Saturday, April 12, 2008

RMA v. AFM, Now in Federal Court

On March 29, 2008, at the New England Conference in Newport, Rhode Island, President Tom Lee and Secretary-Treasurer Sam Folio arose to tell the story of their recent trip to Los Angeles.

The duet told of their positive meetings with recording musicians. The video games business, they said, is growing, and will be a great source of income for our musicians. Secretary Sam said "the trip was a success, with more work ahead."

Members who relied on Tom and Sam's version would be completely in the dark about the real story, in particular a major federal lawsuit between the RMA and the AFM.

Hostilities between the RMA and Tom Lee's administration have escalated since the AFM "promulgated" (as opposed to "negotiated") a one-page video game agreement, which is substantially pro-employer and unfavorable to musicians. Tom Lee's administration argued that this pro-employer stance was necessary to bring video game work into the union. This one-page agreement is at the center of the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in California.

In September 2007, the RMA requested an accounting and a refund for work dues paid under this and other "promulgated" agreements. Under AFM bylaws, only "negotiated" agreements are subject to work dues. No communication developed between the RMA and the AFM; no accounting or refunds were made or discussed. Tom Lee's administration ignored the propitious moment. The RMA proceeded to file suit.

The RMA is one of the largest contributors of work dues to the AFM. One would hope that our elected AFM officials would not avoid dialogue with any single member, let alone the combined voice of recording musicians. We elect officials precisely to reach common ground with aggrieved members, and to develop solutions mutually agreeable to all. Costly litigation should be the last resort.

Because the RMA had substantive objections to the one-page agreement from its inception, they asked Tom Lee in December 2006 why they were given no opportunity to ratify the agreement. After all, the AFM bylaws require a ratification process for all "negotiated" agreements.

AFM General Counsel Jeffrey Freund responded that a "promulgated" agreement was completely different from a "negotiated" agreement, and was not subject to the ratification requirement. The one-page agreement is a "promulgated" agreement, so neither the RMA nor anybody else would have any say in the matter. At this point in time, when it benefited them, the AFM was only too happy to highlight the differences between a "promulgated" agreement and a "negotiated" agreement.

Embarrassingly for the AFM, Attorney Freund's reasoning then may win the case for the RMA now. If a "promulgated" agreement is so different from a "negotiated" agreement that it short-circuits the ratification requirement, then why doesn't it also short-circuit the work dues requirement? The bylaws, after all, require work dues only on "negotiated" agreements. How can Attorney Freund and Tom Lee's administration justify interpreting the bylaws one way when it suits them, and the opposite way when it doesn't?

Though our elected AFM officials keep their lips sealed, the federal case against the AFM is a matter of public record, and we offer the following documents for interested readers.

Letter from AFM General Counsel Jeffrey Freund Explaining the Difference Between "Promulgated" and "Negotiated" Agreements
RMA's Opposition to AFM's Motion to Dismiss
AFM's Withdrawal of AFM's Motion to Dismiss

Clarification (4/27/2008): The plaintiffs are three individual RMA members, not the RMA itself. Larger issues remains between the RMA and the AFM, but the RMA and its representatives have nothing to do with these lawsuits, and have not instigated or approved them.

1 comment:

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