Tech Tip:Unions, Protecting Active Musicians Part 2
The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) was established specifically to secure and enforce fair wages and good working conditions for musicians as well as to provide a variety of benefit packages including health and retirement funds-these issues were all covered in part one of this Taxi Meter series. This week we'll take a look at some of the union's other benefits, requirements for joining and considerations as to why joining may not be right for you at this time in your career. Though the music business may often seem like the Wild West, with no apparent guidelines, regulations, or support for musicians, the AFM may offer some hope!
Other Union Benefits
In the last issue of Taxi Meter we covered the union's major benefits including wage regulations and health benefits. Now let take a look at some of the other benefits you receive:
- The AFM will monitor the recordings on which you perform and collect residuals if they're used in film, television, and commercials. These payments are called "new use" payments
- Your membership entitles you to something called Special Fund Payments-an additional payment paid to you based on the number of union recording sessions on which you perform in one year
- Your name will be registered in the union's job referral database offering employment opportunities
- The AFM provides limited legal supervision and career development
- For problems on the road, or if you have questions about contracts or what you should be paid, the AFM provides 24-hour telephone assistance
- AFM members have access to discounted recording and rehearsal studios
- Membership entitles you to equipment insurance for theft and damage
- By joining the AFM, you'll receive travel discounts, health club discounts, credit card options, loan programs and mortgage programs
- The AFM also offers you a subscription to the their monthly newspaper, International Musician, which updates you on industry happenings
Requirements For Membership
In order to receive all of the AFM benefits we've discussed, now it's time to discuss the qualifications you'll need to meet. Note that the rates discussed below are subject to change and vary from one local to another.
- To become a member, you must pay a one-time registration charge of approximately $200, and about $180 per year in membership fees
- Members are required to work "union gigs" only. This means that your employer must be a signatory to the union, pay you at least the minimum scale wages and make an additional contribution towards your pension and health care fund
- To qualify for a pension, your employer's contributions (typically 10 percent of the union's suggested minimum scales) must total $1,500 each year for five years
- To qualify for health care, your employer's contributions must reach a minimum dollar amount, usually within six -month periods (from April to September, and October to March). Since contributions and health benefits vary considerably depending on the job performed and on your local union, remember to contact your local branch
- You are required to pay union dues of approximately 2.5 percent of the suggested minimum scale for live performances, and 4 percent of the suggested minimum wage for recording sessions
Considerations for joining: Is the Union Right for You?
Now that you have a good idea of what the AFM provides, and what some of the member requirements are, is joining right for you? Keep in mind that the union is most beneficial when you're working union gigs often as to qualify you for the health and pension funds, and to receive the union's assistance in collecting payment defaults. However keep in mind that:
- Many employers are not union-affiliated, nor are they willing to comply with union requirements. Note that the union's strengths lie mostly in major venue performances, major label recordings, and television, theatre, orchestral, and motion picture work
- It is not considered "good standing" to accept any non-union gig. Though the union is known to occasionally turn a blind eye and allow you to perform non-union gigs, they may still require you to pay dues for the job performed. Members that are not in good standing may be subject to expulsion
- The musician's job referral database made available through the union is said by many musicians not to be very effective. The competition among members to get the gigs offered is fierce, and unless you're calling your local union office 24-7, there aren't too many gigs that will come your way
So, there you have it! In part one and part two we discussed major and other benefits and requirements and considerations for membership. Regardless of whether or not you feel that it's time to become a member of the AFM, be sure to at least talk to a representative at your local branch. The AFM can be reached by calling AFM at (800) 762-3444 or online at www.afm.org. Good luck.
Bobby Borg is the author of "The Musician's Handbook: A Practical Guide To Understanding The Music Business," which is NOW available by Billboard Books; available on-line at Amazon.com or in a store near you! For more information: www.bobbyborg.com Mail to:firstname.lastname@example.org.