A bad day for the SSD

Laura Brownell, Director of the Symphonic Services Division for the last 3+ years, announced yesterday that she would be leaving the AFM’s employ at the end of July to work for the Society of Energy Professionals, a union of Ontario electrical generation workers based in Toronto.

This is not good news for the AFM, and especially not for SSD. For one thing, she’ll be extremely difficult to replace. For another, she is one of the few people in the AFM symphonic ecosystem with any real understanding of the value of engaging employers in ways other than those required for collective bargaining.

There are two people in the department who could plausibly be appointed Director. It seems unlikely that either would want to move to New York, or even spend the kind of time there likely to required by the current administration. There are no doubt a few people outside of the department who could be considered plausible replacements as well. But most of them work in orchestras, and for anyone with a decent orchestra career, the idea of moving to New York for what the AFM pays and giving up the comparative security of an orchestra job for at-will employment in a highly politicized workplace would be problematic, at the very least.

And hiring someone from outside of the orchestra business would guarantee not only a steep learning curve for that person, but a years-long search for street cred amongst people that have been doing orchestral trade unionism, in one form or another, for most of their adult lives.

The search for a replacement may be so difficult, in fact, that it could lead to a restructuring of the department, and not one that would make SSD more responsive to the needs of the symphonic player conferences. Tom Lee’s philosophy of unionism doesn’t have a big place in it for entities within the AFM other than locals. The RMA found that out years ago. It seems far more likely that SSD will be brought much more directly under the control of the AFM President than that it will maintain the kind of independence that its directors have historically demonstrated. Of course the SSD Director works for the AFM President. But Lew Waldeck, Florence Nelson, and Laura Brownell were all part of a tradition of active policymaking and trying to work with the Player Conferences that is likely to look very last-century in a year or two.

Equally damaging is the fact that there will no one left in a leadership position at the AFM, ICSOM, or ROPA with a real commitment to engaging the managers, the League, or the Mellon Foundation. Laura brought with her, from her experience working for SSD in Canada, a track record of representing the AFM to industry groups, and she became very highly regarded by those groups in the US during her tenure at SSD. Unfortunately the leadership of ICSOM and ROPA, while talking a reasonable line on the subject, have shown little interest, if not active hostility, to the concept that maintaining lines of communication with “the other side” doesn’t mean surrendering to them. And none of her likely replacements within the AFM office are very sympathetic to the concept either. Laura’s departure may well lead to a significant worsening of relations between employers and musicians on an industry level.

All in all, a bad day for the AFM, and not a great day for relations in our field either.


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