A Call to Action
Bruce Ridge, ICSOM Chairperson
As the biennial Convention of the American Federation of Musicians
approaches (June 18-20 in Las Vegas), the ICSOM Governing Board and, indeed,
orchestra musicians all across the country have been awaiting the
recommendations and resolutions to be considered there by our local
delegates. As always, there are many issues of concern for musicians from
ICSOM orchestras, but we are especially concerned about a specific financial
package being proposed that we believe has the potential to harm our union
and weaken our bargaining units.
Consider these facts:
-Work dues from orchestra musicians covered by collective bargaining
agreements accounted for over 55% of all work dues paid to the Federation
between 2001 and 2005. This 55% represents over $8.3 million.
-According to Tom Hall's book, ICSOM; Forty Years of the International
Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, payments from orchestra
musicians represented 37% of the work dues in 1979. In less than three
decades, our share of the burden has risen by 50%.
-In 2006, the AFM collected over $2 million from orchestra musicians in the
United States and Canada.
-For the years 2002-2006, the symphonic surplus (i.e., the amount of
symphonic work dues paid to the Federation minus what was expended for
symphony-related expenses) was nearly $5.5 million.
-Despite this symphonic surplus and the increased share of work dues paid by
orchestra musicians, the Symphonic Services Division (SSD) of the AFM has
only 8 employees, some of them part-time. Salaries for the employees of the
SSD are not competitive with other fields.
-Other divisions of the AFM that have a fraction of the surplus revenue
brought in from orchestra musicians have more than three times the number of
employees working on their behalf! (We certainly are not suggesting that
there are too many employees in these other divisions, but the inequity is
-Our contracts are bargained on the local level, not on the Federation
level. Almost all of our contract administration occurs locally.
Despite these facts, a proposal from the AFM Revenue Committee to be
presented at the Convention would take more money from the AFM membership.
We believe that ICSOM musicians are already paying more than our fair share,
and we would protest any increase in our work dues until a full accounting
and review of AFM expenditures is completed and made public. While the AFM
has asked for more money, it has never explained where these additional
funds will be spent.
The AFM Revenue Committee was mandated by the 2005 AFM Convention as a part
of the overall financial package it passed. The current recommendation put
forth by that committee would raise work dues across the board; you would be
required to pay an additional 0.10% on all your symphonic wages to the
Federation. Currently, your local sends 0.55% of your symphonic work dues to
the Federation. That figure would become 0.65%, and because the increase is
being proposed as a "pass through," your local's work dues would
automatically be raised accordingly. In addition, the Revenue Committee has
proposed a $5 per capita dues increase for each of the next three years
(because they are also proposing that the AFM Convention become triennial
instead of biennial).
In 2003, the Federation raised symphonic work dues 0.05%, promising in
exchange that symphony and opera musicians would receive better services and
staff enhancements that never materialized. Now, the AFM says it once again
needs more funds, and they are including symphonic musicians in their net.
We already pay more than our fair share. We do not pretend to suggest that
there will never be a need for a dues increase, but we have a right to ask
questions. Why do you need this money from us?
What are you doing with the money we already pay? Are the right structures
and safeguards in place to ensure that the union serves and is responsive to
those who fund it?
We ask you now to help us argue against this increase in work dues, and time
is of the essence. If the musicians of your orchestra feel that they are
already paying enough dues, communicate that to the leaders of your local
and, most importantly, your delegates to the AFM Convention. They, as our
representatives, should also be our advocates. ICSOM orchestras pay an
astonishingly high percentage of work dues to our individual locals. Check
out column 38 on page 10 of the new AFM Wage Chart of ICSOM Orchestras. The
numbers are daunting: 83%, 79%, 87%, 77%, 90%. Those are just the first five
figures, listed alphabetically. There is one ICSOM orchestra that pays
virtually all of its local's work dues and another that pays 97%!
We are the musicians who pay our local officers' salaries and who keep our
locals, and indeed the Federation, financially afloat. Let your local
officers know that we do not wish to see our wages cut again by an increase
in work dues--certainly not before the Federation can prove to us the need
and assure us that it would result in the increased and better services we
need. Past promises have not been kept; the necessity for a dues increase
has not been effectively demonstrated.
In the coming weeks, there will be postings about this issue on Delegate-L
and Orchestra-L. We ask all ICSOM delegates to post these messages backstage
and to alert your orchestra committees. A sample letter will be distributed
through the mailing lists, and we ask that all orchestra members sign such a
letter to protest this proposed increase. Please deliver those letters to
your local officers and convention delegates.
We must be our own advocates--in our communities, with our managers, and
even within our union. This is the very reason that the founders of ICSOM
created this organization.
In my columns and articles for Senza Sordino I have tried to offer words of
inspiration, to help us believe that individuals have the chance to be a
part of something greater than themselves. A year ago I asked, "Is anybody
Again I ask: Are you reading this? Have we offered any message of hope?
suggested the power in every individual to act as part of a group?
If that message has been successfully delivered, we ask you to act now. We
all believe in a strong union. To achieve that, we must let our voices be
Communicate with your colleagues, your local officers, and your AFM
Fortunately for our cause, our local officers are those AFM officials with
whom we work most closely, and they are often highly sympathetic to
symphonic player concerns. Let them know how you feel. We must make the
effort, and from this effort will grow a strengthened cause for our
orchestras to elect delegates from within our ranks. We ask that our locals
join with us in a demand for a full and ongoing accounting of the use of our
money by the Federation. We will make this union accountable to the very
people who keep it afloat as we reach out in solidarity to all of our
Federation brothers and sisters.
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