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Battle drawn on live acts’ union rights

Legislation that would grant collective bargaining rights to live performing artists and musicians drew predictable support and criticism at a House subcommittee hearing Wednesday.

Setting for the hearing was the House subcommittee on labor-management relations, where union representatives hailed the bill as a step forward in labor rights, and where a representative of tavern operators claimed the legislation would “kill live entertainment.”

Notably, subcommittee chairman Pat Williams (D-Mont.) expressed support for the legislation that was sponsored by Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Wis.). Williams predicted that Congress would act on the bill before year’s end, and union groups hope having a Democrat in the White House will increase the chance for passage of the legislation that has been floating around Capitol Hill for a decade.

‘Transient acts’

The Live Performing Artists Labor Relations Act would allow “transient acts”– mostly musicians who perform short-term engagements at hotels, bars and restaurants — to join unions for the purpose of improving wage standards and working conditions.

Speaking in favor of the bill was Mark Tully Massagli, prez of the American Federation of Musicians, and Harold Bradley, prexy of the National Assn. of Musicians.

Massagli said the vast majority of musicians have “far less bargaining power” than the few musicians who become “star attractions.” Most musicians play in venues “where conditions are abysmal and owners refuse to pay a living wage,” Massagli said.

Bradley said passage of the Kildee bill “would afford musicians the same basic rights presently enjoyed by professional athletes, doctors, lawyers and teachers. I believe that musicians should enjoy those same rights.”

Speaking against the bill was Larry Roberts, a bar owner in Hagerstown, Md., who represents the National Licensed Beverage Assn. Roberts claimed that enactment of the bill would result in the death of live entertainment acts.

“Faced with the choice of hiring this new employee (unionized musician), paying the unions a percentage of the contract, suffering through employee union grievances and a host of other economic issues, our taverns and restaurants will just not hire live entertainment,” Roberts said. “Instead, we will put in jukeboxes, CD players or Muzak.”

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