Democracy comes to the AFM

99.9% of elections in AFM locals are barely news even for the members of the local. The other 0.01% happened last week in the Nashville Association of Musicians, AFM Local 257.

It was unusual enough that Local 257’s two executive officers, President Harold Bradley and Secretary-Treasurer Billy Linneman, were both defeated in their bids for re-election. Incumbents are rarely defeated when they run for re-election to local office, and Bradley had been president since 1990. More unusual is that both Bradley and Linneman were also members of the AFM’s International Executive Board, with Bradley serving as AFM International Vice-President. It’s been 25 years since a member of the IEB has lost a bid for re-election to local office.

But what made this election unique in recent AFM history is the reason why Bradley and Linneman lost, which was that, as members of the IEB, they had enlisted in AFM President Tom Lee’s war on the Recording Musicians Association. Driving this point home was the fact that Bradley was defeated by Dave Pomeroy, who is president of the Nashville chapter of the RMA.

It would take many blog entries to attempt to describe what the war between President Lee and the RMA is about. What precipitated this particular battle was a resolution that the IEB passed in June, essentially threatening to “de-conference” the RMA, one of the officially sanctioned “player conferences” within the AFM. Both Bradley and Linneman voted for this resolution, which provoked furious blow-back within the Nashville local. Both gentlemen reacted very defensively and pushed back against their critics. That was likely a mistake.

This election was, in its own way, a revolutionary development in AFM politics: the first time IEB members had ever lost their local office for positions they took as IEB members. What are the implications of that for the AFM as a whole?

It’s not at all clear. Last summer Tom Lee pretty much swept the table at the AFM Convention; his opponents on the IEB either stepped down or were defeated, and additional dues on RMA members were imposed to bail the AFM out of its difficult financial situation. Now two of his allies on the IEB have paid what is, for a union officer, the ultimate price for siding with him (although they will remain on the IEB until July 2010 unless they resign from that as well, which seems highly unlikely to me.)

Will this affect how the other members of the IEB approach the AFM/RMA war in the future? Very possibly. None, with the  possible exception of IEB member and Local 802 (New York City) Vice-president Erwin Price, are likely to face a similar group of angry musicians at home. But the shock of this news will have some effect on the survivors. It will likely also have an effect on the morale of the RMA and Tom Lee both.

And what about symphony musicians? Short-term, this will likely have little effect. Recording musicians are very dependent on the AFM, as their most important contracts are between the national office and their employers. Symphony musicians make most of their income under contracts between their locals and their employers. The national office provides some useful services to symphonic musicians (in particular, staff negotiators who are used by many smaller orchestras). But, if the national office were to be swallowed up by a giant sinkhole where Times Square used to be, surprisingly little would change for most symphony musicians, at least in the short term.

But, in the long term, this is probably good news, although not so much because symphony musicians have a stake in the substantive issues about which the AFM and the RMA are at war. It’s good news because union democracy is a good thing for the rank-and-file, and holding IEB members accountable for their actions at the local level is a very effective form of union democracy.

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