Friday, December 11, 2009

It's Déjà Vu All Over Again

The end of our long union nightmare may be near.

The change movement began quietly in Boston on January 1, 2008, when Pat Hollenbeck defeated the incumbent Lee-supporter Barbara Owens for President of Local 9-535.

The quiet revolution continued on to Nashville a year ago, with an impressive victory by Pomeroy and Krampf against Lee's minions Bradley and Linnemann.

Now comes the biggest rejection of Tom Lee's status quo yet: the landslide victory of the Members Party in New York.

Lame ducks Bradley and Linnemann, along with Lee, Folio and the rubber-stamp IEB, may prove to be sitting ducks at Convention 2010, if this trend in rejecting disingenuous leadership continues.

Musicians must drop their attitude of inherent trust of our elected leadership. Delegates at Convention 2007 were blindsided by Lee’s Canadian shenanigans and his contentious behavior regarding the lawsuits, among other things.

For survival of this union, at the local and national levels, we need this revolution of change to deliver us with new leadership through Convention 2010.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Times May Be A-Changin'

Just in: the IEB has voted unanimously against Tom Lee's wishes in a merger of Locals.

Local 499 of Middletown, CT, and Local 400 of Hartford had agreed to merge. However, for reasons currently unknown, Tom Lee proposed that a small jurisdictional area of Local 499, containing a lucrative collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with its opera company, be transferred to Local 285-402 of New London, CT.

Knowing Tom Lee, there was likely a political reason for his attempt to "steal" this CBA. Officers of the merging Locals objected. The IEB has resolved the issue in the only fair way, merging Local 499 in its entirety with Local 400, with no slice of the action for Local 285-402.

"Tom, This Time There Is No Time Left For 'Let's Wait and See'"

In 1948, President Caesar Petrillo shaped a unique subsidy for AFM musicians to perform live throughout America: the Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF). In my jurisdiction, two symphony orchestras and many smaller groups were born because of MPTF, which provided full payment for services rendered.

At the beginning, MPTF had various co-sponsors. It was an attractive joint venture for cities, towns and private organizations. To this day, MPTF (now simply MPF) is the thread supporting the core membership of many Locals. Without MPF many Locals will implode.

Recently, the MPF's Trustee, John C. Hall, Jr., published a letter to President Tom Lee detailing the state of the MPF. Trustee Hall is to be commended for his realized reductions to the "cost of doing business,” which has been reduced by nearly 30% this year.

But the crux of Trustee Hall's letter is this:

Tom, this time there is no time left for "let's wait and see." The FUND will be out of operation in the fiscal year 2010/2011 unless something is done now; it's just a matter of exactly which month would the door be locked.

Many of us are aware of Tom's universal doctrine of avoidance, which he relies on in every sphere of the AFM's operations. His total lack of leadership and dialogue with aggrieved members, who wished only to discuss issues that directly affect their professional earnings, has resulted in two continuing lawsuits that are draining our treasury.

We can imagine Tom Lee's mantra at Convention 2010: "Because of the RMA lawsuits, your AFM has suffered great financial harm in defending your rights. That comes with a price, and that price is a $20 increase in your per capita dues payment for 2010, increasing a further $20 for 2011 and $20 more for 2012!"

And yet, the AFM is sitting on a cash cow which currently provides no benefit to AFM musicians. At the cost of one letter containing one boilerplate paragraph, the AFM has realized the following returns for the past five years:

2008: $814,351
2007: $807,480
2006: $653,226
2005: $205,703
2004: $276,498
Total: $2,757,258

The AFM charges a $150 visa processing fee to produce a "no-objection" letter supporting foreign musicians' applications to play in the United States. Over the past five years, the above numbers suggest that the AFM issued 18,381 such letters. Each one represents a job NOT played by an AFM musician. This is reverse outsourcing.

Remember the two symphony orchestras in my jurisdiction, born out of the MPTF? One is now defunct, with its former sponsors producing seasons composed almost entirely of foreign orchestras.

For years, Trustee Hall has been warning Tom Lee about the deteriorating condition of the MPF, but nothing has been done. I suggest that 100% of the AFM's visa processing fees be allocated to the MPF. This would finally put this money to productive use. It would provide a quid pro quo to the AFM musician displaced by unfair foreign competition. It would save the MPF.

A resolution for this purpose must and will be drafted for Convention 2010. But it's essential for delegates to awaken to the reality of this Union under Tom Lee's leadership. All we have ever heard is "Let's Wait and See." With deteriorating membership, Locals on life support, unnecessary wars against members on multiple fronts, and the MPF only months away from liquidation, time has run out for Tom Lee.

The time is now!

See also:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

To Arrest Lee's Dictatorship, Vote Out the Rubber Stamp IEB

Tom Lee's vision is to unilaterally and absolutely control the AFM. His chaotic leadership has virtually disenfranchised the Recording Musicians Association (RMA), and will do the same with other player conferences until they are totally wiped out.

Player conferences in principle are the alter ego of the professional musician seeking to educate, enlighten and make recommendations to their collective bargaining representatives to protect the financial needs of the working musician in any given situation. Every collective bargaining negotiation by Tom Lee has resulted in financial inequities for the member musician he is presumably protecting.

Because he has manipulated a stranglehold on Canadian votes, Tom Lee is likely to win in 2010. But if strong, dissenting voices are elected to the IEB, his attempts to command the AFM could be thwarted.

The IEB has thus far voiced no opposition. Here are two AFM members that could shake up the rubber stamp IEB.

Craig Krampf, Secretary of Local 257, Nashville, TN. This was the guy that knocked out Billy Linnemann, who everyone thought could not be defeated. Since he has taken over, Nashville has awakened to the fact that officers work for the rank-and-file members. The Local has become totally transparent and its members overwhelmingly feel that positive action is now moving forward.

Dave Pomeroy, President of Local 257. Dave is a highly gifted leader who would be an excellent candidate for President, but I know he would not accept. He has pledged all his time and efforts to his Local and wants to finish the job he promised to the membership. However, this should not prevent him to run for Vice-President in 2010. I feel he understands the Lee debacle, and that it must be stopped.

These two leaders have proven their courage to fight for what wisdom and experience have taught them. Voices like these on the IEB are exactly what is needed to arrest dictatorship of Tom Lee.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Letter from Hal

From: Hal Espinosa

To: Harold Bradley, Bill Skolnik, Sam Folio, Ray Hair, Erwin Price, Billy Linneman, Joe Parente, Bob McGrew

Date: Tuesday, October 27, 2009, 12:53 PM

To AFM Officers and IEB,

I have tried not to get involved in Local 47 politics as well as AFM politics since I stepped down as President of Local 47. But I sit here and wonder which one of you will finally say something to Tom about his continued lack of respect and communication to some of the highest paying work dues members in the AFM. And we all know who I am talking about. Did anybody ask Tom why he hired a person with no experience in the music industry to run the AFM West Coast Office? You all know how difficult it is to decipher most AFM contracts and the importance of handling employer and musician issues when there is an immediate problem that needs a yes or no answer, now. That job shouldn’t be a job that you learn while trying to run it. When I left office there was still no current up to date printed AFM Agreement to use or give to a potential employer. Don't any of you care what is going on?

I saw Toms letter to Phil Ayling regarding the video tape negotiations. Tom knows how AFM negotiations have worked in the past, even before he became AFM President and yet he makes it sound like he is doing things the right way (his way or no way) and that he has taken care of everything that is required of him. He took it upon himself to appoint a recording rank and file musician from New York, therefore he can say a rank and file musician was at the negotiations representing the recording musicians around the Country. Then he informed the RMAC President, Greg Goodall, consistent with the terms that are described in the letter from AFM President Kenin, to the old Guild President, Cecil Read, and he informed Local 47 President, Vince Trombetta, in order to cover all the bases (I hate using that term). So now, he can say to anyone who asks, that he has fulfilled his AFM obligations, and he can tell Phil Ayling, that the AFM doesn't need his input or approval nor the RMA’s at the negotiations because there are already too many people attending. His second paragraph makes it sound to me that he's telling Phil to stay home. If anybody says anything to Tom about leaving the RMA out of the negotiations, he will just say he did everything required of him. What arrogance and selfishness. You have all been around AFM politics for a long time and you all know what Tom is doing by keeping the RMA (an AFM Players Conference) out of the loop. Are you all proud of the unity within the AFM? Who’s going to stand up and say something to Tom? Are you going to wait for more lawsuits or a mass exodus? Since Tom implemented his new race-to-the-bottom Video Game Agreement, the AFM has taken in less revenue last year than before its implementation. Remember how it was suppose to create more work for everyone around the Country, well that didn't happen, did it? It just lowered the bar. I could go on with more issues but I would just bore you.

Again, I have made a concerted effort to stay out of AFM politics hoping that someone on the board would stand up for themselves and quit being a yes man. But I can't sit around any longer and not say something about Tom's actions and your seemingly lack of caring. I know all of you and you know me, so you know that I still feel the pain when I see that things are still going downhill for the AFM. Individually you are all good people, but collectively, you are not making me very proud of knowing any of you. I am writing this email to you as a friend and not as an ex-IEB member, but know, that I feel that one or more of you, must sit down with Tom and look for positive changes in order to re-connect with the RMA before it's too late. Tom is taking you all down the wrong path. Open your eyes and Do something!


Hal Espinosa
AFM member since 1952

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Motions Made and Carried

The International Executive Board is a rubber stamp for the wishes of President Tom Lee.

Since 2007 the IEB has been literally unanimous: whatever Tom Lee says, goes. The members of the IEB were ostensibly elected to comment, think, challenge, discuss and most importantly, represent those who elected them. Instead, with the exception of Ray Hair, the IEB has marched in total lockstep with Tom Lee, and represent only him.

If the administration of Tom Lee has achieved anything, it has solidified its efforts to speak with one voice. The IEB joined Tom Lee in its policy of complete avoidance of recording musicians, which resulted in two continuing costly lawsuits.

Two officers in particular provide a good example of what's wrong with the IEB. Harold Bradley and Billy Linneman were roundly ousted from their local offices by their members, and so should in all fairness be "lame ducks" — or better yet, resign. However, they remain in power as Tom Lee's yes-men. These two officers were at the vanguard of Tom Lee's offensive against recording musicians and their representatives. "Innuendo" is too good a term for the flagrantly false statements uttered by these officers, and we must now call them what they are: "lies," and the people who recite them, "liars."

During their failed campaigns, both Bradley and Linneman stuck to Tom Lee's party line, and tried to impugn the integrity of RMA officers. RMA President Phil Ayling has asked for a retraction, but has been ignored (see Letter 1 and Letter 2). Please take care to note the reasonable tone of RMA President Phil Ayling, versus the venom and ignorance of the words of Bradley, Linneman, and Tom Lee.

For years, Tom Lee and the IEB have been lying through their teeth for political gain. They damned the RMA for lawsuits it had nothing to do with. They refused to meet unless the RMA "eliminated inflammatory newspaper articles" it did not publish. They accused RMA officers of forming a competing union based on no evidence at all, lied about it, then dropped the charges with no explanation or retraction.

This is also the IEB that stood with Tom Lee in failing to endorse Barack Obama.

The solution is change for 2010, and that means a whole new IEB. In the coming weeks, I will propose names of candidates whom I think could serve effectively, to be an effective check on the power of Tom Lee, and save this union from the ruin wrought upon it by a rubber-stamp IEB.

Happy Labor Day.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Rishik Schedule

In the case of Rishik v. AFM, Judge Andrew J. Guilford has ordered the following schedule:

Defendant AFM's motion to dismiss the case shall be filed by September 14th, 2009;

Plaintiff Rishik's opposition to the above shall be filed by October 12th, 2009;

AFM's reply to Rishik's opposition shall be filed by October 26th, 2009; and

AFM's motion to dismiss shall be heard on November 9, 2009.

This post will be updated to include documents as they become available.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rishik Strikes Back

The plaintiffs in Rishik v. AFM have filed their amended complaint, as promised.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Rishik Loses, For Now

Judge Andrew Guilford has granted the AFM's motion to dismiss in Rishik v. AFM. He has, however, allowed the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint, which they must do by August 17.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rishik v. AFM Update

The case of Rishik v. AFM has been transferred from Judge Margaret Morrow (a Clinton appointee) to Judge Andrew Guilford (a Bush II appointee). The hearing on the AFM's motion to dismiss is now scheduled for July 27.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Truth Will Set You Free

About two years ago, Secretary-Treasurer Sam Folio filed formal charges against Mark Sazer and Andrew Malloy, complaining that they were principals in organizing and operating the Professional Musicians Guild (PMG), in contravention of their membership obligations to the AFM. The IEB held hearings on the matter, but made no public findings.

About two weeks ago, Secretary-Treasurer Sam Folio finally withdrew the charges. This finally clears the name of two recording musicians who have been under a cloud of disloyalty and accusation for two years.

It is unclear whether Sam Folio took this professional act of honesty and truth with the support of Tom Lee, who has constantly referred to the PMG, attempting to turn this perceived "threat" to his political advantage. Only recently, Sam Folio defended an accusation he published in the International Musician, that RMA President Phil Ayling was a member of the PMG. Ayling was never formally charged. See our recent article on this subject.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Case Updates

The recording musician plaintiffs have appealed the summary judgment granted to the AFM in Parmeter v. AFM. The appeal will be heard by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the related case of Rishik v. AFM, the AFM has filed a motion to dismiss, which will be heard by Judge Margaret M. Morrow on July 13.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

When Love Flies Out Your Door, Money Comes Innuendo

Three months before Convention 2007, the ever-manipulative Tom Lee had a game plan. Phase one was to intimidate his critics. He began with a letter to RMA President Phil Ayling, accusing him of being a member of the Professional Musicians Guild (PMG) — allegedly a union competing with, and thus forbidden to members of the AFM — based upon conjecture and hearsay. Tom Lee's threatening letter continued:

"If any of the above is true, then you will not be welcome to participate in any official AFM activities or is my view that any participation by you in the PMG would place the RMA's status as a recognized AFM players' conference in jeopardy."

Ayling answered promptly and unambiguously, to Tom Lee and the IEB:
“President Lee is completely mistaken...I have no relationship with the PMG, and claims to this regard are totally without merit. [President Lee's letter] is laced with rumor and innuendo, and appears to be just the latest salvo of a longstanding campaign to silence me and my criticisms of the current administration.”

(Speaking of silencing critics of the administration, recall that during these very months, Tom Lee and his lawyers were in the middle of an unprecedented investigation to unmask the identity of an anonymous blogger who had criticized Tom Lee. The months prior to Convention 2007 witnessed Tom Lee not merely silencing critics, but bulldozing them.)

Tom Lee would not accept Ayling's denial. Tom Lee shot back in another letter:
"Your letter...carefully avoided any denial...I think you will be well served by a more direct response to these questions..."

Tom Lee followed with dozens of prosecutorial questions, demanding to know everything from whether Ayling would "recommend that musicians join the PMG" to whether he had "participated in the creation or review of a PMG application form."

Ayling again responded:
"[My first response] constituted a full and complete denial of the collection of rumor and innuendo which you sent to me...In [my official capacity as President of RMA International] I state that RMA International makes no "unofficial" endorsements of any kind and that our official endorsements and actions — though sadly ignored and trampled upon by this administration — are consistent with our role as a Player Conference...and solely in support of the AFM."

On the first day of Convention 2007, the June edition of the International Musician was passed out to delegates, containing Sam Folio's repetition of the charge: this time, a video game composer said he had discussions with “PMG leaders Mark Sazer and Phil Ayling.” Ayling personally asked Sam Folio that the implication that he is a "PMG leader" be retracted. Sam now cites more hearsay evidence to support it (edited for clarity):
"I verified the published letter [in the International Musician, accusing Phil Ayling of being a leader of the Professional Musicians Guild (PMG)] and the facts are correct, as well as three member friends advised they were at PMG house parties that were run by Phil Ayling who stated he would not join the PMG but was encouraging others to join."

This is the problem with hearsay: it's not credible and it's rarely even consistent. One piece of hearsay says that Phil Ayling is a "PMG leader," the other says he's telling others to join an organization which he would not join himself. Quoting "three member friends" is ridiculous — if it was "five member friends" the chorus would still be out of tune, having no ring of truth.

There was a game plan at Convention 2007, and it was to discredit Phil Ayling and the RMA to gain momentum at the convention, shunt in the Montreal Local with backroom quid pro quo dealmaking, and pass Article 9, Section 29 — at all costs. The charge that Sam Folio now weakly defends was merely part of Tom Lee's Convention 2007 machine.

Since 2001, this is how Tom Lee's administration has spent its time. Nothing of substance has been accomplished; in fact, quite the reverse. There have been two costly lawsuits against the AFM, one resolved for now, the other still pending, with the rumored prospect of a third. The AFM and Tom Lee personally have sued a dissenting anonymous blog into oblivion, which lawsuit, by the way, is still not closed.

The contracts this administration has "promulgated" and "negotiated" — video game, film, jingle — have been met with an overwhelmingly negative response from those members most connected to them. For example, before the video game contract was finalized by the IEB, letters between Tom Lee and Pete Anthony, Vince Trombetta and Dave Pomeroy revealed Tom Lee’s adversarial and argumentative attitude, negating any input, honest inquiry and suggestions by highly qualified leaders who have concerns for their members. It’s Tom's way or no way.

Practically speaking, there have been no winners. We have seen alienation, mounting legal expenses, separation, distrust, loss of members, and the subjugation of locals, members and potential members to the all-powerful Tom Lee.

The IEB has control and power to interpret the Constitution and Bylaws of the AFM, and Tom Lee has total control and power over the IEB. When will we wake up from this collective nightmare?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

AFM Wins

In a 43-page opinion, Judge Margaret M. Morrow has found for the AFM in the Parmeter case. Judge Morrow noted that there "is a well-established federal policy of avoiding unnecessary interference in the internal affairs of unions” and gave great deference to the AFM's own interpretation of its bylaws.

There is, of course, the possibility of appeal.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Robert Levine’s recent article, “Up-close and personal with someone who sounds like Tom,” is a revealing look at an anonymous commenter that could very well be Tom Lee himself. That commenter, "keys88,” attempting to suggest that recording musicians are disloyal to the AFM, quoted an article in the International Musician saying that a video game composer said “I had exploratory discussions with PMG leaders Marc Sazer and Phil Aying...” — implying that Phil Ayling, the President of the RMA, is in fact a PMG leader.

There was a hearing shrouded in secrecy before the IEB regarding Marc Sazer's membership in the PMG, which apparently made a finding but never imposed any sanctions, fines or penalties. Tom Lee has personally insinuated before that Phil Ayling is a member of the PMG, but there has never been any evidence or charge. Tom Lee finds it more useful to insinuate than to actually pursue any action — he finds it politically expedient to have someone and something to demonize, which of course is another page out of Karl Rove's playbook. Innuendo, hearsay, and more innuendo.

At the recent New England Conference I had the interesting pleasure of sitting with both Phil Ayling and Sam Folio. At one point Phil directly questioned Sam's publication of that quote. Phil said that considering that there is now, nor ever was, a shred of evidence to verify Phil's membership or leadership in the PMG, a retraction ought to be printed in the IM. Sam replied by saying that he would consider a retraction, review the matter, have further talks and get in touch with Phil to settle the matter.

Sam, we know of your busy schedule, but did you ever get in touch with Phil?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Video Games Negotiations 101

"Video games are poised to eclipse all other forms of entertainment in the decade ahead.”

So said Activision President and CEO Mike Griffith during his 2009 Consumer Electronics Show keynote speech in Las Vegas. He cited market statistics showing that between 2003 and 2007, the cumulative number of movie ticket sales and hours of television watched fell by 6%, music sales fell 12% and DVD purchases remained flat. Over the same four-year period, the gaming business grew by 40%.

Unequivocally, video games are a new element in the recording marketplace. In response, the AFM has come out with another sparse video game agreement, with the usual lack of input from affected musicians, and the usual gaping holes in basic protections. For example, from page 2 of the agreement, on use-and-reuse: the work of professional recording musicians may be used "in any new medium with no additional payment obligations."

Dave Pomeroy, the President of Local 257 Nashville, wrote a calm and measured letter revealing the AFM's closed-door policy of avoidance in creating the agreement. Sam Folio responded* in a hostile fashion; his centerpiece argument was that "Pomeroy, who represents himself as chair of the RMA Video Game recording session has provided no evidence that he has ever played on a video game recording session."

Mr. Folio, how many video games have you played on? What about Tom Lee? Skolnik? Parente, McGrew, Hair, Price, or Linneman? Our IEB, along with negotiators, fact finders and others, ran the gamut from the experienced recording musician Vice-President Bradley, to the non-musician Shaffner, but none of them have the experience that Sam Folio deems necessary.

Tom Lee's administration says his new naked video game agreement is necessary to capture work that otherwise would go elsewhere. But this claim is totally speculative. Why should our musicians give away real compensation for Tom Lee's promise of increased work in the future?

How do we know that the use-and-reuse funds are "real compensation?" Well, Tom Lee knows that use-and-reuse can turn into a lot of money. He and his IEB are now engaged in begging musicians who received over $82,000,000 last year alone from the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund to volunteer a share of it. That is use-and-reuse compensation. Musicians are entitled to it, and the industry will pay it.

So why was use-and-reuse specifically omitted in the video game agreement, even though Tom Lee knows it means that musicians are giving up real compensation for his speculative promise of more work in the future? Whether it's incompetence or something worse, Tom Lee has given away the store.

All of this comes on the eve of a hearing on the AFM's motion for summary judgment in the Parmeter case. Initial reports suggest that the hearing seemed to go better for the AFM than the plaintiff musicians. If the AFM prevails, Tom Lee's power grab will be anointed and he will become uncontrollable and dangerous to all. We await the judge's decision.

* Dave Pomeroy later clarified the sourcing of his letter, and noted that what the Committee called "Sam Folio's response" was actually originally written and signed by Tom Lee himself.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Three Faces of Tom

About a month ago, when the annual New England Conference convened in Newport, Rhode Island, I had the opportunity to see three faces of Tom Lee.


President Lee stood to address a great mix of local and national officers, supporters of his agenda and adversaries, but all committed to the survival of the American Federation of Musicians.

He began with the progress we've made at streamlining recruitment. The AFM website can enroll new members directly and collect dues, with no additional overhead to the locals. The AFM continues to develop recruitment strategies that focus on the Internet marketplace and its growing influence on our business.

He said we need to understand the twenty-first century music business to address the needs of young musicians. We can begin to shape and influence the business only with an effective recruitment campaign that focuses on the Internet. He reiterated the principles in his well-received speech at the 2007 Convention. Everyone in the audience knew that President Lee's campaign for 2010 had begun.

The ongoing lawsuit, Parmenter v. AFM, was casually mentioned, but President Lee graciously ended questions noting that under advice of counsel, he was obliged not to discuss the matter.


During a break, I asked Tom to have a drink and he kindly accepted. I asked him if there was any hope of settling the lawsuit, and if there were any developments in mediation. Tom said flatly that mediation was over. He said he had a confident gut feeling that the AFM would prevail. Only very few RMA musicians are involved, he said, and they simply "refuse to pay" because of their "elitist attitude."

Tom was referring to musicians that received distributions from the Film Musicians Secondary Market Fund. The AFM has recently sought to skim a percentage of these distributions, and the affected musicians are challenging their authority to do so in the Parmenter case. The "very few" that Tom mentioned are actually thousands of musicians who received a distribution of $2,500 or more in 2008.


My last connect with Tom was brief, but disturbing. He opened with a scowling face of contempt: "Bloggers don't get the facts right. You don't get the facts right, and you should quit because you don't know what's going on."

I thanked him for at least reading this blog, but didn't get the opportunity to defend my First Amendment rights to communicate however I please. That point would have been lost on Tom, who has already employed the AFM's million-dollar law firm to effectively shut down a popular union blog that he did not approve of.

If we can learn anything from these three encounters, it's that Tom Lee presents a different face depending on the occasion. In front of his subjects, President Lee is one of the most successful politicians in AFM history, and capable of persuasive rhetoric. At the bar, Tom is dismissive of the RMA members, whom he is gleefully confident will be steamrolled by his mighty AFM. But the true Tom is revealed in the face of dissenting opinion: if you don't agree with him, then you don't get the facts right, and you should just quit.

Anyone but Tom in 2010.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Canned Cleopatra Ballet

Union members from the AFL-CIO, along with AFM members from all over the country collectively waged a dynamic protest against the "Canned Cleopatra Ballet," a production of the Texas Ballet Theater in which the ballet company substituted live music with a taped soundtrack.

The performance in late March 2009 was doomed from the start, as ballet company artistic director Ben Stevenson, O.B.E. traveled to Shanghai in June 2008 to buy a recording from a Chinese government-subsidized orchestra for $30,000. The ballet company played this tape of Rimsky-Korsakov's score at the performance, hoping that audiences and critics would not notice the fraud.

Needless to say, they were wrong, and the production was a failure. The review in the Dallas Morning News called the performance "clumsy" and "hamstrung," and particularly panned the canned soundtrack: "Raw, rough-hewn, taped music barged forward, when a more caressing tempo was needed to mirror the emotions…”

President Ray Hair of Local 72-147 and over 300 musicians carried this powerful message to the ballet company and to the arts community in general: attempting a live ballet performance without live music is a travesty. It violates the creative soul of the performers, limits their artistic abilities and perpetrates a musical and visual fraud upon the paying audience and patrons of the arts.

Professional ballet requires professional musicians. Critics and audiences realize anything less is dishonest.

It's rare that a musicians' strike results in such favorable local press coverage. This should have been disseminated nationally by the AFM's public relations firm, which we paid $116,016 in 2008, but which is only ever employed to announce the feeble achievements of Tom Lee's administration.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

You Don't Have To Go Home, But You Can't Stay Here

A few weeks ago, the IEB held a "fact-finding" meeting which received ancillary leaders of the RMA. RMA President Ayling was invited...but was refused admittance.

Motion Picture and Television labor negotiations are scheduled for February 23, 2009. RMA President Phil Ayling should be invited and attend on behalf of RMA members who are affected by the outcome of these negotiations.

Obviously there is inherent willingness by Phil Ayling to discuss other issues that the IEB may wish to discuss, i.e. settlement of lawsuits.

As a justification for these continuing boycotts, Tom Lee and the IEB regurgitated the unfounded and patently ridiculous charge that the RMA President has instituted "frivolous lawsuits."

Aren't the United States District Court judges presiding over the existing two lawsuits, Parmenter v. AFM and Rishik v. AFM, better equipped to determine whether the lawsuits are frivolous? If Parmenter is so frivolous, why is it scheduled to be heard by a jury in June of 2009? Why are the AFM attorneys busy drafting the AFM's answer in Rishik, which has the potential of being a "class action" on behalf of all RMA members with the same issues.

Tom Lee's agenda of the past few years forced members to sue. No dialogue and no settlement meant no other choice for aggrieved members.

Whether or not these lawsuits are successful, the cost to all members will be horrendous. Tom Lee's closed-door policy has imposed on all AFM members the responsibility of projected payment for the legal bills, and potential money damages if the plaintiffs prevail.

I can hear it now at Convention 2010: the IEB in its infinite wisdom deems that because of these "frivolous lawsuits" the burden must be borne by the members, and the only way to pay these legal expenses is to increase the per capita tax for the next three years. $15, then $25, then $35. We may be still in the midst of the inevitable appeals by Convention 2013.

I believe there is a majority of the IEB members who can rationally conclude that to continue as directed will only lead to financial chaos for all and a divided AFM.

The option to discuss settlement is on the table and the time is NOW!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

One Thing Leads to Another

The lawsuit, Parmeter v. AFM, continues. Robert Levine reports on the AFM's extensive subpoena; the COMMITTEE still hopes for the RMA's crucifixion; and the AFM, already close to the poorhouse, has marshaled a few more lawyers. But how did this all start?

Convention 2007 is the turning point. There, with choreography that would make Nijinsky look like Homer Simpson, Tom Lee succeeded in bailing out the Montreal local, which had not paid its dues. If Tom Lee had not been so crafty, this particular lawsuit could not exist. The delegates would have unwittingly saved Tom Lee from himself.

But how? Tom Lee had an agenda for Convention 2007, which included a new two percent "work dues" that anyone who was paid from "supplemental market funds" — particularly recording musicians — must fork over to the AFM. The vote for this new bylaw was simply not there — at least, not in the United States. However, Tom Lee saw that Canada could be persuaded, and the key to that persuasion was a topic of local interest to Canada — the large, but faltering Montreal local.

Tom Lee wrote an email about a month before the Convention, documenting his preferred series of events to seat the Montreal local. In the finale of his machinations, the delegates of the bankrupt Montreal local would heroically "receive a rousing round of applause as they stand up and walk to the Canadian delegation's table — maybe even a standing ovation." Though the issue was slightly more controversial than Tom Lee predicted, he had his way in the end, and the Montreal local was seated.

But what does the Montreal local have to do with the lawsuit? Now that they were seated, they had a vote. And seating their "Canadian brothers and sisters" created a lot of goodwill with the entire Canadian delegation. Even if Tom Lee's agenda did not have the votes in the United States, the Canadian delegation, with over 14,000 votes, would be more than enough to win the day.

American delegates voted against Tom Lee's new two percent "work dues" package by a narrow margin. But 97% of Canadians voted for it, and it passed. And that two percent "work dues" package is the crux of Parmeter v. AFM. If Tom Lee had not bought the Canadian votes, the delegates would have voted against the "work dues" package and Parmeter v. AFM could not exist.

But because Tom Lee got what he wanted that day, Parmeter v. AFM does exist. Before this lawsuit, the AFM's single largest expense, at over a million dollars a year, was legal fees. If you thought that was a lot, wait until the bill for Parmeter v. AFM comes due.

And that bill is brought to you courtesy of Tom Lee, when he played Convention 2007 like a violin.