for musicians when huge companies undercut union standards.

Dominic Derasse, President of the New York Recording Musicians Association (RMA), expressed strong support for the campaign. “I am extremely pleased that Local 802 has embarked on this fight to ensure that these recording companies we enjoy working with do the right thing,” he said. “I ask all RMA members to support the effort at getting dark dates filed. When we work together, we can uphold our area standards.”

Local 802 asks all musicians working in the recording field to call the union in advance of the session. Calls will be kept in the strictest of confidence. If you have specific questions or would like to help, call the Recording or Organizing departments at (212) 245-4802.