As I write this it has been just over four months since President Ray Hair appointed me to the new combined position of Director and Special Counsel of the Symphonic Services Division of the AFM. Having spent the previous seven years serving as Counsel to SSD, I hit the ground running and really haven’t stopped since. One highlight of these months was the time I spent in February updating the ICSOM governing board at its mid-winter meeting about the activities of SSD. I was fortunate to inherit a well-running department from my predecessor, Jay Blumenthal. Laurence Hofmann continues to work diligently updating and improving the wage charts. Our three SSD negotiators (Chris Durham, Todd Jelen and Jane Owen) continue ably to assist local unions and orchestra committees in negotiation and enforcement of agreements. As she has done for many years, Debbie Newmark provides expert guidance with regard to symphonic electronic media of every stripe. While much of my time is consumed responding to requests for assistance (both legal and non-legal) that flow into the office every day and in enforcing Federation symphonic media agreements, I am also engaged in several long-term projects.
The most exciting of those projects is the Local Officer Education Program that is currently being launched. While this program grew out of a resolution passed at last summer’s AFM convention, the concept of providing training and support to local officers has been a priority for the AFM and in particular SSD for many years. One vital component of the SSD Resource Center is a library of educational webinars on a range of topics relevant to local unions and orchestra committees. While valuable, that resource can’t begin to support the multiplicity of responsibilities AFM local officers must discharge. To address the need for comprehensive officer training, President Hair charged a six-member committee (consisting of International Vice President Bruce Fife, Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert, IEB member Tina Morrison, Assistant to the President Ken Shirk, International Representative Barbara Owens, and myself) with developing and implementing a local officer education program.
The committee met and brainstormed for two days last November. Our first task was to identify those topics and skill sets with which we believed every AFM Local officer should have a working familiarity. That list included the pragmatic (e.g., Department of Labor reporting requirements), the idealistic (e.g., encouraging diverse voices within our union), and everything in between. With that list roughly prioritized, we analyzed how best to present each subject in a most-effective, least-cost manner.
We emerged with a tripartite structure consisting of: (1) webinars in which we can deliver the “nuts and bolts” of running a local union; (2) education days added on to the five annual regional conferences of locals in which up to six different educational modules can be delivered in a more interactive fashion; and (3) a stand-alone 3-day intensive introduction to union leadership. At its December 2016 meetings, the IEB approved the program and authorized a budget.
The first two stand-alone union leadership programs will be held in July and November 2017 at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) School for Workers. Up to 15 local officers will be invited to attend each program at Federation expense, with the intention of involving up to 30 officers each year. The leadership program will provide full immersion in labor/AFM history, leadership skills, and problem solving, among other topics. Both this and the regional conference add-on days will seek to foster mentorships and peer coaching relationships among local officers.
The regional conference add-on days will allow us to reach even more officers each year, with up to 15 invited to attend each event at Federation expense; additional interested officers (and, potentially, orchestra committee members) may attend at their own or their local’s expense. The Eastern Conference of Locals in April will be the first of the regional educational programs to be offered. Topics planned for that event include: grievance and arbitration; duty of fair representation; internal organizing (member orientation, committee roles, and preparation for bargaining); union administration in a right to work climate; AFM electronic media agreements; intellectual property issues; social media for unions; and building community allies and networking. Many of these modules will be delivered in an interactive fashion, with officers role-playing in order to solidify their understanding of the topics.
The first of the webinars will be rolled out in late spring and will allow even greater participation, with space for up to 100 on each live presentation and the possibility for an unlimited number to view a recorded version of the webinar later.
Why is this program of interest to ICSOM (and other symphonic) musicians? Because it has the potential to greatly improve your working lives. Educated and skilled local officers will be better equipped to work together with your orchestra committees to bargain and enforce symphonic CBAs. With well-trained leadership, our local unions become stronger; that strength translates to greater power in our bargaining relationships.
Invitations to in-person trainings will be extended to officers who have expressed interest and have been identified as having the potential to benefit from the training. If you think one of your local officers would be a good candidate, encourage him or her to participate. If you serve on your orchestra committee and are interested in participating in the regional conference add-on days, speak to your local officers about the possibility of attending. If you have questions or comments you can communicate directly with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or with the entire local officer education committee at email@example.com.