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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 reading this?"
Again I ask: Are you reading this? Have we offered any message of hope?
Have we
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 heard.
Communicate with your colleagues, your local officers, and your AFM convention delegates.

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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