Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"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!

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