Sunday, May 15, 2011

What the President Left Out

In the April 2011 International Musician, President Ray Hair says that foreign orchestra "sweatshop tours degrade our profession."

This is the first time the issue of sweatshop tours has ever appeared in the IM. I first wrote about the issue in May 2007. It even made The New York Times before it made the IM — before the convention at which I proposed that we do something constructive about it.

Unfortunately, the President's piece is no more than lip service. The only action he proposes is "partnering with other US entertainment unions at the AFL-CIO’s Department of Professional Employees to examine the introduction of legislative options in the US Congress."

The President's message conveniently leaves out the $3.7 million the AFM President's Office collected from 2004-2009 in visa processing fees, much of it from the same sweatshop tours he denounces. This accidental and unjustified cash cow is jealously guarded by the AFM, which doesn't want members to know that without it, the union would be insolvent.

The President's message skirts the fact that foreign sweatshop tours displace AFM musicians. When I proposed that we offset this displacement by directing visa processing fees to the Music Performance Trust Fund — just like Petrillo did in the 1940s when recorded music was displacing live music — the union cried poverty.

But when AFM forfeits attorney fees of $379,000 to a handful of unsuccessful recording musician litigants, the members can afford it.

When AFM officers collect double salaries (one from their Local, one from the AFM), plus benefits and expenses, the members can afford it.

Members, most of whom get hardly anything from AFM, won't be able to afford it much longer. Without serious constructive action — far beyond this President's lip service — the AFM will continue its descent into ruin.

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