Approximately 40 or 50 orchestra musicians and local officers met with AFM officers, staff, and counsel for an electronic media summit in Alexandria, Virginia on Monday, November 12, 2007. The discussion centered on radio broadcasting.
ICSOM Chair Bruce Ridge made a few opening remarks and expressed his interest in the opinions of those in attendance. AFM President Tom Lee began with a brief overview of the AFM’s recording bargaining history, the use of electronic media guarantees in symphony collective bargaining agreements, and the previous media summits held in 2003 and 2005 in Chicago (both of which, it should be noted, had better participation from ICSOM orchestras). He noted that, over the years, the musician salary costs of both radio broadcast and sound recording have shifted from record labels and radio stations to orchestral institutions.
President Lee spoke about the AFM bylaw that requires Federation approval of any media language negotiated by locals on behalf of their orchestras. In the past few years, a number of new agreements were negotiated that included scales, benefits, and other terms and conditions that were lower than those required in existing AFM national electronic media agreements or agreements promulgated by the AFM. (Promulgated rates are established by the International Executive Board (IEB), generally with the input of the Player Conferences and/or rank and file musicians.) Unfortunately, there have been many times when newly negotiated language has been submitted for approval with little or no time to try to address any problems, leaving the President, and now the entire IEB, with a dilemma: Should they reject the language and force the musicians to return to the bargaining table (assuming that is an option), and, further, should they file charges against the musicians and local officers if the language is ratified without AFM approval?
AFM General Counsel Jeff Freund expounded upon AFM bylaw enforcement and pointed out that the nature of our industry has changed, thanks largely to changes in technology and economic structure. The AFM has had to take a different path.
AFM SSD Electronic Media Director Debbie Newmark explained that the AFM currently has three very successful multi-employer negotiated national agreements. The Symphony, Opera, Ballet Audio-Visual (AV) Agreement has been in existence since 1982 and has 72 signatory orchestras. The Symphony, Opera, Ballet Internet Agreement, which was first negotiated in 2000 to cover audio product on the Internet, has 77 signatory orchestras. The newest of the three, the Symphony, Opera, Ballet Live Recording Agreement, was negotiated in 2005–2006 and was based upon the Radio-to-Non-Commercial promulgated agreement. That agreement, which includes budget review, project approval, and potential revenue sharing once costs are met, already has 66 signatory orchestras. In regard to Counsel Freund’s comments about taking a different path, the Internet Agreement and Live Recording Agreement are significantly different in nature from past agreements, and both the AV and Internet agreements include local oversight committees.
All three of these agreements are successful and enforceable because they have been directly negotiated with the managers and/or representatives of our managers. These agreements also include joint oversight committees that can help deal with ideas that don’t fall within the strict parameters of these agreements.
AFM Associate Counsel Trish Polach spoke about recent discussions with Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media (APM), which recently acquired SymphonyCast and Performance Today. Both programs are currently covered by the National Public Radio Agreement, which expires in early 2008. The AFM is committed to negotiating a successor agreement with APM, but that may not be as easy as one would hope. APM does not generally pay for the content they broadcast, so they have concerns about their role in a successor agreement, most importantly regarding the negotiation of wages. As mentioned earlier, broadcasters, like record labels, have abrogated their responsibility for funding recording and have placed the burden squarely on our institutions who must then find the funding to be on the radio or to make recordings. Discussions are ongoing, and APM has invited a couple of orchestra managers to attend the next session in late November.
Ms. Polach also mentioned the wide-ranging scales for syndicated radio, which are negotiated locally. Years ago, in response to an ICSOM Conference resolution, the IEB established a floor of 5% of weekly scale for a syndicated radio broadcast. Because that is a promulgated rate, not a negotiated agreement, it has been much harder to enforce these past few years as orchestras have negotiated lower scales.
A number of issues were raised that afternoon. Before discussion from the floor began, ICSOM Electronic Media Chair Bill Foster said he believed a comprehensive radio agreement was necessary. Some raised concerns that a national agreement not undercut local agreements that could potentially be better than what might be negotiated nationally. Others opined that the mindset has changed and that media should be thought of and used primarily as marketing and publicity to enhance our core mission—providing live classical performances to our communities. Many spoke in favor of a national agreement, though what it would encompass was only lightly touched upon. Some orchestras worried about how a national agreement would impact their orchestras if wages were significantly lower, similar to the significant scale differences between the Live Recording Agreement and the Sound Recording Labor Agreement.
By the end of the afternoon, it appeared that there was some consensus from those in attendance that it would be a good idea to seek a national radio agreement. ICSOM President Brian Rood pointed out that each of these media summits over the years has included shifts in attitudes. He said we all had to be mindful of what is occurring within our orchestras and that we need to leave our orchestras in better shape for future generations.
President Lee wrapped up the session with his observations that he heard that the groups was in favor of a national radio agreement that did not include a loss in salary, that would not harm local agreements, and that would require local/orchestra approval. He assured everyone that he and SSD would work with the ICSOM and ROPA electronic media committees in discussion and negotiation of a national agreement.