Things That Make You Go Buh?!? AFM Leadership

What do you call a $10,000 discretionary spending account over and above existing annual compensation, travel expenses, and departmental budgets? Oh, and did I mention that each executive with the mad money privileges will not be required to make an accounting of what or how they spend those funds. If you’re the current leadership of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), you call it Recommendation #24 for changes to the Federation bylaws

With friends like these...

It might seem hard to believe but that’s precisely what the AFM International Executive Board (IEB) is proposing at the upcoming AFM convention from June 21-25 in Las Vegas, NV. Recently, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) went public with a statement denouncing Recommendation #24.

Recommendation #24 from the IEB proposes that $10,000 per year be available to the AFM President, the Vice-President from Canada, and the Secretary/Treasurer (each). This money would come from your dues to the AFM, and would be in addition to salary and travel expenses. But the disturbing aspect of this proposal is that this money would be “for the spending of which he/she shall not be required to make an accounting.”

In other words, the AFM President and the IEB are proposing that they be allowed to raise your dues, take more of it for themselves, and you do not have the right to know how they spend your money. This $10,000 per officer per year actually totals $90,000 over the three-year convention cycle.

This insensitive proposal from your union’s leadership comes at a time of economic crisis for our orchestras, and at a time when many musicians have had their salaries reduced.

I haven’t been following AFM politics as closely as I usually do; frankly, I arrived at the conclusion that the current AFM leadership and bylaw structure is a complete wash. Moreover, attempting to change either of those issues internally will only be counterproductive and that the Federation’s player conferences (ICSOM, OCSM, RMA, ROPA, and TMA) should (but aren’t) be in the process of extracting themselves.

Nonetheless, at this rate, those inside the current AFM leadership endorsing Recommendation #24 are doing a far better job at reducing the influence of organized labor as it applies to orchestra musicians than any overt anti-union organization around. What that means is orchestra musicians and their respective player conferences have to spend increasing amounts of time pushing back against these internal pressures during a period when resources and wherewithal for dealing with external crises have stretched to breaking points.

If nothing else, we certainly do live in interesting times. The historians in this business (yes, they’re out there toiling away in near obscurity) are going to look back in 20 years and attempt to figure out how the AFM evolved to become one of the strongest characters to marginalize orchestra musician stakeholder influence in our time.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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3 thoughts on “Things That Make You Go Buh?!? AFM Leadership

  1. Irrespective of how the vote turns out at the Las Vegas Convention, I have a feeling that the next ICSOM Convention in August is gonna get REALLY interesting! I, for one, am bringing popcorn.

    Oh, and a belated Happy Birthday, Drew.

    george brown
    utah symphony

  2. As a former symphony/opera violinist and later an RMA founder, I’ve seen the AFM devolve dangerously under its current leadership. I believe there will be grave consequences if the current leadership remains in office after the June AFM Convention.

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