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Discussion Starter #1
There's a lot of [in my opinion] very valid discussion going on here about the place of the union in today's music scene. I'm curious...who here is in the union,for how long, where is your local, what types of jobs do you play, how much is scale, how much is dues, how much work do you get, do you double, are you happy with it? Contrary to some folks opinion, I am not trolling or looking for a certain answer. I am honestly seeking info. My knowledge of the current musician's union situation is zero and I am trying to make myself a more informed person...nothing more, nothing less...absolutely no hidden agenda. I won't make any comments but I may ask other questions as they arise. Hey...help a guy learn something here. Thank you VERY MUCH !
 

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Just to provide a different angle...I am not in the union, and I'm very happy. I am making a very good living just freelancing, and I still have time to teach on the side for extra bread. I never joined the union, simply because I never got around to doing so...
 

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LBAjazz said:
There's a lot of [in my opinion] very valid discussion going on here about the place of the union in today's music scene. I'm curious...who here is in the union,for how long, where is your local, what types of jobs do you play, how much is scale, how much is dues, how much work do you get, do you double, are you happy with it? Contrary to some folks opinion, I am not trolling or looking for a certain answer. I am honestly seeking info. My knowledge of the current musician's union situation is zero and I am trying to make myself a more informed person...nothing more, nothing less...absolutely no hidden agenda. I won't make any comments but I may ask other questions as they arise. Hey...help a guy learn something here. Thank you VERY MUCH !
I can speak about Wichita KS. I don't know scale, but I do know that there are only two 'regular' gigs that are AFM gigs. They are, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, and Music Theater of Wichita.
 

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I've been a member of local 802 AFM in New York for 20 years. I do TV and film scores and commercials that are mostly under a union contract. After my taxes are withheld, I pay %4 work dues to collect my cheque. I'm not complaining, if it weren't for a union contract, these gigs wouldn't have pension/health contributions and there would be no residuals.

Most of the jazz gigs I do are not covered by a contract. I wish they were but it's not gonna happen. Freelance work for Jazz @ Lincoln Center doesn't even get filed with the union.

As a bandleader, I wish the union was stronger. If the minimum scales+benefits were strictly enforced, I wouldn't loose gigs to "kids from the New School" or old retired band directors who think nothing of playing private and corporate functions at half-scale.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Andy, Thanks for that. What is scale pay for a jazz gig in a bar? If I bring in a quartet and I'm assuming [maybe wrongly] that there is a "leader" cut as well ?
 

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I'm actually waiting for my application to process as we speak. I have no real need for the Union as I have a good day job with good benefits and pay. Also, I've only worked a few "union halls" and have never had an issue. And I've never been on a real Union gig (probably goes without saying). However, I believe in what it represents and seeing the falling state of live music, I felt compelled to at least support it.
 

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You can start by going to the AFM.org website to get any info you need to make an informed decision. You'll be able to get contact info for the AFM local in your area to follow up on. The cost to join (initiation dues) is nominal and differs per local. You have an option to join 1 local or maintain membership in several. Many prominant musicians have membership in 3 locals. It is international in that every Canada province also has an AFM presence.

It is true that the Musician's Union was once the domain of mostly Symphonic and Jazz musicians and most everyone required a "card" to perform publicly. Those days are fondly remembered by old timers as the "hay day." Some states are Right To Work and some are not. I think of the AFM as a " musicians collective" with leaders who are themselves musicians and is therefore a sort of a watching each others backs thing both legally and financially. :cool:
 

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I did the Union thing for many years. Get your name in the local directory, played a couple parks gigs and get paid by Christmas if then. I wanted to do the right thing as a regular working musician but the dues are expensive and the Union work is disappearing. The long time members get first call anyways. So I stopped a couple years ago.

I love hearing stories from the older (60+) musicians in town. "We use to work 6 nights a week - shows, bars, double weddings on Saturdays - Those were the days. And all Union Shop."
 

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"We use to work 6 nights a week - shows, bars, double weddings on Saturdays - Those were the days. And all Union Shop."

Been there, done that, also we had the backing of a bartenders union that if both musicians and bartenders were not union, neither would work.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
jazzsax07, Just curious where was that and approx. when? I'm trying to get a handle on when and where the union had a strong presence.It SEEMS [I may be wrong] that the south never had as strong a union as the north and west.Thanks a lot.
 

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LBAjazz said:
jazzsax07, Just curious where was that and approx. when? I'm trying to get a handle on when and where the union had a strong presence.It SEEMS [I may be wrong] that the south never had as strong a union as the north and west.Thanks a lot.
No, you're right. Speaking generally, the south never had much union activity as contrasted with the north. Bossism just was too strong and the economic system different (can you spell "indentured servitude" boys and girls?).

And in the US in general, Reagan pretty much nailed the coffin shut when he "legally" fired all the traffic control operators and hired "scabs".

Regarding musicians here, I have no idea what the situation is with the big boys in the national symphonie orchestras and big bands or in the convential recording studios, but for most of us we're on our own. Although I've got to add there are government, govmt-sponsored and private institutions that protect certain rights and provide a safety net.
 

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I was a charter member of a local back in 1968 - remained a member for nearly 20-years and even served on the board for a few years. At the time I was traveling, it seemed like a good idea - being able to call on the union in a strange town if there was a problem getting paid.

I played in the south where nobody cared whether I was union or not. The gig paid what it paid - take it or leave it.

The union provided a few gigs itself - usually MPTF fund gigs. Those made it worth being a member for the time I was in. Eventually the union seemed to stagnate and have less and less relevance. Young folks weren't joining, and a decade or so ago, the AFM dissolved my local.

If I lived in New York or Los Angeles or Nashville and sought union gigs, I'd join again. Right now, I see no advantage.
juan
 

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I have occasionally been a union member in Dallas/Ft. Worth, Chicago, and Albuquerque. I have mixed feelings about it, but I do know that sometimes union rules and rulings can become absurd. Check out
This Video

It's an appearance in 1960 of the famous composer John Cage on the game show "I've Got a Secret." He was going to to perform a piece which included having five radios on stage that he could turn on and off at various times. Well, turns out there was a union dispute (I'm guessing between the stage hands union and the musicians union) as to who's job it would be to plug the radios in. The dispute couldn't be resolved by show time, so the radios didn't get plugged in at all!
 

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1959 to 62 I was a member of both AGVA and the musicians union in New Orleans when I worked at the 500 Club and Sho Bar. Never ever got called to sit in the pit band because the old timers always got the first call when someone was out sick or on vacation. I got plenty of work as an emcee in joints along the Gulf Coast but never as a musician. Both unions was under the control, as well as everything else on Bourbon Street, by the local talent, Carlos Marcello and company. So too, the longshoremans union which I was also a member for a day job. The problem with unions is that old members get the first call and best jobs - and the newbies get the crap jobs. For example, on the docks the worst jobs was bananas and oil drums. The easy jobs was loading boxes onto pallets, or better yet refrigerator holds where it was cold in the summer. The one nice thing about the longshore union was when I moved to San Francisco I got a job immediately with the local 6 warehouse union based on my previous union experience in NO. Dont know if that would apply to the musicians union now - these days as everything seems to be an old boy network - but my guess is longtime members will get called before newbies.
 

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I was in the D.C. union for a few years back in the '80s. The union had no clout whatsoever when it came to clubs and very little with the hotels. The two or three trust fund gigs I played a year barely covered the union dues so eventually I let my membership lapse. Since then I have never been prevented from working a gig because I wasn't in the union. In this town the union don't cut no ice at all.
 

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First AFM gig I got was a casual engagement in a marching band. Paid by check. No hassle. The contract required 3 hours of my time. After all deductions it averaged $30 per hour! Reminded me of high school, except the paycheck and contract. Even got a free meal. Just in the right place at the right time.
 

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gary said:
Speaking generally, the south never had much union activity as contrasted with the north.
The only place I was ever asked to show a union card was onstage at a jazz festival in Charleston, West Virginia. The union rep checked everyone, took names and later collected dues from the promoter who deducted them from our paychecks. That was in the 1970s. I suppose it is because West Virginia has a lot of mining, miners had strong unions, and unions were in favor among the voting public.

Another exception is Florida, which probably isn't the South, anyway. The union was strong in Florida in the 1960s. Then Florida became a right-to-work state. Today, what holds the union together is its strong presence in the theme parks and, to a lesser extent, the symphonies, although those diminish as fewer musicians join (because they don't have to) and the venues downize their use of live musicians.

In a right to work state, nonunion members get all the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement except the pension, so few of the younger guys care to join.

Club owners love right-to-work laws. They hire musicians at less than scale and, on the rare occasion when an owner stiffs a musician, there's no one to go to bat for the player. In the old days, the club would be placed on the defaulter's list, and the next day they wouldn't get their booze, food and other supplies delivered because teamsters wouldn't cross the lines. They called that "solidarity," and it was a powerful force.

Musicians who yearn for the glitter and glamour :) of an onstage presence also like right-to-work laws. They can lowball bid their way onto a bandstand that was previously the exclusive domain of union members. Supply and demand was never more evident than in a nightclub that features live music in a right-to-work state.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
How much is scale for a club date? Does the leader get extra? What about for a wedding? Thanks.
 
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