September 5, 2009 at 5:31 AM
It's Labor Day weekend in the United States -- a good excuse to talk about working musicians.
Thus this week's vote: is the musicians union helpful to working musicians? I've been a member of the American Federation of Musicians for some 20 years, and though I felt pretty grumpy about those union dues in my younger days, I must say that the presence of union-negotiated contracts for symphony players has helped me work under mostly reasonable conditions. The negotiated pay, the limits on rehearsal time, the mandatory breaks -- we need those boundaries set and enforced. Not that it's perfect, by a long shot: no contract is ideal, and work for musicians in the LA area (where I live) has shrunk precipitously in the last 10 years.
But I'm also thankful specifically to Local 47 for having a credit union and a program that allowed me to buy my violin. The local also offers health insurance to the musicians who get the best gigs, but not every gig counts towards being eligible, and this is problematic. Then again, health insurance is problematic all over the U.S. We won't get into that! (Or will we?!)
I'd love to hear about everyone else's experiences, and also, I'd like to hear about what labor conditions are like for musicians in countries other than the United States.
I've been in a bunch of different locals, and I've also lived in places without a local. I'd much rather be in The Union.
I have no representation in Shanghai but if anyone knows of any please speak up! There also isn't any in my hometown in the states but I was seriously considering joining the nearest local union anyway just for the networking opportunities. There seem to be so many opposing votes here. I wonder what their major complaints are? I know any extra fee is not exactly welcome on gigging musicians' salaries, but sometimes you get a lot of priceless intangibles like more gigs and gigging friends. And standards. I have been in a few unbelievable non-standardized rehearsals, like being stuck in a pit that you can't climb out of for more than 3 hours with no breaks and no water. Unions give us better working conditions. If you vote "no" I hope it is for more than because of the price of the annual fee.
I suspect a lot ot the no vote are people with an anti-union philosophy. I have my own opinions but have refrained from voting because I'm not a pro and I don't think the question is a general 'are you for or against unions?'. But I would be interested in reading comments by people with experience of musicians unions. The silence is also interesting. Is it a poll question too fractious for polite company? ;)
I thought I'd weigh in. I've lived and worked in a few different places, and I find the places that have a strong union presence definitely pay more for gigs. My only complaint would be when I have to belong to a lot of different locals since rarely can I make a living playing only in one local area.
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