1. Introduction-The Crisis
The American Federation of Musicians is caught up in a major crisis of its own making. The AFM is fighting its own members, the more than 1400 recording musicians and their elected leadership who are also members of the RMA (Recording Musicians Association). The multi-million dollar question is - Why?
The confrontation has finally escalated into Federal Court and other arenas. Lawsuits, DOL (Department of Labor) and other legal processes have been initiated by individual recording musicians against the Federation and are ongoing. New actions are pending. Recording musicians are determined to:
(1) Block AFM actions and dangerous policies that could, if left unchecked, lead to the destruction of major Federation recording agreements.
(2) Achieve guaranteed and meaningful representation for recording musicians within the AFM or, if all else fails...
(3) Set in motion what some of us call the nuclear option - recording musicians walking away from the AFM. That would be an expensive, messy and very public divorce with a silver lining - It would clear the way for professional recording musicians to affiliate with a major and respected entertainment union.
Regardless of whether AFM President Tom Lee and the AFM's response to the multi-million dollar question is (1) personality conflicts (2) a personal vendetta against an RMA officer(s)(3) fear of the organization (4) power and control issues (5) financial jealously (evidently Lee is fuming that his approximately 130K per year CPI adjusted salary in '08 and multiple expense accounts together don't match the session fees and residuals received by some in-demand studio musicians in Nashville and Los Angeles) or (6) any combination of these, by any measure, Lee and the Federation have totally taken the wrong road.
The bottom line is: Recording musicians who contribute millions of dollars to the AFM in work dues have a fundamental right to representation, and one way or another, they intend to get it. The Federation has not confronted a crisis of such magnitude since 1958 when thousands of musicians quit the AFM and formed the Musicians Guild of America.
In 2001, during his first term as AFM President, Lee began to denigrate the RMA, (a Player Conference of the Federation with chapters in Florida, Los Angeles, Nashville and New York) it's membership, and their elected representatives. Every year since the assault has broadened. Lee and the AFM's IEB (International Executive Board) have recently fueled the flames, threatening to decertify the RMA as a Player Conference and even more seriously, by concocting dozens of sub-standard so called "one-off" video game and other second-rate recording deals. In the process, Lee and the IEB are undercutting the rate increases, back-end protections, contribution gains and workplace safeguards we fought for and won in virtually every contract ratified by recording musicians during the past 50 years.
Recording musicians in Los Angeles, Nashville and now New York are fighting back in the courts and on other fronts with a substantial war chest and with rapidly growing support. Lee and Secretary/Treasurer Sam Folio have driven the AFM to the edge of a cliff, apparently with the IEB fully on-board. The situation has the potential to tear the Federation apart.
To make matters worse, it appears that Lee and the IEB have embraced the notion that residuals and new-use compensation be eliminated from recording contracts and replaced with buyouts - a view that not only threatens hundreds of AFM recording musicians but in addition puts the Federation on a collision course with SAG, WGA, IATSE, DGA, AFTRA. By its actions, the AFM has thumbed its nose at all of them. A shared priority for all of these guilds is the retention, protection and increase of back-end residuals and new-use payments for their members. But, not the AFM.
3. - Background
The American Federation of Musicians is organized like a membership club, not a union. Similar to Costco, you sign up, pay your dues and zap - you're a member. AFM Locals do not require a minimum performance standard to join and no auditions are required. You don't even need to own a musical instrument. Years ago my dog joined online for 6 months and I listed his instrument as 'Vocals-Barker'. New AFM prospects are never cautioned to "consider their decision carefully" or "don't join until you're experienced, working, or have a gig lined up". AFTRA, DGA, IATSE, SAG, The Teamsters and WGA all maintain their professional standards by requiring real world expertise, personal recommendations, documented work experience and significant initiation fees, thereby giving new recruits a fighting chance before they dive into highly competitive real-world job markets. But, not the AFM.
The entire Federation today in the US and Canada has about 70-90 thousand individual members - maybe. The AFM will not disclose actual figures. The financial pillars of the Federation are the small percentage of working professional musicians who are represented primarily by the AFM Player Conferences but whose memberships and leadership cannot vote at an AFM Convention. There are 3-4000 major symphony orchestra musicians represented by ICSOM, about 1600-1800 working recording musicians, about 90% of whom are also RMA members working in Los Angeles, Nashville, New York, Florida and San Francisco, several hundred Canadian Symphony Musicians represented by OCSOM, several hundred Broadway Theater musicians, several thousand part to full time ROPA orchestra musicians and a few hundred full-time free lancers in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Florida, Chicago, Nashville, Dallas, Boston, Montreal, Atlanta, etc. Almost everyone else (about 58-78 thousand members) fall into the barely working or never-worked 'club member' category including a large percentage of local union officers who are also Convention Delegates.
At best, only 10-12% of the Federation's total membership are working professionals. These musicians pay millions of dollars in work dues to the AFM and fund the lions share of the financial costs for the entire Federation bureaucracy. At each of the last several conventions, recording musicians, again most of whom are RMA members, were tapped for more and more money and are now paying about twice as much in per capita work dues as any other AFM members including the 1000 or so full time ICSOM symphony orchestra players who earn in excess of $100,000 annually. However, unlike the other entertainment unions, the dollar amounts recording musicians hand over to the AFM as work-dues are not 'capped'- the sky is the limit. Dozens of studio musicians (not 'stars') in Nashville and Los Angeles pay more in total work-dues every year to the Federation than superstars Brad Pitt and Nicole Kidman pay to AFTRA or SAG!
The structure of the AFM convention has remained essentially unchanged for the last 80 years and Lee has exploited it to suppress the representation of working musicians. He has gained control over the delegates from dozens and dozens of very small (10-300 members) 'barely-working' locals by using pork and promises to push his divisive political and legislative agenda. Additionally, this voting block has combined with other 'AFM club members' and imposed punitive action, threatening legislation, excessive taxes, huge fees and extraordinary work dues on the working professionals, regardless of the fact that the majority of these delegates have no knowledge or connection whatsoever with any aspect of the professional music industry - and particularly with the recording industry as its exists in Los Angeles, Nashville, New York, Florida and San Francisco.
Historically, working musicians who pay the freight and are the AFM's primary stakeholders have never received quality representation within the Federation and it now appears inevitable that without a total reorganization, the AFM will collapse, sooner rather than later. The Seattle Symphony Orchestra decertified from the AFM precisely for that reason in 1988. However there are several respected professional entertainment unions that do make member representation and contract enforcement the highest possible priority, including IATSE, AFTRA and the Teamsters. But, not the AFM!
4. - A Draconian AFM - Exhibit A, B, and C.
Using any reasonable standard, professional recording musicians ought to be a constituency with significant legislative and political power within the AFM. That essential right of direct representation is non existent within the Federation.
The following example of the absurd and most-likely illegal delegate voting at the last AFM Convention is true. All of the Canadian Delegates voted en masse to impose an additional 2% work dues on each recording musician who receives a yearly check from the FMSMF and SRSPF (Special Payments Funds). Why wouldn't they - every Canadian recording musician is totally exempt from that additional 2%! Tom Lee and the IEB lobbied the Canadian delegates, who represented members who were all exempt from the 2%, to vote to impose the tax on AFM recording musicians working primarily in LA, Nashville and New York. A deplorable scenario that could not happen at an AFTRA, IATSE, DGA, WGA or SAG convention.
Another example: Federal Law: LMRDA TITLE 1, the labor union 'bill of rights' guarantees any union member the fundamental right to examine any contract that he/she works under. The Motion Picture Agreement was ratified about three years ago, but the AFM never published the agreement! In fact, the AFM Web site still has the agreement that expired in Feb. 2005 online at afm.org! For the last three and-one-half years, how could any recording musician possibly exercise their right to independently confirm the correct scales, terms, contributions etc. of an contract Lee and the AFM never published? That's outrageous! In my view, the AFM never printed the agreement as part of a calculated strategy - a plan to deliberately deceive both musicians and prospective employers by making It almost impossible to reference the terms of the major recording agreements. It should also come as no surprise that recording musicians find it exceedingly difficult to obtain copies of any 'one-off' contract they have been called to work under. The strategy is clear.
A third example: Several years ago, after repeated requests, the IEB passed a resolution that required the Federation President to officially travel to and address the four largest AFM Locals at least once each year. This motion was designed primarily to require President Lee to visit Local 47 Los Angeles and address the serious local and national concerns of it's 8500 members and their Executive Board, which Lee had been avoiding for years since his election. As of Aug. 2008, Lee has not attended or addressed any membership meetings of Local 47, the 2nd largest AFM Local for more than 4 years. Local 47 members contribute millions of dollars in electronic media and Symphonic work dues to the AFM and also fund between 25-35% of the total Federation income. However, Lee has traveled to LA several dozen times since that motion passed in '04 to glad hand at award shows, hobnob, booze and schmooze. Standard Tom Lee - completely dismiss any Motion or AFM bylaw as he pleases and count on the IEB to do absolutely nothing.
5. The Issues
The recording musicians who have engaged the Federation and Lee in the courts have been left with no choice but to fight within the legal system for equitable representation and due process from their own union - and you ain't seen nothin' yet! The present lawsuits directed at the AFM are just the tip of the iceberg - only a first strike.
Also, let me be clear to Ray, Joe, Harold, Bill S. Billy, Bob, and Erwin on the IEB: recording musicians have reached the end of the line. Any small window of opportunity is closing rapidly. As a board, you have continually rubber-stamped dozens of Tom's video-game and other one-off agreements, thereby undermining every existing AFM negotiated recording contract and are also promoting the elimination of residuals and back end payments replaced by buyouts, a policy that has not gone unnoticed by our sister guilds. Be assured that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and every entertainment union president, officer and administrator will see this Blog or receive it in a hard copy.
A note about the PMG to Bloggers and the IEB: regardless of the revisionist history and fiction that Lee, Folio, Dick Gabriel and Savina Ciaramella have been endlessly repeating around the country, the Professional Musicians Guild (PMG) was formed months after, I repeat after the AFM began slapping together the one-off video game agreements, not before. The PMG was a last resort, created as a proactive response to deal with Lee's threatening actions and where they might lead. The organizing campaign proved highly successful and the PMG, with 100's of members is still around - inactive but ready.
6. Free Speech, Negotiations and Blacklisting
Lee has attempted to suppress free speech and intimidate AFM members using his office and presidency like the butt of a revolver. Among others, his RMA targets over the last few years have included RMA Presidents Phil Ayling and Brian O'Connor; Dave Pomeroy, Sheldon Sanov, Jay Rosen, David Schwartz and Marc Sazer. The Tom Lee "blacklist" is growing daily and today includes not only RMA members but many folks from Local 47, Local 257 and Local 802.
All of this has the foul odor of the J. Edger Hoover and Joseph McCarthy communist witch-hunts and blacklisting of the 1950's. I've been told that Lee has actually asked players "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the RMA or PMG"? With RMA threatened, watch your back ICSOM, you could be next and Tom might ask to you sign a Loyalty Oath. And regarding free speech, does anyone out there remember how many years it's been since our magazine, the International Musician printed criticism or critical comment of any Federation policy or decision from a member. The IM will not publish anything outside of the company line.
Year after year, RMA participated in calm, deliberate, respectful and professional negotiations with the AFM, attempting to address the differences head-on. Participants included RMA Board members and members of the recording community. The results unfortunately were totally unproductive, the team often finding that they had been lied to, deceived and undermined and then trashed by Lee and Company moments after they left the table. Today, promises from the Federation mean absolutely nothing.
7. White Queen takes Rook - Check.
It's Your Move
Tom Lee has attempted to turn RMA President Phil Ayling into the ultimate AFM evildoer. Lee depicts Ayling as the crafty manipulator running the show 24/7 behind the scenes - including the recent lawsuits and even a few non-existent threats dreamed up by Lee himself. Lee has traveled across the USA and Canada singing the same song; if Ayling specifically and the RMA are rendered impotent, recording musicians across the country would then quitely fall into line.
Tom-we're surprised you haven't figured it out. Do you actually believe that Ayling and a few colleagues could be orchestrating this on their own without the powerful ongoing support and guidance (financial and otherwise) from organizations and persons outside of the AFM? Ayling is a busy working musician - an oboe player, a multi-instrumentalist, RMA President and recording contract expert, not a political Svengali.
We are defending our futures, livelihoods, colleagues, and sister guilds with formidable help. It would be foolish to underestimate the potential effects that our legal, labor, and political actions could have on the infrastructure of the Federation. We have the will and the financial and legal resources to continue in the courts for years or until the AFM completely changes course, or, until recording musicians exit the Federation- that nuclear option. The AFM has left us with few alternatives.
8. Where Do We Go From Here?
The Federation is at a crossroads. To remain a part of the AFM, recording musicians are going to require as a starting point:
(1) A Trade division within the AFM: giving recording musicians guaranteed representation and control of the recording business that they work and live in every day.
(2) Active and aggressive enforcement by the AFM of all aspects of the ratified recording agreements with major emphasis on safeguarding the use of recorded product.
(3) An immediate end to Federation one-off agreements.
(4) Guaranteed representation, as mandated in the Dissolution Agreement, for RMA and RMAC during every phase of any recording agreement negotiation.
(5) Meaningful voting participation at AFM Conventions for the Player Conferences representing all working musician 'stakeholders' (ICSOM, RMA, ROPA, OCSOM, and TMA).
We are past the "lets talk about this" stage-only concrete action by the Federation might change our course. The financial costs to the AFM to implement these fundamental protections are negligible - the irony is that the largest amount would be the legal costs incurred to pursue and implement what the AFM is required to do under Federal law and have refused to do, namely the aggressive enforcement of negotiated recording contracts. Without implementation of the above, recording musicians are likely, one way or another, to leave the AFM with their millions of dollars of income, contributions and work dues and find a new home where they and thousands of other working professionals play an active role, or, they could decide to stay and continue this fight and hemorrhage the AFM indefinitely. In either of these scenarios, the potential costs to the AFM are staggering, perhaps in the millions of dollars.
When and if all of this proccedes to trial, our attorneys are looking forward to the prospect of Lee, Folio and every IEB member testifying under oath. The resulting cross-examinations and the depositions concerning Federation by-laws, DFR issues and numerous potential legal and labor law violations perpetrated against RMA officers and recording musicians should be fascinating.
The AFM is attempting to decimate the futures of recording musicians in Los Angeles, Florida, Nashville, and New York; decertify the RMA, discredit it's leadership, undercut and undermine negotiated AFM recording contracts with sub-standard one-off deals and in the process blunt the rights that all union musicians have been guaranteed under Federal Law. The AFM has provoked this war. Time has run out.