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February 16, 2009

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And so now downbeat so innocently asks: "Any updates from some of you "connected" AFM folks - did the negotiations begin today? Was Ayling allowed to participate? Very interested to hear how this all turned out..."

Please, downbeat, you're making me crack up!! You already know the answers to all of these questions. You were there.

Any updates from some of you "connected" AFM folks - did the negotiations begin today? Was Ayling allowed to participate? Very interested to hear how this all turned out...

802fiddler,

Yes, the AFM is a trade union. If it were not, it would be instantly guilty of price fixing (scales) since unions are one of the very few ways that standard prices can legally be set across a wide array of vendors/suppliers in the US for any product or service. Yes, I think the AFM also functions as a trade union, albeit one under siege in some cases (recording musician lawsuits).

I don't think your property tax example is appropriate since the proceeds from property tax paid to one locality do not direct benefit people from other taxing localities (other counties or whatever your local breakup of taxing authorities is). That's not the case with the AFM, where many services are provided by the national for the benefit of all members. A federal tax example might be more appropriate, and it's easy to see how the distribution of federal tax dollars does not necessarily mirror the demographic that pays those dollars - in other words, those who pay the most federal taxes do not necessarily benefit the most from federal taxes and those taxes are used to provide goods and services for the greater good. Am I saying the AFM should be run like the federal government? Hardly. But if you want to use a taxing example, the federal one is more appropriate to the AFM/recording musicians situation in my opinion.


If the more militant recording musicians wish to benefit from the legacy of the AFM and the clout and strength being part of a much, much larger union, then they need to understand that they are not an autonomous, independent group, they are equal members of a much larger whole. I find it interesting that the recording musicians act like they are a self-funded, self-managed group, rather than part of a greater group, as if they greater group should have no authority at all over them. That's simply not the way things are. Now, if the recording musicians truly want to be self-funded and self-managed and hear nothing from the "hobbyists" and "part-timers", let them have their own union, let them negotiate their own insurance and pension plan deals, and let them negotiate their own contracts (from scratch, of course). But they can't have it both ways - they can't be part of a greater group, yet reject the authority of that greater group.

And finally, yes, I think a union absolutely should undertake actions that increase work for its members. Those unemployed and underemployed members need the services of their union - which they pay annual dues into just like full-time working members - even more perhaps. In this day and age where unions are seen more and more as outdated dinosaurs, trade unions need to earn the loyalty and affiliation of their members even more than before. To me, that means taking a proactive stance towards activities that could create more good, union work for more members, while remaining competitive with the world marketplace for the services members provide.

For one thing, the obviously toxic Ayling/Lee relationship needs to be reconsidered - with all due respect to Phil, it was time years ago for another recording musician to take over negotiations with the AFM as soon as things badly soured between Ayling and Lee.

This argument would have more merit if the relationship between Tom and Phil's predecessor hadn't been headed down the same path, as verylongname suggested. I guess it's possible that Tom had issues with both Dennis and Phil that he wouldn't have with whoever might replace Phil. I think it's more likely that Tom has issues with the concept of the RMA being representative of recording musicians.

As a sign of respect to the recording musicians, Lee should appoint an emissary to negotiate on his behalf with the RMA, and the RMA should appoint a new negotiator to work with the AFM. Or perhaps both sides should hire professional negotiators and do things that way.

I am profoundly uncomfortable with the idea that any AFM president can, by his behavior towards a player conference, force that conference to change officers. My preferred solution for this mess has been, from the beginning, for Tom to appoint someone to fix it on his behalf.

I can understand why Tom might not like that idea. But, in terms of the success of his presidency, that would be the wise course. In the end, Tom will be judged on his ability as a leader and not as a politician. No one will care who ended this war on Tom's behalf; they'll only care if it was ended (or not) on Tom's watch.

I'm sure that my writing doesn't always reveal the degree to which I'm sympathetic to Tom's plight. I found myself in a similar situation a while back, and didn't handle it as well as I might have. One of the many hard things about being a leader is knowing when it's better for someone else do to something. I suspect that Tom finds that as hard to embrace as I did.

I would ask downbeat the following:

Assuming you own property, would you like it if you had to pay my way to your town so that I could join your governing body and vote to raise your property taxes - taxes that didn't affect me? BTW, that tax increase would ensure my continued interference in your life. Would you say that was fair even though you made a bigger income than me? Further, would you like it if I was able to marginalize your duly elected representative and want to deal with someone from your group that I picked? Are you really suggesting that Ayling leave simply because Lee doesn't like him? Maybe Obama should leave because Linsey Graham and Tom Coburn don't like him......

Do you really think that the AFM is a "trade union" even though it never instituted the Roehl report that received an affirmative vote years ago - something that would have brought the AFM closer to "trade unionism"?

Finally,do you really that a union is supposed to CREATE work rather than NEGOTIATING AND ENFORCING CONTRACTS for those that are working?

REALLY??

Robert writes:

"The question I have for Downbeat is this: if the lawsuits have at least some merit (and the AFM's failure to have them thrown out suggests they do), then the AFM has arguably violated the law of the land and/or its own bylaws. The mere fact of the violation would argue that the recording musicians don’t have the political clout to prevent the AFM from acting illegally. So it seems to me that the only two choices left them are to file lawsuits or to allow the AFM to (in their view, at least) pick their pockets. Of course lawsuits are a sucky way to resolve differences within a union, or anywhere else. But sometimes there’s no other way. If Downbeat thinks there is another way, I’ve yet to seen him/her suggest it."

Hmm... thought there was a question there... seems more like a statement you're making (the AFM has arguable violated the law...").

If you're asking me do I think the lawsuits have merit, let me say that I think that a subset of recording musicians have a big problem with the promulgated one-off buyout agreements and the special payments tax, and I respect their right to object to those policies. So there certainly are legitimate differences of opinion as to whether these new policies are appropriate or not, and we've discussed both sides of both of these issues at length here.

But by the same token, I believe that federal lawsuits were the worst way for the recording musicians to voice their difference of opinion regarding these specific policies. It's a scorched earth policy, as bringing lawyers in is usually a one-way street and ups the ante exponentially, both financially and legally, and creates a totally adversarial situation where somebody wins and somebody loses. That's way, way out of line and turns legitimate differences of opinion into massive costly legal battles where everybody, one way or another, loses. The militant stance by the recording musicians in filing these lawsuits tells me they have completely given up on any and every other avenue of resolving this, and I simply don't believe they've done everything they can. For one thing, the obviously toxic Ayling/Lee relationship needs to be reconsidered - with all due respect to Phil, it was time years ago for another recording musician to take over negotiations with the AFM as soon as things badly soured between Ayling and Lee. Instead, things got personal, and now we have personal grudges and personality differences fueling a massive split in the AFM that has at the root of it a nasty grudge match between Ayling and Lee. Simply put, there's far too much at stake to allow this kind of a personality war to put the AFM at risk.

As a sign of respect to the recording musicians, Lee should appoint an emissary to negotiate on his behalf with the RMA, and the RMA should appoint a new negotiator to work with the AFM. Or perhaps both sides should hire professional negotiators and do things that way. One way or another, we need to excise the personal issues and focus on business issues, and that's not possible as long as the Ayling/Lee grudge match continues to fester.

My own personal opinion on the lawsuit issues? I think the promulgated agreements may have been done without enough research, and certainly without proper consultation with the RMA folks. That being said, if the primary beneficiaries of the promulgated agreements included people other than the RMA folks - new recording musicians and the like, Lee may have had reasons to cast a wider net than just the RMA folks who may be focused only on those who are working a lot today, whose jobs could legitimately be threatened by a wave of new recording musicians enabled by new recording agreements is they create a big increase in AFM recording sessions. That is of course speculation.

As far as the special payments work dues, I have yet to see how making these payments "tax free" (as in, not subject to work dues, since the recording musicians like to call this new policy a tax) is fair. Simply put, it's the same concept as tax breaks for the rich. A basic characteristic of any progressive tax system is that those who make more income pay more taxes. It seems to me that it's appropriate to ask those who make the most money (the 1,000 richest recording musicians) to pay their fair share of work dues based on ALL their income flowing from AFM contracts, without exempting huge portions of their income from work dues. All that money flowed from the original contract, so there's no reason I can see why it shouldn't all be subject to work dues. That's my opinion, and I'm sure those 1000 or so musicians who are the top earners in the July Jackpot aka special payments checks might disagree. And I would never underestimate the lengths that these people would/will go to protect their money, but we have to go beyond a mercenary based approach and really consider what's best for the entire AFM. Some will try and polarize this issue by calling that a socialist approach, but to me it comes down to whether or not AFM members are going to support the AFM and the concept of trade unionism, or whether AFM members only consider the AFM as a convenience to further their own personal and business goals.

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