Although it has been in effect for months now, some folks aren’t aware that the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) placed the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) on their International Unfair List per request of AFM Local 5 (the office which represents the DSO musicians). Although this isn’t an unusual course of action during a work stoppage, not everyone is aware of what this decision entails…
How It Is Defined
According to AFM Symphonic Services Division Director, Christopher Durham, the International Unfair List is an “internal procedure which alerts AFM members to a primary labor dispute involving the AFM or Local affiliate with an employer of its members.”
If the AFM determines that it has a primary labor dispute with an employer, or upon request of the AFM by a Local who determines they have a primary labor dispute with an employer, the employer may be placed on the International Unfair List.
How It Impacts Musicians
According to Durham, the AFM Bylaws maintains specific guidelines on how to address any violations.
The AFM Bylaws are specific in that “Members shall not render musical services for organizations, establishments, or people who have been placed on the International Unfair List…” If a member is found guilty of violating this by-law the International Executive Board may, at its discretion, impose a fine of not less than $10.00 nor more than $50,000.00.
When asked whether or not the AFM has had to take action against a member for violating the by-law within the past decade, Durham indicated that it was a moot point.
No AFM member has crossed the picket line of an AFM symphony orchestra within the past decade. I believe this is due to the professional respect members have for each other and for themselves. In Detroit, the employers’ demands are so egregious that musicians everywhere are conscious of the fallout in making such an agreement. Hypothetically if a member were charged under such a scenario they would not necessarily be expelled from the union, they would more likely be fined as the bylaw provides. The last thing the AFM wants to do is to penalize one of its own but I do believe the International Executive Board would take any instance of a member crossing a picket line very seriously and exercise their full right to discipline.
How It Impacts Orchestras
In order to maintain a third party outlook on this topic, I contacted a handful of retired orchestra executives for their opinion. Unfortunately, no one wanted to go on record with a reply so I’ll have to fill in this section with a little editorializing.
The short answer is “it depends.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, outlook on this influenced by political persuasion but if you take a historic view on the topic, there aren’t enough instances where a professional orchestra was placed on the Unfair List while attempting to conduct regular concert events to draw any reasonable conclusions.
Currently, the only orchestra on the Unfair List that has concert activity planned for the 2010/11 season is the Richardson Symphony but their first concert event of the season isn’t scheduled until 2/12/2011, which means there is still time for the dispute to be resolved. Inquires to the Richardson Symphony about being on the Unfair List were not returned and at the time this article was written, the organization’s website did not list an orchestra roster and the auditions page simply states “Please contact the RSO office (XXX-XXX-XXXX) for information about possible openings and/or placement on the substitute list for the 2010-2011 season.”
Consequently, it will be interesting to see what transpires in Richardson via orchestra musicians if the dispute is unresolved.