Saturday, August 30, 2008

Boiling Over

The few months before and after Labor Day 2008 will determine if the AFM survives until its 2010 convention.


In June 2008 a meeting took place in Las Vegas. In attendance were the Locals Conference Council's thirteen representatives, the Player Conference Council's six (including RMA President Ayling) and the International Executive Board's nine: the Executive Committee — Parente, McGrew, Hair, Price and Linneman — plus Sam Folio, VPs Skolnik and Bradley, and President Tom Lee.

The lawsuit, David Parmeter et. al. v. AFM, was on everyone's mind, and soon on their tongues. With these twenty-eight AFM officers assembled, a shouting match ensued. Some could not stand the poisonous atmosphere in the room, and walked out. At some moment unknown to everyone except the IEB's nine, a covert, off-the-record pact was made to decertify the RMA at the IEB's meeting in September. This is the "nuclear option."


In late July 2008, Bradley revealed in his Local's newsletter that the IEB "passed a resolution that the question of terminating the RMA status be addressed as soon as possible, but no later than the September 2008 IEB Meeting." (Page 28 of the Nashville Musician is the only documentation for this. No minutes were published. An attempt to access the June 2008 agenda gives the appropriate error, "No such file.")

He did this in a missive printed beside a petition from one hundred eighty-eight of his members, urging him to vote "no" to the decertification of the RMA. "How ridiculous!" Bradley thundered:
"This resolution, submitted by RMA President David Pomeroy, is intended to influence my vote! I will continue to vote my conscience (based on the facts before me), and I resent this attempt to force me to vote otherwise."
It is hard to imagine a more hostile response from an elected representative to his members. It is obvious that Bradley has made up his mind to vote "yes."


On August 15, 2008 Tom Lee wrote a letter to selected members, responding to a letter by Rafael Rishik of Fareplay Inc., apparently a recording musicians' legal fund. The letter contains the usual Leeisms, with a good helping of half-truth and innuendo. For example:
"It is simply not true that the RMA has been denied input in Federation collective bargaining. In the past years the RMA has had input on every negotiation in which they have historically participated." (emphasis mine)

This is half-truth. Here's Tom Lee in an email dated November 6, 2007, addressed to RMA President Ayling, with copies to the IEB and the AFM's lawyers:
"Further, AV negotiations are scheduled but at this point, I will not need your input. Please rest assured that if, at some future date I believe your input will be helpful, you will be notified." (emphasis mine)

In public, Tom Lee claims the RMA had input. In private, he uncivilly turns his back on the elected RMA President.

We're not sure how Tom Lee defines "input," but if he can point to a single relevant negotiation since October 2005 at which RMA President Phil Ayling was present, we'd like to hear it. Tom Lee tells us why:
"[T]he creation of the PMG [Professional Musicians Guild] by what is reported to be members of the RMA makes it difficult to allow individuals who may have a loyalty to another union (PMG) to be taken seriously when they offer to participate in an AFM negotiation."

This is innuendo. We are meant to think, "Phil Ayling is a member of PMG, so we can't trust him at our AFM negotiations." Phil Ayling has never been charged with being a member of PMG. Karl Rove could slightly alter Tom Lee's prose to convince us that Barack Obama is a member of Al Qaeda. It is a detestable tactic.

Now, let's look into the future.


At the IEB's September 2008 meeting, with the IEB apparently determined to decertify the RMA, it seems clear that the ayes will have it. The RMA, a huge contributor of work dues, and a significant group of professional musicians, will be gone. The RMA will survive — it may decide to form a separate union, or join a union like the Screen Actors Guild.


In late January 2009, the final pretrial conference is scheduled in David Parmeter et. al. v. AFM. A settlement could be reached by lawyers on or before this date, but the AFM should remember that without dealing with the RMA, it will apply only to three men: David Parmeter, Anatoly Rosinsky, and Andrew Shulman. The RMA has not brought this suit. RMA President Ayling has not brought this suit. Even if this particular suit is settled, any other musician who has recorded under the "promulgated agreements" could immediately sue as well.

A manifesto by a recording musician, anonymous out of fear of Tom Lee (who has a history of reprisal against bloggers), suggests that other recording musicians intend to do just that: sue the AFM under the same theory (perhaps with financial aid from Rafael Rishik's Fareplay).


If there is no settlement, the jury trial will commence on February 17, 2009, with the AFM at the defendant's table.

If the AFM loses this case, it would become a persuasive precedent, and any other musician who recorded under the "promulgated agreements" could quickly prevail as well. The AFM would be obligated to pay these judgments. With the RMA gone, Sam Folio's coffers are much emptier than before. Obviously, the per capita would go up. Small Locals, already close to biting the dust, would be asked to contribute the same as wealthy Locals. This is precisely why Tom Lee, proclaiming to be the friend of the smaller Local against the evil RMA, is about to make a fatal miscalculation in decertifying the RMA. Tom Lee's war with the RMA will kill the small Local.

We have seen that the AFM as currently constituted is limping towards its demise. Tom Lee has successfully neutered union democracy and put a puppet show in its place, with the strings leading back to him. But after eight years in office, can he really claim that recording musicians need the AFM more than the AFM needs recording musicians?

Now let's peer into an alternate universe.


A settlement is essential, and it can't be brokered by the AFM's two law firms and five lawyers. The AFM's high-powered lawyers can settle exactly one case with three musicians. There are hundreds of others, and they're all in the RMA. Only Tom Lee and Phil Ayling, together in the same room, acting in a spirit of good faith and compromise, can settle this.

Let this meeting be scheduled. Let the IEB at their September 2008 meeting defer the question of decertification pending the outcome of the meeting. Let Tom Lee and Phil Ayling negotiate a compromise. Let Tom Lee instruct the AFM's lawyers to settle the lawsuit in accordance with that compromise. Let Phil Ayling use his influence to suggest that the three recording musicians do the same.

Let this particular disaster be avoided — at least for now. Let Labor Day 2008 be remembered as the time that this union almost imploded, but didn't in the end.

Further Reading:
"Disharmony swells among musicians", Variety, Aug. 21, 2008.
"Ain't democracy grand?", The AFM Observer, Aug. 6, 2008.
July 2008 archive of The AFM Observer.
"Committee: RMA Considering Targeting Orchestral Tenure Clauses", Film Music Magazine, Jul. 8, 2008.
Other items are linked in the article.