For the first time in 12 years, I had to miss the final day of the AFM Convention, when most of the real action occurs. This year, the Nashville Symphony hosted the American Symphony Orchestra League’s convention. It overlapped with the AFM Convention on Wednesday, so I was on the red-eye early Wednesday morning to play the final rehearsals for our concert at the League convention. Having attended both conventions, I’d like to pass on a few of my own observations. [Editor’s Note: The American Symphony Orchestra League changed its name at its convention. It is now the League of American Orchestras.]
First, some history: When I began attending AFM Conventions in 1995 as ROPA’s secretary, there were significantly more attendees than today. Dissatisfaction with the AFM back then continued five years after the Roehl Report recommended, and the Blue Ribbon Committee made permanent, the formal establishment of the Symphonic Services Division and the Electronic Media Division. Player Conference delegates had a voice on the floor of the Convention by that time, but they were mostly relegated to some round tables off to the side of the voting delegates, near the AFM staff tables. I became a voting delegate for Local 257 (Nashville) in 2001 and moved over to one of about 15 long tables in front of the dais, where the AFM officers, division heads, emeritus officers, and general counsel sit.
Over the years I’ve watched as well meaning and thoughtful resolutions from the Restructure Committee, the Investigative Task Force, and the Futures Committee were discarded because many delegates feared change. The AFM has many problems that require thoughtful, purposeful changes, but fear of losing control is a strong motivator to continue to do nothing (regarding, for example, establishing regional centers to assist locals that some see as a threat to small locals). Of course, politics play into these decisions as well.
Well-meaning people continue to submit resolutions, and every once in a while something changes. A few changes occurred this year, the biggest being the move to a three-year convention cycle. Most saw this move as essential to saving the AFM financially. (Removing the AFM’s obligation to pay per diem and hotel expenses for one delegate from every local and Player Conference would probably save the AFM more. This year there were 317 delegates, and more than 200 received reimbursement.) A couple of resolutions designed to make the business of the AFM more transparent by ensuring better access to information easily passed this time, even though they went down in flames in 2005. A substitute resolution similar to the Orchestra Services “Lite” Program we approved at the ICSOM Conference last summer also passed. Delegates also adopted a two-year-old IEB policy regarding the appointment of Player Conference representatives to AFM committees.
One change that seems to have been lost in the shuffle of final day events redefined what a “rank-and-file” member is when one is chosen as an AFM-EPF trustee. The resolution dealt with a situation that, in part, caused a major rift that began initially between the AFM and RMA. It addresses the notification and consultation process between Player Conference representatives and the AFM president in choosing rank-and-file pension trustees. I hope this will finally repair the misunderstandings that have dogged this process in the past.
There were the usual time-wasting resolutions, which have more to do with opinion than with changing our AFM. However, they paled in comparison to two other matters that received discussions of over two hours’ duration each at this Convention.
The first was an emergency motion from the Canadian Conference to waive the requirement that Montreal’s dues be paid in full prior to the AFM Convention. According to Article 5, Section 47(e) of the AFM bylaws, a local in arrears one quarterly payment of per capita dues or in arrears three months in reporting and/or forwarding work dues shall not be allowed representation at the Convention. The Montreal local was in arrears by nearly $100,000. The motion was presented before any Convention action occurred and required a two-thirds vote of approval just to be discussed. Numerous people spoke passionately about how Montreal’s financial situation was caused by a previous administration that had been removed from office. They said that the new officers were making good-faith efforts and promises to pay back what was owed. However, the IEB established a policy many years ago that discontinued loans to locals. So without action by the Convention delegates, Montreal would have been prohibited from attending.
When I spoke against this measure, I explained that my local had its own financial problems a few years back and that no such offer was ever extended to us. Thankfully, we were able to pay our obligations prior to the Convention. Some argued that it wouldn’t be right to disenfranchise such a significant number of members—nearly one-quarter of the entire Canadian membership. Puerto Rico was one of the few other locals prevented from attending by dues-payment problems. For more than a year, the Puerto Rico local has incurred substantial legal fees representing its symphony musicians, whose very right to collective bargaining was being challenged. In their case, they had requested dues relief from the AFM instead of a loan.
There were also issues never fully revealed about Montreal’s situation during the two-hour discussion. I was told weeks later that Montreal’s new officers discovered the financial problem only one month before the Convention began. Remember that strike the Montreal Symphony had a few years ago? According to another person, those “terrible” officers that had been removed had done the unthinkable: they matched strike funds with local funds while their musicians were out of work. Frankly, they put their members first— not a bad thing in my book.
Some believe the entire discussion was about politics, but some of us felt it was more about process. I believe that, because the resolution passed, it has set a new precedent for the future when seating locals with outstanding financial obligations.
The second discussion, on day two, was about African-American delegates. By way of background, locals with hyphenated local numbers, like Local 10-208 (Chicago), are the result of the merging of two locals—one white and one African-American. The mergers occurred starting in 1953 (in Los Angeles) and continued into the 1970s. [Editor’s note: See More Than Meets the Ear by Julie Ayer for a detailed account of the history of segregated locals.] To counter the loss of African-American officers, these “hyphenated” locals were entitled to one additional African-American delegate. This continued for many years until, in 1989, the Department of Labor (DOL) informed the AFM that it was illegal to have a delegate position that was open only to African-Americans. These delegates could still attend, but they could not vote in the election of officers. The AFM decided to honor the DOL ruling in 1989, but in 1991 it went back to “business as usual.”
We’re all aware of the attention that has been directed at labor unions in the past few years by the current administration in Washington. Further, due to a challenge about the elections by an AFM member, the DOL was looking hard at the AFM’s election process in particular. Jeff Freund, AFM General Counsel, stood before the delegates for more than two hours and explained patiently and repeatedly that simply having the entire membership vote for the African-American delegates would not address the problem. What few seemed to understand was that the DOL required the delegate position be open to people of every race; delegates could still represent African-American concerns, but the position could not be restricted by race. More than once people stood up and suggested the bylaw be changed or recommended ignoring the DOL (saying that no one would challenge the election while disregarding entirely the fellow walking back and forth in the back of the room during the entire Convention who, I’m told, started the whole process to begin with). I understand that some members of the Diversity Committee had been aware of this problem for some time and had recommended addressing this issue to no avail. The entire discussion was an exercise in futility because too many people just didn’t (or wouldn’t) understand. It is my hope that the AFM finds a way to address this issue with a recommendation or a resolution that will finally put this matter to rest.
Earlier I mentioned I had to leave the Convention early. I was truly sorry to miss the final discussion regarding the financial package that was adopted. Although I had real hopes for a true investigation into the finances of the AFM by what became known as the Revenue Committee, I’m not sure it ever happened. In the end, it seems they just looked for new ways to find money, without seriously considering how funds were being spent or could be used more effectively. I also believe that the oversight committees, known as the steering committees for symphonic services and electronic media, should be pressed into service to see if they, the governing boards, and the conferences they represent, can offer some substantial ideas and suggestions to improve the services we receive.
I cannot end without expressing my admiration of ICSOM Chairperson Bruce Ridge. He has been the most eloquent advocate we could ever wish for. I think his honesty and real desire for a positive approach surprises some people. Some even seem to mistrust his very genuine opinions until they hear more and understand that he’s the genuine article. He has made a great impression on so many people at the AFM and within the League. I had the opportunity to see him at work as he lobbied various AFM committees and delegates on the floor of the Convention, and to observe his participation on various panels at the League Convention and during meetings with musicians and representatives of Group 2 managers. I received many positive words about his work from local officers and managers throughout our week together. He was magnificent, and you all would have been very proud to have seen him represent you.