Music Unions-Yes or No?
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In the mid-1800s musicians in the United States began exploring ways to improve their professional lives. They formed Mutual Aid Societies to provide members with loans, financial assistance during illness or extended unemployment and death benefits. A number of these organizations became early unions serving various constituencies, but problems arose between them due to competition. In 1896, delegates from these organizations gathered at the invitation of American Federation of Labor (AFL) President Samuel Gompers to organize and charter a musicians' trade union. A majority of the delegates voted to form the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), representing 3,000 musicians nationally. They resolved: "That any musician who receives pay for his musical services, shall be considered a professional musician." Within its first ten years, the AFM expanded to serve both the US and Canada, organized 424 Locals, and represented 45,000 musicians throughout North America. So just how beneficial are music unions such as the AFM beneficial to the record industry?
First, they can help session players find work and negotiate much better rates for recording sessions.
Unions offer collective bargaining power that gives individual musicians much more leverage and strength in numbers. The AFM, for example, offers the following: industry audition ads, free contracts, networking, pension, discounts, insurance, revenue collection, local job referral, job protection, expert support, gig opportunities, preferred rate credit cards, fund for disabled musicians, legal service discounts, legislative representation, and more. Other unions such as the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists negotiate and enforce over 300 collective bargaining agreements that guarantee minimum (but never maximum) salaries, safe working conditions and health and retirement benefits. When the union is unable to resolve disputes with employers, AFTRA contracts include procedures for binding arbitration. The union pays the cost of these proceedings. In the...