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Author Topic:  Are Musicans Unions a thing of the past?
Greg Lambert


From:
Illinois, USA
Post Posted 6 Jan 2018 6:46 pm     Reply with quote

I can remember back in the mid 60's I was a member of the Musicians union out of St Louis Mo. I really cant say that they helped our band first hand but when we played we always told the establishment that we were union and required a certain amount of pay for the group and we always got it.

Other than the super pros on the road and studio musicians , I dont hear anything about the union or folks wanting to join one. Nor has any representative on any union approached anyone in my area for many many years.
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Bill McCloskey


Post Posted 7 Jan 2018 6:29 am     Reply with quote

Certainly Musicians Union 802 in New York is active. My brother in law is a member.

But not like the old days. My now deceased Father-in-law was a club date drummer in New York and would tell us stories about the routine: every weds, everyone would head over to the union hall where the bookers would come to hire musicians for the weekend. then all the musicians would head over the the Chinese restaurant where the David Letterman theater, then the Ed sullivan theater, is and get plastered.

That was the weekly routine for years. Those days are gone
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Richard Sinkler


From:
aka: Rusty Strings -- Oakdale, California
Post Posted 7 Jan 2018 8:15 am     Reply with quote

I was in local 510 in the east bay/Oakland area for almost 20 years. They helped us once in a band I played in in the 70's.

A club we were playing two nights a week was absolutely dead one night. Not even 1 person at the bar. So we sat by the fireplace waiting for someone to come in. The next thing we knew, the owner was throwing beer bottles over our heads and crashing into the fireplace. We called the business agent, and the next day his union bartenders and waitresses were walking a picket line until the owner paid the business owner our pay to give to us. He even had the sheriff there the following day to protect as we got our equipment out.
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Herb Steiner


From:
Spicewood TX 78669
Post Posted 7 Jan 2018 12:10 pm     Reply with quote

Richard Sinkler wrote:
I was in local 510 in the east bay/Oakland area for almost 20 years. They helped us once in a band I played in in the 70's.

A club we were playing two nights a week was absolutely dead one night. Not even 1 person at the bar. So we sat by the fireplace waiting for someone to come in. The next thing we knew, the owner was throwing beer bottles over our heads and crashing into the fireplace.


I understand. No fun, demoralizing even, playing to the walls and the bartender. The club owner was totally out of line in his response, and the union did the correct thing. But I was in a situation like that once; no patrons at all. The owner approached the bandleader and politely asked us to start playing. The bandleader asked "To who?"

The clubowner asked him "if you walked into a bar that was dead empty and no band was playing, would you stay?" Bandleader answered: no, probably not.

"And would you stay if there was a band playing even though you were the only customer?" And the bandleader said that maybe he would if the band was good.

The club owner then said "I'm not guaranteeing you an audience, I'm guaranteeing you $500 for three hours of your music. Please uphold your end of the deal."

He made his point. We got onstage and upheld our end of the bargain, as did he. And he hired us back.
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Bill McCloskey


Post Posted 7 Jan 2018 12:23 pm     Reply with quote

Did people come in once you started playing Herb?
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Herb Steiner


From:
Spicewood TX 78669
Post Posted 7 Jan 2018 12:27 pm     Reply with quote

Some did a little later, yeah. It was a very slow night because of inclement weather, but that's neither here nor there. He made good, and so did we. This was in TX, so no union was involved.
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Roger Rettig


From:
An Englishman in Naples, FL
Post Posted 7 Jan 2018 1:12 pm     Reply with quote

I'm still pleasantly surprised sometimes by residual payments (from TV re-runs, etc) arrive unheralded in my UK bank. That's thank to the Musicians' Union in London, membership of which was required for certain categories of work.

Sometimes I forget that it's due to the MU's efforts that session-rates for TV or gramophone recording are as good as they are and that, even if I am able to negotiate an acceptable amount for myself, it's the Union's power that has established a ball-park starting point on which to base rates-of-pay.

But that was in Britain - I came to live in the usa twenty years ago.

I was briefly a member of the Tampa branch of the AFM principally because membership offered good instrument insurance rates. But I fell out with them over my entry in their directory of members. There was no category for Steel Guitar and they refused to add one - this despite there already being a number of separate sections for unusual instruments ('Viola De Gamba' being one that only had one entry).

I did not renew my membership and I honestly can't say that I've been affected. My work comes from contacts I have made for myself and, luckily, I haven't yet found myself in a situation where outside intervention was needed.

Bill's story prompts me to recount that, in London during the first half on the 20th century, Archer St in Soho was the Monday morning meeting place where business and hiring was transacted. I turned pro in 1959 but, by then, this practice had all but ceased.
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John De Maille


From:
On a Mountain in Upstate Halcottsville, N.Y.
Post Posted 7 Jan 2018 1:12 pm     Reply with quote

I was in Local 802 in NY back in the early 70's. We had a manager, who, got the gigs, so, the union was not needed. But, we needed to be in the union to get the gigs. Most, if not all, were high paying gigs and the union rep was there every time with his hand out. If we didn't slip him anything, he'd shut the gig down and fine us for not playing by his rules. It only lasted three years for us since the band broke up and I didn't care to rejoin the union again. I guess for other union musicians it worked out OK, but, for me it was a no gainer. All of the places I've played since have been non union, so, at this time of my life it's a moot point.
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Roger Rettig


From:
An Englishman in Naples, FL
Post Posted 7 Jan 2018 1:50 pm     Reply with quote

802 remains one of the stronger Locals, John, due to all the theatre work in the city.

When 'Best Little Whorehouse...' opened in NYC the Union was strong enough to demand a minimum number of musicians be used despite the score just being written for a six-piece. Three horn-books were added and some fussy over-orchestration resulted. In normal circumstances they'd use 'walkers' - guys who'd get paid but didn't have to actually go to the job(!!!) - but the show's producers insisted that, if they were paying good money, the musicians will attend.

I think the horn charts were only on three songs; I saw the horn books when I did the show in London in '82 but our MU made no such demands and we proceeded with just six of us.
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Bill McCloskey


Post Posted 7 Jan 2018 1:58 pm     Reply with quote

John, I think my ex and deceased father-in-law ran the union back in the 70's. He could have been the one with his hand out. Smile

I know he got fired at some point, something to do with a common practice of the time that if the gig called for 10 musicians, but only needed 9, the union head would write his name in and collect on the gig without doing any work.
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John De Maille


From:
On a Mountain in Upstate Halcottsville, N.Y.
Post Posted 7 Jan 2018 3:10 pm     Reply with quote

That... sounds about right.

Roger...
I didn't work any broadway shows. Most of the gigs were union night clubs and early disco techs, that, played live music, plus catering halls for weddings and such. We also played a lot of upscale private parties. They were all in my R/R era where I played 6 string guitar. No steel guitar back then in the early 70's for me.
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Jerry Horch


From:
Alva, Florida, USA
Post Posted 7 Jan 2018 3:33 pm     Reply with quote

Not getting personal Roger, but how much does one get on a residual payment on something like that?
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Roger Rettig


From:
An Englishman in Naples, FL
Post Posted 7 Jan 2018 4:12 pm     Reply with quote

Jerry

It's completely dependent upon where the material is sold and what that network's deal with the MU is. Sometimes I'll get a deposit for a few pounds then, rarely, I'll get a nice surprise. About three years ago I got several thousand pounds for a TV series I'd played on many years earlier. The series got sold on to different regions and the windfall was entirely unexpected.

Bear in mind, too, that I'd already been paid well for doing it in the first place. It's all very nice but these residuals are no longer a living for me - more of a bonus.

In the US, AFM members who play on master sessions get credits that reflect on their pension when they retire. We had no such arrangement in place in Britain - not then, anyway (it's changed since but too late to benefit me) - but here a member who was in great demand for sessions in his working life sees rewards later on.

I was never in great demand but did comfortably well. (Or, to put it another way, I pulled the wool over their eyes.)
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Herb Steiner


From:
Spicewood TX 78669
Post Posted 7 Jan 2018 4:43 pm     Reply with quote

In 1973, I played steel on BW Stevenson's "My Maria" album, on RCA. About every 2-3 years, starting around 15-or-so years ago, I get a check for $245 for stuff used on various TV shows. I just consider it "found money."
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Jack Stoner


From:
Inverness, Fl
Post Posted 8 Jan 2018 2:22 am     Reply with quote

In the mid 60's, in Harrisburg, Pa, I belonged to the local union as you had to or you didn't play. Union scale at the time was $12.50 and then they got their cut out of that. I moved away and never joined another union, although I had seriously considered it the time I was in Nashville as they do appear to help the musicians, especially the session pickers.

The time I lived in Kansas City, Mo (73 to 96) I never joined the union. I found out any musician request that came to the union hall was filled by one of the union officers and never offered or given to members. And, a lot of my picking was in Kansas where they have a right to work law. Same way here in Florida with the right to work law.

The band leader of the band I'm in now still belongs to the Nashville local. He joined in the 70's when he was in Nashville and has maintained his membership.
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Richard Sinkler


From:
aka: Rusty Strings -- Oakdale, California
Post Posted 8 Jan 2018 8:18 am     Reply with quote

Herb... Point well taken. Here are some more details of the gig I mentioned.

We did play the first set. The front door never opened once. The owner bought us all a drink and the bartender and waitress also sat with us. The owner came over at least once to shoot the bull. By midnight he was soooo drunk. That's when he lost it. We played there a few months or so. The crowd was good at first. There were lots of fights, many (I'd say most) involved the owner. He was a real asshole. He was driving across the Bay on the San Mateo bridge in a pinto. He got rear ended and the car exploded. He sued Ford and got a couple million. He decided he wanted to open a country bar. He got burned really bad. He kept a motor home in the parking lot and would try to pay women to go bang him. Some women did (money talks),some didn't, and it didn't matter if the woman's hubby was there. That's where many fights started. He pretty much drove most of his crowd out. After us, he started hiring non-union bands, and the AFM didn't like it. They got the bartenders and waitresses union to support our picket lines. About a month later he decided to shut down and sell the bar. Turned into a good rock bar.
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Jerry Horch


From:
Alva, Florida, USA
Post Posted 9 Jan 2018 3:36 pm     Reply with quote

Thanks, Gents
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Bill L. Wilson


From:
Oklahoma, USA
Post Posted 9 Jan 2018 10:10 pm     The Union. Reply with quote

Having worked in machine shops, a self employed paint contractor, a stone co., sheetrocker, box co., musician, I’ve never been associated with any unions. And don’t plan on it in the future, it always seemed like a big waste of money to me. I’ve never been asked if I was in a musicians union, to be able to play these dumpy bars in Texas or Oklahoma. When you’re not a very good musician, what’s the point of being in a union?
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Patrick Thornhill


From:
Austin Texas, USA
Post Posted 9 Jan 2018 10:41 pm     Reply with quote

Quote:
Having worked in machine shops, a self employed paint contractor, a stone co., sheetrocker, box co., musician, I’ve never been associated with any unions. And don’t plan on it in the future, it always seemed like a big waste of money to me. I’ve never been asked if I was in a musicians union, to be able to play these dumpy bars in Texas or Oklahoma. When you’re not a very good musician, what’s the point of being in a union?


No matter who you are or what your field is, a labor union will almost invariably be able to negotiate a higher wage, better benefits, etc. on your behalf than you can as an individual.
That's why they exist.
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G Strout


From:
Carabelle, Florida
Post Posted 10 Jan 2018 10:38 am     Reply with quote

The biggest hurdle that the AFM (musicians union) has had over the years is basically the fact 75% of us do not have "employers." Yes , if you do studio work, or play for a symphony, or a network, NBC,CBS, CBC,ABC. etc.. then you have an employer and the Union is able to step in and negotiate pay scales, rates, benefits for you. Most of us work for club owners, etc and as such we are contracting ourselves out. Since most seem to play for "fun" or have an 75K a year gig as a graphic designer, plumber or whatever.... etc. They tend to play for much less than those of us who have to make a living doing this. I have been an AFM member for many years. Now that I no longer have an "employer" it falls to me to make sure that I get enough $$ to pay my bills. It really isn't hard. I take the yearly work dues buy out that is generally offered by some locals. I pay my dues and I also contributed to my health and welfare fund for many years. (Semi Retired now) What did I get for this?
An organized Professional association to combine strength
Local Representation
National/International Representation
Member directories and referral programs
Free Demo recording program
Assistance with recording contract procedures
Assistance with negotiations
Legal assistance
Contract guarantee fund
24 emergency answering service
Emergency travel assistance program
Music Performance Trust Funds
Special Payments Funds
AFM-EPW Fund (pension)
Equipment and liability insurance
Sickness and disability insurance
Health insurance
Legislative representation
Credit Union Membership
Discounted Cell rates
National and local publications
Immigration assistance
Approved, free legal contracts to use on club dates
AFM MasterCard with preferred rates ................ The list goes on.
I always encourage younger musicians to join. Usually my words fall on deaf ears. Somehow many people seem to have gotten the idea that Union is an employment agency and they never have any club work. The Union is able to help with some types of gigs, string quartets, jazz gigs, weddings, corporate events , casual gigs but they are not really an employment agency per se.
IMHO if we continue to keep going down the road that we are on..... soon enough we will be paying club owners to work. Some locales are already there.
BTW I am having a big party at my home in April and I am looking for a caterer. This is a great opportunity to get some exposure and possibly get some tips. Unfortunately at this time I cannot afford to offer any payment but I do have an excellent kitchen with great water. I am looking for cuisine that is appropriate for a musical setting . If you have other ideas I am open to them.
I have electricity and water available at NO CHARGE to you.
In the past I have had caterers in our studio and at my home and have been approached by numerous caterers who are willing to work with this same arrangement.
If you are interested please send a link with sample pictures of your food. I will likely have those I am interested in come by and make me some lunch in order to deem it appropriate for our party.
Again, no money, but you can put out a hat, and it's great exposure.... and I will throw in some beer for you and your crew!!!
So, bring your pots, pans, dishes,all the food and your equipment down to my place and join in the fun!
BTW if this goes over well, you could be featured as a guest caterer at one of my studio Open House nights.
Gary
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Bill Cunningham


From:
Atlanta, Ga. USA
Post Posted 10 Jan 2018 6:16 pm     Reply with quote

That's a pretty compelling case regarding benefits G. Strout, if one is a full time player and needs or can use the benefits. I'm a part time weekend warrior so I'm not a member but am curious about the union pay rates. Based on my available time and basically following the Herb Steiner threory, I pick my gigs. I worked 10 days last year. All shows or private parties. (Steel guitar shows don't count)

Georgia is a right to work state and I am subbing on an Always Patsy run later this year. It pays 20& more than my single lowest job in 2017 and almost half my average. Granted, if I worked more, my average would be lower, given the demand for steel guitar players Oh Well Based on my limited knowledge, it doesn't seem there is a big benefit for the pay rate.
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G Strout


From:
Carabelle, Florida
Post Posted 10 Jan 2018 6:47 pm     Reply with quote

Bill,
Yes, GA is a right to work for nothing state as are many, many states in the US. They will defend your right to work for nothing til' the death. However, as independent contractors we (like a plumber) can set our own rate. The Union just sets a minimum for that location. Pay scales tend to vary depending on location. Each local has the jurisdiction ( I believe) to set their own rates for the area ie; in Mississippi it would be much lower than say, NYC. Frankly , I don't do many Union steel gigs but I always get at least scale and 75% of the time more depending on where I am playing. As an independent contractor we can set our own rates. On my main gig (playing guitar) I also get at least scale for the locale and again usually more. As an ASCAP member I also enjoy other benefits, reduced AFLAC rates, discounts at hotels that the AFM has no discounts for in their tavel program and other such benefits.
I always tell people you can give the Union your money and sit at home and complain..... but investigate and use the benefits that they make available to you..... it easily comes to over 20 times what I pay in dues. Then there is Union Plus.... a discount service for ALL Union members not just the AFM. I recently purchased some tires at Goodyear ( a Union Company) for the Chevy. Popped out the Union card and walked away with a 90.00 discount on tires. Hell, I even get tickets to the movies at a discount... AMC , Regal, and Cinemark theaters. Restaurants.... no problem IHOP, Macaroni Grill,Maggiao's,Carrabba's ,Bonefish Grill,Johnny rockets,Little Caesars,Chili’s,AppleBee’s all give Union Plus Discounts and many more that I can't think of at the moment. I don't know about a part timer but for me...... nothing better than the AFM!
Gary
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania
Post Posted 10 Jan 2018 9:37 pm     Reply with quote

I have been an AFM member for most of the last 25 years, on hiatus right now as I transition into retirement from university teaching. I can't imagine being a full-time symphonic or recording musician in a major metro area without an AFM card. But club musicians are generally pretty much on their own dealing with club owners and managers, especially out of the metro areas where the union is influential. Sure, NYC, Nashville, LA, and so on, are exceptions. Our AFM local has tried hard to make a dent in this, but it's a Sisyphean task.

Quote:
No matter who you are or what your field is, a labor union will almost invariably be able to negotiate a higher wage, better benefits, etc. on your behalf than you can as an individual.
That's why they exist.

I think union membership is declining in many areas precisely because they aren't able to negotiate higher wages, better benefits, etc., in many situations. It's supply-and-demand: high labor supply, dwindling demand in many fields, not just music. Welcome to the Rust Belt. And add to that, these days, music is often strictly background or an afterthought, not the main course.

I saw a post on this thread (since removed) that stated, more or less, that without a union enforcing high standards and high wages, that there would be no incentive for excellence. I disagree with this. I think that many non-union people, especially creative types like scientists, engineers, musicians and other artists, do excellent work for their own reasons, not necessarily just money and/or to meet an externally enforced standard. I've also seen plenty of union workers who were highly skilled and motivated, but plenty of others who were the antithesis.

Quote:
The club owner then said "I'm not guaranteeing you an audience, I'm guaranteeing you $500 for three hours of your music. Please uphold your end of the deal."

He made his point. We got onstage and upheld our end of the bargain, as did he. And he hired us back.

Bingo. I, and anybody I play with, will play to an empty room as agreed upon until the person who hired us asks us to stop. Sometimes an owner will ask us to pack up early on an off-night simply because they want to close up early. But my attitude is that if the club staff are gonna stay at work, we should too.
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Bill L. Wilson


From:
Oklahoma, USA
Post Posted 10 Jan 2018 9:59 pm     The Unions. Reply with quote

These cowboy bars out here, literally in the middle of nowhere are not gonna hire union musicians for union scale. Occasionally, the owners will throw in an extra $100 for our four piece band, making us $500 for the gig. There’s not a club in this town hiring union musicians that would hire my band and pay us union scale. We’re just not that good, but we love to play, and enjoy each others company, have fun, get paid, have a little spending money and go home. I would be surprised if any union musicians would even set foot in some of these dumps we play in. Like the time one of the owners where we played came up with his 25cal. chrome auto pistol and acted like he was playing my steel with the gun while I’m setting there playing the steel. Fortunately the barrel was pointed at him. I gently took the gun from him and set on my amp. When I gave it back he put it in his pocket and that was it. Scary and funny at the same time.
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Patrick Thornhill


From:
Austin Texas, USA
Post Posted 10 Jan 2018 10:13 pm     Reply with quote

Quote:
I think union membership is declining in many areas precisely because they aren't able to negotiate higher wages, better benefits, etc., in many situations. It's supply-and-demand: high labor supply, dwindling demand in many fields, not just music. Welcome to the Rust Belt.


I think the broad weakening of labor unions has less to do with them be ineffective and everything to do with anti-union efforts being very effective.

Speaking solely from personal experience I can tell you that unions in the industry that I work in serve that gatekeeper role you alluded to and are very, very effective at securing high wages and excellent benefits for their members. Maybe that's unusual, I don't know...
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