A word from the President | Our AFM affiliation : time for a new partnership?

Our AFM affiliation:  time for a new partnership?   

In 2010 we raised a number of issues concerning our affiliation with the American Federation of Musicians (AMF) in light of Québec’s special situation since the advent of the Act respecting the Status of the Artist. The next year, the need to improve the terms of our affiliation with the AMF was among the issues covered in our Strategic Plan, adopted by the Board of Directors following consultations with our members in Montreal and Québec City in June 2011. Our affiliation with the AFM, which dates all the way back to 1897, has been an invaluable asset over the years in fighting for our rights. But now this affiliation needs a major overhaul to serve our current needs and help us meet our obligations to our members more effectively. The fact is, the high cost of this affiliation vis-a-vis the services we get and the way the AFM’s is currently governed is hampering our development and potentially depriving our members of services tailored to the actual conditions that exist in Québec today.

Québec : a different reality

To better understand the situation, we must first realize that our union operates under different conditions that those for other associations of musicians : a unique legal framework in North America (Act respecting the Status of the Artist), in which the GMMQ (not the AFM) is the exclusive negotiating agent for Québec musicians; an exceptional cultural vitality with thousands of shows subsidized by the State; numerous producers’ associations with whom we have to negotiate collective agreements; French as the official language and the obligations resulting from that fact; the vast expanse of our territory and the need to maintain two offices (Montreal and Québec City); the legal obligation to negotiate with producers in good faith; the possibility of a producer forcing us to negotiate rates different than our normal minimums; our very distinct needs with regard to lobbying a multitude of  organizations in both Québec and Canada. This unique situation requires exceptional local resources, and the services of the AFM, centralized in Toronto and New York, cannot respond accordingly.  

Recent history has taught us that the AFM is finding it more and more difficult to help us meet these specific needs. We believe that in return for the $280,000 per year (nearly 20% of our budget) which you pay the AFM through your dues, we are not receiving services adequately adapted to our reality. As you may know, the GMMQ has no control over how these funds are managed – the AFM’s head office in New York has exclusive responsibility in this regard.

The AFM staff in its New York head office and the Canadian office in Toronto are responsible for obtaining work visas to the United States for Québec musicians. In addition, a representative for Québec and Eastern Canada from the AFM’s Symphony Services, works at our head office. The AFM also handles negotiations for agreements with the National Film Board and the CBC/Radio-Canada, and is of course responsible for organizing solidarity and collaboration on both sides of the border (Congress, various authorities, etc.). As for the Musicians’ Pension Fund of Canada, it is an autonomous entity, independent of the AMF, financed by Canadian employers and managed by its own Board of trustees.

A new partnership proposal

In June 2011, immediately after adopting our Strategic Plan, the Board of Directors submitted a written proposal to the AMF and we then met with their Executive Committee to give a detailed presentation. In brief, we proposed the following : the GMMQ would be affiliated with the AMF as a separate union organization, with its own autonomy and its own rules and by-laws. This option is in line with an internal by-law of the AMF (Section 4, Paragraph 11). In this regard, the GMMQ would no longer be considered a local branch of the AMF but rather an affiliated union. This affiliation, or partnership, would be responsible for issuing work visas (P-2) on both sides of the border and negotiating working conditions in agreements on electronic media. All negotiation services (hiring an advisor, handling agreements with the NFB and CBC, etc.) would henceforth be assumed by the GMMQ, including the budgets involved. The cost of this affiliation would be $12 per member (compared to the current $58), which is the standard affiliation rate with central American unions like the AFL-CIO, for example. In addition, the GMMQ would continue to pay annual fees resulting from AFM agreements covering electronic media. Under this new rating system, something on the order of $180,000 would be saved every year.

So far, the AMF has not agreed to our proposal, which we consider quite reasonable and perfectly suited to the prevailing situation in Québec, the only “State” in North America that benefits from legislation which fully recognizes the status of the artist and gives powers of negotiation exclusively to artists’ associations. We have learned, however, that the AMF might be proposing some changes regarding the organization of services, but for the moment nothing concrete has materialized.

Our proposal is the best option for our members and as always, we want to maintain a fruitful partnership with the AFM and our Canadian and American colleagues. The GMMQ’s  proposal represents our firm intention to offer the best services possible and carry out our mandate more effectively. The financial room to maneuver we are looking for would enable us to envisage the hiring of new advisors and negotiators, an expanded presence in Québec, an increase in our activities on the ground, a rise in our membership and even, in the medium term, the development of new services (training, group insurance, etc.). In short, our fundamental objective remains: to better fulfill our mandate to defend and promote the interests of Québec musicians.

This topic will be on the agenda at our next General Assembly on November 27. Together we will discuss the best ways to promote our rights in the context of our affiliation with the American Federation of Musicians, as well as our priorities for improving services. This will enable us to better evaluate your concerns during the period leading up to the AFM convention next July.

Luc Fortin

Read the Entracte journal (Fall-Winter 2012-2013)