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13 October 2008


Jeff Albert

Well, the lesson here is that the prime responsibility of AFM officers is to keep their jobs. It is not to represent musicians. Their only concern with our well being is that we keep working, so that we can keep paying dues, so that they will still have jobs.

I am sure there are some union officials that are genuinely trying to help their brother musicians, but they are few and far between.

I also enjoy many benefits that have been won by the AFM, but I have seen too many times that the leadership at the national level is largely self serving first and member serving second.


Hi Jeff,

It's hard to see how this move is even self-serving. What do they hope to gain by being practically the only union in America not to endorse Obama? (Have they looked at a poll lately?)


To me, this is like the Log Cabin Republicans endorsing McCain.

I've resisted joining the Union since I've been in NYC. Nonetheless, I have done some union work and some might say I am a freeloader, but my one union club date band pays $310, and my non-union club date gigs usually pay more.

For Broadway, it seems useful (good money there), but I feel that unions are sometimes corrupt---up to some crooked shit---am I wrong? Check out Carnegie Hall's IRS Form 990.


These are stagehands working 40 hours per week making $500,000. Someone correct me if I am wrong, but this is crazy, right? I am not opposed to people in the arts making half a million, but the musicians on stage are making $200 (maybe) and the stage hand is making $250/hour, for a total of $2000 for one goddamn day? Yeah--I know--different unions....but--that is why I am hesitant to sign up and go along with the whole thing. This whole non-endorsement kind of confirms my suspicions that these people do not represent me. Sorry if that pisses people off...I am happy to be convinced otherwise as I am NOT anti-union--just a little disenchanted.


unions are sometimes corrupt

Human beings are eminently corruptible creatures. There is no institution in human history that has ever been free of corruption. But it would be crazy to say, "Well, look, the NYPD is totally corrupt, so let's just get rid of it. What do we need a police force for, anyway?"

Non-unionized club date gigs pay what they do because they have to compete in a marketplace against union gigs, where members also get health and pension benefits. If there were no union, everyone would be making a lot less. And if the union was smarter, more savvy, more influential, more relevant, etc., everyone would be making more.

Also, as I mentioned, the specific problem here isn't with our Local (who have been organizing phone banks for Obama for months now). The problem is with the national leadership, who clearly have their heads up their asses. But we'll never get the change we need if people just wash their hands and walk away.

The AFM desperately needs people like you in its membership James, to help change things from within. There are a lot of things that a Musician's Union could and should be doing in the 21st century -- things that we can't do alone, things no one else could or will do for us. But the AFM won't start making those things happen until the membership starts clamoring for them.


Well Darcy. Excellent post.

Earlier this year, when I was threatened to be blacklisted by the 802 unless I joined them, I called them and asked why I should join. Had I received a response like this one, I may have signed up then and there. But instead, the response I got was "join or don't join, but if you don't, we are going to call your employers and tell them to fire you." That soured me a bit.

I've always wanted to be a union boy...


But instead, the response I got was "join or don't join, but if you don't, we are going to call your employers and tell them to fire you."

Well, okay, that right there is the first thing that needs to change. Sheesh. Carrot first, guys. The stick is for when the carrot doesn't work.


P.S. Say what you will about the NY Stagehands' Union, I imagine its membership has a pretty healthy appreciation for the benefits of collective action.


"P.S. Say what you will about the NY Stagehands' Union, I imagine its membership has a pretty healthy appreciation for the benefits of collective action."

Well--I don't know how they get multiple $500,000 contracts from non-profit institutions, but it doesn't seem right. But again, maybe these contracts have nothing to do with the union...Maybe $2000/day is just the going rate for a top tier stagehand these days.


Like I said... there's a lot of things you can say about that situation. The one thing you can't say is that the NY Stagehands Union doesn't deliver the goods for its membership.

josh s.

I haven't lived in NYC for long, but for what it's worth...
when I first moved here, I asked a friend of mine if he thought it was a good idea to join Local 802. His response was, "Don't join unless you've secured a union gig. Otherwise, being in the union is an unnecessary expense." I've yet to secure said gig (believe me, not for lack of trying) so I have yet to join the Union.
Sadly, the story James tells is one I've heard too many times. There is still NO incentive for me to join the musician's union. While I respect Local 802 for what they try to preserve for the current membership, they've displayed no interest in recruiting me or many fellow musicians. It is a shame. Just imagine, if the Union were powerful enough (i.e., had enough members), then maybe it could make sure that ALL venues offered SOME kind of guarantee to the musicians who work hard to keep patrons coming through their doors.


While I admire the passion of this post, it merely reinforces the isolation I perpetually feel as a politically conservative musician.


I suppose this is not entirely unexpected given the prominence of Local 257.

Nonetheless, I would like to second the point that a union-wage tide raises non-union boats. My own (now-lapsed) membership never brought me much direct benefit, but the spillover certainly meant I was getting paid more for my freelancing than I would have otherwise. I wouldn't mind the political pussyfooting around so much if the AFM would leverage some of that C&W power or urban brass-knuckling to do more of the same thing for, say, small-market orchestras or gigging musicians outside of big cities.


Personal politics ought not to have anything to do with this. In America, you've got one party that is basically supportive of unions and another that would like to see them wiped off the map. You don't advance the interests of your union by trying to make concessions to a party that is fundamentally hostile to your interests and will never lift a finger to help you. This is basic, basic stuff. If the AFM leadership doesn't understand how this works they have no business running a lemonade stand, let alone a union.


jodru, of course you'll feel isolated if you merely post that you feel isolated! mr. argue so nicely put himself on the line and has been fielding anti-union hits left and right. sometimes you have to make yourself vulnerable to figure out where your friends are. you've got a blog — tell us about your politically conservative musical self.

Jeff Albert

This lack of endorsement could be self-serving in that it takes more than 802 and 47 to get Federation officers elected. Outside of the largest three or four locals, the union does very little collective bargaining. It is mostly an organization that represents both bandleaders and sidemen, and is often the method that bandleaders use to keep their costs down. The people that run those locals might not want the AFM to endorse Obama, thus the Fed leadership does nothing, so as not to alienate any possible AFM convention voters.

When the AFM functions like a regular union, i.e. when there is a clear labor/management relationship, it does a decent job. Unfortunately there is rarely that clear labor management relationship. There is that relationship on Broadway, in most symphonies, when there were major record labels. There is not that clear relationship in club dates or general business jobs.


Hi Jeff,

Thanks. I'm afraid the non-endorsement still doesn't make any sense to me. The AFM leadership endorsed Kerry in 2004. But now, in a year in which the Democratic candidate is much more popular and much more likely to win, and with overwhelming Democratic majorities in Congress all but certain, they make no endorsement?

I am certain that if you polled the AFM membership, they would overwhelmingly support Obama.


From AFM.org, here are the email addresses of the IEB (that made this decision).. maybe it's not too late to reverse the decision.

[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]

Aaron Hynds

"While I admire the passion of this post, it merely reinforces the isolation I perpetually feel as a politically conservative musician."---jodru

And how. I've been dealing with this a lot lately, and I even live in a relatively conservative place, (Northern Iowa.) On top of that, no-one seems to listen to me when I tell them how awful Barack has been as an Illinois Senator, (I've lived my entire life in Illinois, I'm just in N.IA for school.) Yeah, he may be good for union people, but he's going to be damn awful for a lot of people out there. Especially with his borderline socialist economic plan...
Geez, I don't really mind Bush. But it seems like I'm going to spend the next four years hating my president as much as people claim to hate the current one. And I don't think I'll ever get used to the "you've got to be an idiot" look so many other musicians give me when I tell them I don't think Obama is the Second Coming.


"Borderline socialist" -- that's a good one. You realize Bush just nationalized the banks, right?


Geez, I don't really mind Bush.

I'm not even sure that qualifies you as borderline conservative. Between the partisan leverage, the fiscal irresponsibility, and the incompetent nation-building, Michael Oakeshott himself would have read this administration the riot act.

Aaron Hynds

I never said I agree with everything the Bush admin has done---case in point, I think the No Child Left Behind thing is a pile of garbage. But, he hasn't done enough to make me completely and utterly against the admin in general.

People talk about Obama like he's the great Revival of Politics. He's played the same exact game that every politician plays to get their jobs. I'm sure at least some of the stuff he's saying is there just to get votes, same with McCain and every presidential candidate this past century. It's not like he's going to come in and create America into a feel-good happy utopia of equality. Besides that, I think this horrible tax plan of his is going to throw things even further out of control.

And besides, at least Bush isn't trying to spread my family's "wealth" around. What seems so blindingly obvious to so many people, but apparently not to the Obama economic thinktank, is that, while companies that make around 250K do make a good amount of capital, this doesn't mean that the employees make a good salary. I guess they didn't factor in power bills, building maintenance, delivery fees, raw supplies costs, insurance costs,work costs, etc, etc.... This is the situation my family is in, as part owners and proprietors of a small family-run business. And, as a firm member of the lower middle class, I look at Obama's claim to "work for the middle class" as being complete garbage. Guess we have to pitch in, though. It's not like we'll have a choice...



If you are among the 7% of Americans who are happy with the direction this country has gone in over the past eight years --torture, rendition, the Patriot Act, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, Katrina, Blackwater, the current global financial collapse, etc. -- then by all means, you should vote for McCain.

You are, however, completely wrong about Obama's tax plan: "I guess they didn't factor in power bills, building maintenance, delivery fees, raw supplies costs, insurance costs,work costs, etc, etc" -- this is incorrect. The $250,000 figure applies to profit, not revenue.


Also, here are Obama's own words, from Fayetteville, North Carolina today:

Lately, [McCain] and Governor Palin have actually accused me of -- get this -- socialism. John McCain just repeated the charge again this morning. And you know why? Because I want to give a tax cut to the middle class -- a tax cut to 95% of American workers. These are folks who work hard every single day and get payroll taxes taken out of their paycheck every single week. These are the teachers and janitors who work in our schools. They're the cops and firefighters who keep us safe. They're the waitresses who work double shifts, the cashiers at Wal-Mart, the plumbers fighting for the American Dream. John McCain thinks that giving these Americans a break is socialism. Well I call it opportunity, and there is nothing more American than that.

If John McCain wants to talk about redistributing wealth to those who don't need it and don't deserve it, let's talk about the $700,000 tax cut he wants to give Fortune 500 CEOs, who've been making out like bandits -- some of them literally. Let's talk about the $300 billion he wants to give to the same Wall Street banks that got us into this mess. Let's talk about the $4 billion he wants to give oil companies like Exxon-Mobil or the $200 billion he wants to give the biggest corporations in America. Let's talk about the 100 million middle-class Americans who John McCain doesn't want to give a single dime of tax relief. Don't tell me that CEOs and oil companies deserve a tax break before the men and women who are working overtime day after day and still can't pay the bills. That's not right, and that's not change.

I promise you this -- not only will the middle class get a tax cut under my plan, but if you make less than $250,000 a year -- which includes 98 percent of small business owners -- you won't see your taxes increase one single dime. Not your payroll taxes, not your income taxes, not your capital gains taxes -- nothing. That is my commitment to you.

Here's the truth, North Carolina. This debate -- and this election -- comes down to what we value. In the America I know, we don't just value wealth, we value the work and workers who create it.

For the last eight years, we have tried it John McCain's way. We have tried it George Bush's way. We've given more and more to those with the most and hoped that prosperity would trickle down to everyone else. And guess what? It didn't. So it's time try something new. It's time to grow this economy from the bottom-up. It's time to invest in the middle-class again.

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