Earlier this week, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) published a copy of the comments delivered to the American Federation of Musicians’ (AFM) International Executive Board (IEB) on 7/27/2009 by its chairman, Bruce Ridge. ICSOM describes the comments as “critical of the delayed and subverted process through which the President of the AFM hired the new director of the Symphonic Services Division (SSD).” We’ve examined this issue in two recent posts (here and here) and the publication of Ridge’s comments sheds additional light on what appears to be a growing struggle within the AFM over representation and services rendered.
How does this struggle between the Players Conferences and the AFM national leadership impact orchestras? In short, plenty.
Some of the more immediate results can be found in the labor disputes that have erupted throughout the field since fall, 2008. In order to adequately prepare and manage for those discussions, orchestra musicians rely on a wide variety of direct and indirect support services from their union. This support structure functions like flexible cord of tightly intertwined fibers; if too many of those fibers begin to fray, the cord fails and the musicians’ support mechanism ceases to have enough strength to withstand tensile forces.
Based on a number of Ridge’s points, it seems as though the AFM has allowed enough of those strands to wear so thin (and in some cases, break) that the Player Conferences have become alarmed. In a practical sense, it means musicians have been ill equipped to deal with negotiations and the host of dynamic issues that require support from their union and that situation will likely continue unless the AFM leadership reallocates resources. Granted, some players associations will fare better than others, especially those with a history of self reliance, but the very nature of a number of player associations precludes that outcome.
What this means is that boards and executive managers will encounter less predictable responses to concessionary terms proposed in negotiations than if the AFM were providing the level of service the Player Conferences are demanding. In some cases, it could mean musicians accept concessions that unnecessarily cripple the organization and destroy decades of artistic development. In other cases, without proper council players associations could respond with far less consideration than a situation requires, leading to a disastrous chain of events stemming from public backlash.
Granted, those are examples on the extremes of potential outcomes, but there is no avoiding that the latent long term impact this could have on the business is sincerely profound.
The material in Ridge’s comments is revealing and leaves outsiders to wonder what exactly do orchestra musicians intend to do if the AFM leadership fails to change course. In order to fully comprehend those outcomes would require an understanding of how the political process of representation and elections function within the AFM.
And that’s an extensive conversation. Too much to cover in this article; however, it may be worth examining in the near future. But suffice to say, even with a change in leadership, the system which produced the current AFM leadership will continue unabated.
Ridge’s address is long, nearly 2,500 words, and contains a fair share of AFM nomenclature but don’t let that dissuade you from reading it word for word. While reading Ridge’s address, keep in mind that unlike issues of economics related to many of the concessionary discussions across the field, the ICSOM/AFM conflict isn’t about whether or not there is enough revenue but how the ample revenue available is allocated.
On the surface, it may seem like an implosion of the AFM might be something a stereotypical board member and executive would crave and there are probably a few out there reading this right now that have been smiling since the first sentence. But the bottom line is every good orchestra manager has learned that one of the best support mechanisms s/he can have to achieve institutional success is a well organized and effective players association.