I read Chairperson Meredith Snow’s excellent first column for Senza Sordino (October 2016) with great interest and appreciation. I do feel the need, however, to provide a different perspective on the infamous ICSOM media wars of the early 2000s.
Meredith wrote that, at her first ICSOM Conference as a delegate in 2001, national media agreements were “undergoing wholesale revision,” with “proposed changes [that] would completely transform the pay scale and working conditions of the then-current agreements.”
The process that Meredith was discussing was known as the “Electronic Media Forum,” which was essentially a group formed initially to look at the current state and future of symphonic media activity, and which was composed of orchestra managers, members of the ICSOM and ROPA Media Committees, and several AFM staffers and officers. The first public initiative of the EMF was the Symphony/Opera/Ballet Internet Agreement, an agreement explicitly labeled as “experimental”, which covered work that was not then governed by any existing AFM collective bargaining agreement.
The Internet Agreement was not a “wholesale revision”, or any kind of revision at all, of an existing agreement. It did represent a different approach to some media issues than did existing AFM symphonic media agreements, especially in providing for considerable autonomy for individual managements and elected orchestra representatives to negotiate compensation for media content owned by the orchestra. But this was a smaller change in practice than it appeared on paper. It simply made explicit what existing electronic media guarantees had largely achieved already, which was local control over compensation.
The EMF process was a departure from past practice in another significant way; negotiations were conducted as transparently as possible, with extensive and detailed notes from negotiation sessions posted online for both management and musician constituencies to follow as the negotiations proceeded. This may well have been a factor behind the 10-1 margin in favor of ratification by rank-and-file musicians. The fact that the EMF process was more like interest-based bargaining than traditional positional bargaining made the process “infamous” with some ICSOM orchestras, but did not appear to diminish the agreement’s popularity within ICSOM as a whole.
The EMF then took on a re-negotiation of the expiring Symphony/Opera/Ballet Audio-visual Agreement. The major changes made during this negotiation were 1) to clean up and clarify existing language, which was notoriously difficult to understand, even for experienced media activists; and 2) to put into place a new rate structure for A/V work that was regional in scope. (Local TV had always been a matter for local negotiation.) The rates for existing national work were increased. This agreement, like the Internet Agreement, was also ratified by an overwhelming margin.
The EMF also considered making a real collective bargaining agreement out of the AFM’s promulgated Radio-to-Noncommercial Agreement. At the 2001 Conference that Meredith first attended, the delegates passed a resolution calling for a study of the state of symphonic electronic media before the ICSOM Media Committee was authorized to enter into such negotiations. Unfortunately (at least in my view) a few newly-appointed members of the Media Committee, as well as AFM staff and officers involved, slow-walked the study, with the apparent goal of postponing a negotiation until a change in ICSOM leadership could be effected in 2002. Their success in doing so was not only unfortunate but also ironic. In 2001, the managers appeared eager to reach an agreement very like what eventually became the Live Recording Agreement—but with higher rates.
While I disagree with Chairperson Snow about some aspects of the ICSOM media wars, I do agree with her that the discussions at the 2001 Conference (and at the 2002 Unity Conference in Ottawa as well) represented “grassroots democracy in action.” They were very difficult discussions, and for no one more than the ICSOM chairperson at the time. But they were important and meaningful—and, in the long run, positive for ICSOM as a democratic labor organization, even though I disagreed deeply with the outcome.
ICSOM Chairperson Emeritus (1996-2002)
Note: The editor welcomes letters discussing topics raised in the pages of Senza Sordino, reserving the right not to print such letters, or to edit them for length or propriety.