Thursday, June 14, 2007

Union Man, Military Man

In early May, 2006, I wrote to President Lee seeking help with an instance of unfair competition involving an Air Force band. For twenty years, the Worcester Symphony Orchestra had been engaged for a Fourth of July performance, employing between fifty and sixty musicians. This year, however, we learned that the Air Force "Band of Liberty Pops" was going to perform the gig.

July 4th came and went, with no response from President Lee. Finally, at the end of July, President Lee wrote with his belated opinion, and attached an eleven page history of the former Article 13, Section 34 of the Constitution of the AFM:

"No Local in the United States is permitted to accept any member of the armed services on active duty to partial, special or full membership in the American Federation of Musicians under any conditions..."

The essay was a narrative of how then-Master Sergeant Lee effected the reversal of that policy, which was in place to limit unfair competition with civilian musicians. After all, military musicians are highly achieved (many are on leave from the AFM), well-rehearsed and subsidized by the American taxpayer. Indeed, the negative effect of unfair competition by military musicians was even recognized by the U.S. Congress, which enacted this Federal law:

" enlisted member of an armed force on active duty may be ordered or permitted to leave his post to engage in a civilian pursuit or business, or a performance in civil life, for emolument, hire, or otherwise, if the pursuit, business, or performance interferes with the customary or regular employment of local civilians in their art, trade, or profession." (10 USC 974.)

However, this law was repealed in 1998. The further upshot of Master Sergeant Lee's efforts was that permission was granted for members of all four armed services to play for wages while off duty.

The general rule today is that all military bands (except U.S. Army bands, whose regulations still reflect the spirit of the law quoted above, and which will not unfairly compete with civilian musicians), can play in any jurisdiction in the country, so long as there are no wages paid (and how can professional civilian musicians compete with free military musicians?). No thought is given to the displacement of AFM musicians, or the element of unfair competition.

I can understand where Master Sergeant Lee's loyalties were, and in all probability, are today. I respect Master Sergeant Lee's past opinions and position with respect to military bands. But should President Lee under basic union principles agree to allow military bands to perform within a Local's jurisdiction, displacing our dues-paying members?

The issue here is not one of patriotism, but of displacement and unfair competition. There is a conflict of interest between Master Sergeant Lee, who campaigned for military musicians, and President Lee, who is supposed to safeguard civilian musicians. The philosophies here are diametrically opposed.

No comments: