As my orchestra prepares for negotiations here in Nashville— the first in our new hall—I have begun to reflect upon our own bargaining history and how it has been impacted by ICSOM’s relationship with the AFM.
As ICSOM celebrates its 45th year, we once again will send a delegation of representatives to the AFM Convention, this year being held June 18–20 in Las Vegas. With the attendance of Chairperson Bruce Ridge, President Brian Rood, and Member at Large Meredith Snow at the Convention, we will witness some of the fruits of our labor. “What is that?” you might ask. It would be our representation at the AFM Convention itself—a voice on the floor of the Convention. In another step forward, the leaders of our Player Conferences (ICSOM, ROPA, OCSM, RMA, and TMA) spoke before the entire body of Convention delegates two years ago. When Chairman Emeritus Jan Gippo asked all voting delegates who were orchestra musicians to stand, it was momentous, and it highlighted the activities of our orchestra musicians. Fully 10% of the voting delegates were orchestra musicians!
However, there still appear to be a number of AFM delegates (almost all of whom are local officers) who do not understand the role of ICSOM and the rest of the Player Conferences. ICSOM and others have fought for a number of worthy goals, yet the misunderstanding continues. Some even paint us as the enemy. ICSOM “plowed the road” for all those who came later. Our conference was formed 45 years ago because some of our locals were not representing our members well. Tom Hall’s compilation of the first 40 years of ICSOM’s history contains details of the trials in the early years, when locals ignored orchestra committees as well as musician concerns and requests. In some cases, locals continued their practice of negotiating “sweetheart deals” that did not address any of the concerns of the employees.
ICSOM said this practice had to stop, that musicians deserved representation at the bargaining table and to negotiate on their own behalf. (After all, who knows better what is going on than the employees themselves?) Musicians also demanded the right to form committees to assure that our contracts will be continually maintained and supported. Later the Player Conferences fought for a voice on the Convention floor so they could bring their concerns to the entire delegate body of the AFM.
Over the past few years, ICSOM Conferences have included discussions about how to work effectively with our locals. We have celebrated orchestras and locals that can work in harmony because they are all stronger for it. Any notion that ICSOM has any desire to run the AFM is ridiculous. Our goal has always been to advocate for the rights and concerns of our members to the AFM and its leadership. That’s how we got the AFM Symphony Opera Strike Fund. Those wage charts we receive every year from the AFM were once produced solely by ICSOM. The AFM realized the importance of these charts and took it upon themselves to produce one of the most effective negotiation tools we have available. These are examples of the AFM and ICSOM working together.
Over the years our orchestras have wrought wonders with their contracts, improving the wages, benefits, and working conditions for their colleagues. In almost all cases, this was done with the union’s presence and support. I’m astounded when I hear about a negotiation that does not have a local officer presence at the table. Why? Because it is the local’s obligation to enforce the contract. If they have no knowledge of the contract, how can they legitimately enforce it, especially if some violation ends up in arbitration? I’m also surprised because part of the reason we pay work dues is so that when we retain negotiators, the local pays the bill. Additionally, while a contract applies mostly to contracted members, orchestras also hire substitute and extra musicians, and locals have the task of trying to protect those musicians as well. Locals have a vested interest in the content and success of any negotiation.
I become frustrated when a musician bashes the union, pointing to an individual or group in which the musician has a personal interest and asserting that the union or a union contract is hindering their success. The union is not one person, nor is it the officers we elect. The union is all of us collectively. Our contracts are the result of painstaking negotiations that include questioning our members for their desires as well as trying to correct problems that have occurred during previous years. I have always felt that collective bargaining agreements often serve to document the abuses orchestras have faced and dealt with during negotiations.
As union members, we are a part of our bargaining units and have every right to voice our concerns, especially during negotiations. Those who have chosen to “opt out” because they live in right-to-work states or assert their Beck rights (and who “freeload” on the backs of those musicians who do pay their fair share) have given up any right to a voice in our process. They do not receive strike fund benefits, they have no voice in overseeing our contracts since they can’t participate on committees; and they have neither a say nor ratification rights when a contract is negotiated. They have no voice because they have elected to give up their rights. As an AFM member, though, you do have a voice.
As ICSOM prepares for attendance at this year’s AFM Convention, I’d like to make you aware that ICSOM will sponsor two resolutions that will come before the delegates. We hope you will be in full support of these resolutions and discuss them with your local delegates before they head to Las Vegas in June.
The first is a resolution regarding a change to the Orchestra Services Program (OSP). While I have just written about the fine relationships ICSOM hopes to foster between our orchestras and locals, there have been times (though thankfully few over the years) when the AFM was asked to step in and resolve a dysfunctional relationship. Article 5, Section 38(b) was incorporated into our AFM bylaws after the Seattle Symphony left the AFM in 1988 due to insurmountable problems between the musicians and their local. There was no solution to help Seattle back then. Since that time, the OSP has allowed the AFM to become the overseer of an orchestra’s collective bargaining agreement until such a time as the orchestra and local could reasonably work together again. The key problem with the OSP is that it redirects 2% of the local work dues to the AFM to fund contract administration. This loss of work dues can severely harm a local. ICSOM’s proposal would add another step that is less punitive. It would allow the AFM to appoint an overseer to act as a local buffer and go-between for a much more reasonable cost. ICSOM does not advocate getting rid of the OSP because there still may be future cases that warrant it. At the same time, we would like to address situations that may not have to go that far. We believe this resolution will address these concerns.
The second resolution goes back to 1997, when the AFM was talking about restructuring. Sadly, all that work led to few changes. One thing that became clear to many back then, however, is that it is a very bad idea to allow a contractor (in other words an employer) to serve as a local officer. Why? Imagine that you’ve been hired by that particular contractor for a gig and something goes wrong. You would normally contact the local to seek a remedy. Then you realize you are filing your grievance with the very person who employed you. We’d all like to think that our elected officers would be above retaliation, but human nature being what it is, there have been many workers who not only found no satisfaction but were also blackballed from future work. Unfortunately, there are still many locals with contractors serving as local officers, so this is an uphill battle. Over the years personnel managers and theater contractors have been excluded. Until all contractors have been removed, workers have no absolute protection from retaliation in the only place they have to look for assistance.
ICSOM continues to fight for the rights of its members and for the betterment of our entire industry. I hope you’ll continue to support our efforts. Both of the resolutions I’ve mentioned are included in this issue. We urge you to speak to your delegates in support of this legislation.