Musicians to tune out AFM union

Over 200 join Professional Musicians Guild

Local 47 will have a lot to talk about at tonight’s meeting.

L.A. musicians have placed the American Federation of Musicians on notice: Shape up or face possible decertification as their collective-bargaining agent for film and TV recordings.

More than 200 of the estimated 900 professional musicians who are most active on film-scoring dates have already joined the new Professional Musicians Guild, according to PMG president Andrew Malloy.

The PMG was formed late last year by L.A. players who have been frustrated by what they see as a series of failures on the part of the national leadership of the AFM. They include “sweetheart deals” and “secret backroom deals” — to use two phrases from the PMG’s membership pitch — that, if true, are in violation of existing AFM contracts.

PMG has been recruiting members for videogame recordings under a 2002 contract created by the Recording Musicians Assn., a player conference within the AFM. It led to more than $1 million in musicians’ wages over three years, according to the PMG.

The AFM, however, adopted another videogame agreement in December that severely undercut the original game contract. This, plus what PMG officials call an “actively hostile” attitude by national AFM officials, led to the formation of the new guild.

L.A. musicians are angry that the AFM cut a deal for the 2006 “MTV Video Music Awards” that undercut the existing agreement for music in videotaped shows, and that the AFM has allowed several films to utilize music from earlier L.A.-recorded scores (notably “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous”) without repaying the musicians, as required under AFM contracts.

PMG members are not being asked to leave the AFM, and letters from AFM to PMG officers have not, thus far, threatened them with expulsion. Musicians in both are still eligible to perform film and TV recordings under AFM contracts.

“The people who are interested in this new organization are very strong unionists,” Malloy said, “and have been active supporters of the federation, most of us since high school. (The PMG wouldn’t exist) if they had people truly working on behalf of the musicians who are doing the work in this town,” he said.

Local 47, the L.A. local of AFM, generated nearly $1 million in work dues for the national federation last year, more than any other local, according to Local 47 president Hal Espinosa.

Espinosa said he is “not happy” that there is a new guild — the beginnings of a possible revolt against an unresponsive AFM — but also pointed out that “it could have been avoided, at least four years ago, if the musicians here felt that they had support from their leadership.”

Espinosa is planning a run for the national AFM presidency against current president Thomas Lee. “Tom has been very divisive,” he said. “He’s lost the respect of other entertainment unions, and certainly has lost the respect of a lot of the recording musicians in L.A.”

Lee did not respond to phone calls seeking comment. These issues are expected to come up at a Local 47 membership meeting at 7 tonight at the union offices on Vine Street.

If the PMG continues to attract members among L.A. recording musicians, it will pose a significant threat to the AFM’s long-held dominance over recording in L.A.

The current agreement between the AFM and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, under which U.S. musicians record film and TV scores, expires in 2009. Some PMG members feel that if the AFM continues its current practices, they should vote to decertify the union as its collective-bargaining agent and choose PMG instead to negotiate with producers.

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