AFM...your thoughts?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by fabledsoe, Sep 23, 2010.

  1. fabledsoe


    Dec 16, 2007

    Younger musician in Chicago, going to grad, practicing, the whole shabang. Thought about joining the AFM. I saw a thread back from 2002, but it didn't have a whole lot of what I was looking for in the thread.

    Is it worth it to join the union?
  2. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Inactive

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters

    Only if you absolutely have to - but not a second sooner.

    If it's anything like Local 47 - L.A., it's a waste of money.

    If you are in some major symphony or doing some major TV gig - sure. Or if you like to play cards with old guys down at the union hall - sure. :D
  3. Bass Barrister

    Bass Barrister

    Nov 4, 2004
    Any union is only as good as its members want it to be. I frequently respresent union members in various trades and professions. When they start griping about how bad their union is, I ask: Do you attend regular meetings? Do you participate as a stweard or contract negotiator when called upn? Do you know who your ifficers are and/or who the business manger is? Do you even know where the union hall is?

    Anti-union rhetoric and union-bashing has become quite fashionable these days. Let's blame the workers for daring to think they are entitled to good pay, reasonable working conditions, and, HORRORS - a pension Some of it is deserved as some unions have forgotten that their primary goal is to represent their membership. Unions must also get smarter about representing members in the modern economic environment. Nonetheless, when push comes to shove, the collective action of workers united in purpose and committment can do what an individual can not do for him or her self.

    Maybe one solution is for students to join and start hanging around a bit as their schedules permit. It won' be easy as those "old guys" playing cards may look funny at you. But persist, be respectful, but stand your ground.

    Gee . . . was that a rant?? Let's all sing a chorus of "Solidarity Forever", or this famous one from the old ILGWU:
  4. Chris Symer

    Chris Symer

    Dec 13, 2009
    Local 47 was good for me, easy place to meet lot's of people doing the big band rehearsals. I got a lot of work from that. Did enough TV to get my health care for dirt cheap and a pension plan started. I'd hardly call it worthless.....
  5. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Prolly not. As a younger Chicago guy I've been in the union on and off a few times. Mostly for gigs that required it. They are pretty few and far between. If you are just going to do the club dates and the occasional jobbing hit then no need. Theatre and the like is a different story. One time I was in because I was doing some Second City gigs. It's true that you can get some nice deals on insurance and the pension is cool but I found that it takes a little while the get vested in your pension if you are just doing the occasional hit. As far as meeting people... I think I got one call ever from the union directory and it was for a classical job... not my forte. My 2 cents.
  6. I was a member of Local 47 in L.A. for many years. If your planning on doing recording work, big tours, pit work for stage shows and/or become a classical player, and you want to live where all that kind of work is, (mostly L.A., New York and Nashville as well as lots of big metropolitan areas for classical musicians), you're going to have to join the union. If you do this work you will not only have to pay your union dues, you will also have to pay work dues. All these work dues add up so that your medical and some pension (depending on how much work you've done) can be covered. If you're not striving to do that type of work in those locales, it may not be worth it.
  7. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    I'm a career-long member. On the insurance, not really an advantage as I'm finding out now. Prices/benefits seem to be the same as with my insurance guy (who was an AFM member...). On the pension, while it was an excellent program, with the economic downturn, the plan is in distress and the current benefits are down to 1% of contributions. Not good as they were 4.65% until 2004 or so. Hopefully, this will be temporary.

    One advantage of the union is legal representation if you are doing contracts. And as has been said, union shows, recording sessions, etc. require it, but you can join when you get one.
  8. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Inactive

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    I do not belong to ANY union anymore.

    But, at one point I was a member of the AFM Local 47 and AFTRA.

    AFTRA was far superior with its "benefits" than the AFM.

    I eventually found plenty of non-union work in L.A. and abandoned both. One can do FAR better with "benefits' on their own - if you take the necessary time.

    You can always do ONE union job before being required to join a union - Taft–Hartley Act. But, once a member, you are supposed to NOT do any non-union work (like that actually happens).
  9. Where I am from, I watched too many years of the local union president, who answered the phones and took booking requests, set himself up as "manager" for bands that would pay him. Guess which bands got all the gigs from the union?

    Never seen corruption so blatent, Wouldn't waste my time with ANY union.

    Today, with legislated labour laws, unions provide no purpose other than to create labor unrest, discontent and the solution is to always threaten and intimidate. Not something anyone should want to be associated with, they are run by the termanially greedy.

    Seriously, no law says I have to deal with the musicians union but they would threaten and harass me if I was booking gigs to non union musicians. Unions have NO POWER other than to intimidate others into giving them what they want.

    Legalized thuggery.

  10. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Unlike management, right? Don't think so. :rollno: It's a balancing act.
  11. Sure, managment is greedy, they invest a lot of time and money creating a business that attracts customers. If they provide the venue to you so you can make money and get exposure, then they have every right to be compensated. They hold the cards. You can always go rent a hall and put on shows if you like but if you want into the popular bar, then you have to respect it is the house someone else built.

    On the other side, there are lots of musicians that want to play and get paid. They are looking for these venues.

    Say what you want but the crowds go out for a good time and that does NOT have to include a band. The current trend is recorded music and more and more bands are having a hard time finding gigs. Getting a union involved, ya, thats going to make you real popular and could result in venues simply refusing to deal with live music.

    So, what unions do, is once they identify a venue someone has worked hard to create they target it. They want to leverage it as if they paid for the investment and begin to threaten blacklisting (and sometimes a lot worse) to any independant business owner who enters into private contract with an independant band.

    There is trouble on both sides, venues and bands both get threatened and harrassed. The way I see it, the union is out of line and there should be penalities for that king of thuggery.

    I don't need a real estate agent to sell my home, So maybe they should ban together, form a union, and threaten to burn it down if I don't pay them a commission on the sale.....

    Thats how unions operate after all.

  12. Joebone

    Joebone Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2005
    California Republic
    First, the disclaimer. When I was a pro player I was a member of Philadelphia's Local 77, but lapsed out when I changed careers. However, I now represent unions for a living, as a lawyer, in Los Angeles. I do not work for the musicians union but am generally familiar with their practices and general political direction, at the Local and International (US and Canada) level - and to the extent the AFM (more properly the Film Musicians Secondary Payments Fund) "me-toos" onto residuals collection deals I negotiate for my film-industry clients out of bankruptcies and the like, I'm proud to say that over 20 years, I've helped move some millions onto the musicians' side of the ledger.

    What's right for you? It all depends what you aspire to in the way of a career. As others above have noted, if you want to do orchestra/theater pit/recording/high-end touring/high-end corporate/GB gigs, you'll have to be a member. If your skills or aspirations are not at that level, you can probably get away without it.

    I'm not familiar with details of current AFM contract provisions (except concerning collection of residuals for film and TV work) but in general, the more you work under union contracts, the more you'll see in the way of pension/health benefits. So even if you can get away without it, you may well be better off working under those contracts whenever possible.

    There is no question that some locals are more effective than others, and that there are some where historical practice has featured some degree of self-dealing, nepotism and the like (don't get me started on Local 77, back in the day!) However, I don't see anything different in many corporate or business settings. It's a sad fact that humans often take advantage when they can, and it's particularly jarring to see it in the context of a union movement that is rooted in communitarian and egalitarian ideals, but that's showbiz for you...

    Meanwhile, those union contracts provide a floor. Doing society gigs in Philly back in the day, the contractors knew they couldn't get decent players for less than scale. On the road, in settings well above scale, that "floor" function was useful when novel situations arose, such as the first round of concerts being filmed for MTV and other use, back in the late 1970's - early 1980's. Scale for record dates under union contract (would that there had been more of that!) meant not only payment at the time services were rendered, but also an annual payment from the applicable recording fund, collected on an industry-wide basis. If you manage to do union film work, you'll see a royalty stream as well as your initial compensation.

    Is this an effective floor? In many ways, no. Consider supply and demand relative to the history of musicians in America. In the '20's every radio station worth a d*** had an orchestra, live theater meant live musicians, and there was lots of work. Mass dissemination of recordings changed that dynamic. Movies with sound changed that dynamic. TV changed that dynamic. Rock and Roll changed that dynamic, as performance opportunities opened up for a much wider range of folks. Changing tastes and budgetary pressures changed that dynamic - no more variety shows on TV with full orchestras, and call for recording musicians on TV has continued to diminish ("Lost" and "The Simpsons" are the only TV shows that come to mind that have used full-sized scoring ensembles, but there might be a few others). Digital has hugely diminished performance and recording opportunities - in the studio, where emulation knocked a lot of string and horn players out of work (that's when I got off the train, as a trombonist, in the mid-'80's) - and live, where society bands can now be skeleton crews playing along with digital rhythm tracks, if they are even working at all because folks instead opt for DJ's at private affairs. And it's all one big spiral, as the less-often people hear live music or non-digital sources, the less they expect in that way. And hey, let's not forget digital piracy, which is putting a hurt on writers and performers in ALL genres. And many producers will always be looking for ways to get their music for less, by trying to get their music via non-union sources.

    So in this context, where technology, budgetary pressures and popular tastes conspire to reduce performance opportunities while also expanding the pool of potential performers beyond a small group of people who spent years mastering arcane instruments (to be clear, my point is that one can get to a creative and performance level more quickly in many popular idioms than would have been required in the pre-Rock era), the union is forced to engage in constant rear-guard action, toward preservation and incremental improvement of wages/benefits/working conditions in the remaining sectors where there is demand for exceptionally skilled players. That's the reality. My guess is the high-end work will continue to be organized, but that it will be an uphill fight to expand the use of AFM contracts over time. And it's interesting to see that the AFM now has International leadership drawn largely from the recording community - those folks will be working hard to redress some ways in which they've been taken advantage of or have been taken for granted by past administrations, but as they head into the future they will also have to consider the prospects of their co-unionists that are less-skilled, less-fortunate, not living in cities hosting genuine recording activity, or deeply committed to less-remunerative forms of music-making.

    So what does this mean for you? Again, if you want to do high-end work, you'll join. If you want to be around folks who do that work, joining can provide benefits - like the fellow above who used the rehearsal bands at Los Angeles Local 47 as a job referral service. If you lurk behind the union contract but don't join, you'll periodically free-ride on the wage floor set by those contracts, but you won't have the pension and health angle covered, or participate in the special payments funds. If you don't think much of the way in which your local is run, you're likely not the only one with that opinion, but the only way those things change is if you and others get together, get involved, and make change happened at the last International convention, with a sea-change in leadership that evolved from the work of many union activists, over many years.

    One last bit - the question of unions in America is highly politicized. Unions brought you the weekend, wage-hour laws, and a host of other benefits we all now take for granted. One can easily argue that no country (other than Japan?) has enjoyed a stable and prosperous middle class without the efforts of a union movement. On the other hand, unions aren't perfect, and in many ways they cannot transcend the limits imposed by mismanagement (Detroit!) or general economic conditions, and unionism is often cast as a "blue-state" phenomenon, which is astounding when you consider the complete history of unions in America. But in thinking this through, try to put all of that aside and take a look at the costs of membership (initiation and dues) as compared with the benefits FOR YOU, in your current and aspirational work contexts.

    Stated simply: who do you want to be?

    Best of luck.
  13. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    That's what I did. And let my membership lapse and joined again, and let it lapse. I have a feeling it ain't over either.
  14. Big B.

    Big B.

    Dec 31, 2007
    Austin, TX
    The effectiveness of unions seems to vary based on the industry that it serves (or serves it, depending on how you look at it). In the world of modern labor laws most employers have their hands tied to a large degree as far as how they can treat their employees. I am mostly neutral towards unions but my one complaint is that they seem to allow lower quality employers to skate by while limiting the success of hard working, overachieving employees.
    The musicians union on the other hand is different than most because it generally represents independent contractors who are often not covered by labor laws. In this case the union gives the musicians a collective voice to dispute issues with management.
    That being said, I am not in the union because in my area I feel that the benefits do not reach the cost of membership. Most states in my area are right to work states that require non-union and union members to be paid the same pay rate. In a larger metropolitan area it seems a freelance player would be well served by joining the union.
  15. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    As far as I can tell he is not asking about the merits of unions. Every thread about any question even mentioning the union in passing turns into a philosophical discussion.

    Just answer the question being asked.

    Oh wait, I almost forgot this is TBDB. Silly me.
  16. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Thank you Joebone for that excellent post.

    Of course, that's why I think it's a good thing for musicians to have some kind of representation for a "floor" that Jbone talks about. That floor, for live gigs in the Chicago area is pretty low, lower than I want to get paid in many cases. As a musician, I'm not going to give it away to management if I can help it. If management thinks that live music will help in their quest for customers, that's great, and the musicians should be treated as professionals. Do I want to play for exposure? That's the oldest line in the book. I think I want to make a living...

    More of that in the old days, in fact, I never hear about a private venue (bar, restaurant) being targeted by the union anymore, I read about negotiations in the orchestral world though. The union simply sets a minimum cost for doing business with its members. The scale is generally low. I don't really understand your problem with musicians getting a fair shake. Are you a not a musician?
  17. Eric, it is not that I don't want musicians to get a fair shake, I want everyone to get a fair shake. That is where I have a problem with unions. Unions do not care about workers, they care about dues paying members. if I as a worker am not in the union, they will blacklist me..... I thought these people were fighting for the worker against the employeer? No, the fact is they will extort money from either side so long as it suits them.

    I understand your point about making a living, And I also understand it is the same for the bar owner. You both want money to live on. So the bar owner can offer too little and get no bands or the band can ask for too much and not get gigs. That's where you need balance. I seriously don't see how paying additional union fees and dues in this situatition is going to make either party better off. Why add a middle man who only thinks of himself?

    The problem comes in when a musician wants a certain amount and the bar isn't willing to pay it. BUT some other musician IS willing to play for that amount. Then we have a problem.

    The band wanting too much calls the [DEL]thugs[/DEL] union who will pressure the musicians willing to play for less and the bar not wanting to pay more. They will threaten everyone involved so that they can get there greedy hands on some dues.

    See, if the venue isn't paying enough, don't play there. But that isn't good enough for some. For some it is all about forcing others into giving you what you want.

    You know full well without the thugs there would be others who would be willing to play for less and you would have to adjust your fees accordingly. You don't want to do that so union thuggery pervails.

    Also, I'm from the east coast of Canada and have seen first hand what unions will do to the economy if given the chance. This isn't about finding middle ground.


  18. The operative word being ANYMORE. At least we agree that it has been standard operating proceedure in the past.

  19. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    I don't know if it was standard operating procedure. How do you feel about your nationalized health insurance? Is it of benefit to the many against the greed of the few, opposite of our situation in the US?

    IMO, this is the role of unions in the US, at least. Don't know your situation in Canada.
  20. Stanley Pugh

    Stanley Pugh

    Jun 14, 2008
    I would not get out of bed for union scale.
    As for getting ripped off you still have to pay for a lawyer.
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