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Musicians protest ‘Tonight Show,’ ‘Dancing’

Union contends performers have gone seven years without raises

Network shows with live bands, including “The Tonight Show” and “Dancing With the Stars,” were the subject of protests Tuesday by the American Federation of Musicians, which contends its performers haven’t been granted a raise in seven years.

Shows on both coasts were targeted, including “Today,” “Good Morning America” and “Late Show With David Letterman” in New York and “Tonight,” “Dancing With the Stars” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in Los Angeles.

Union musicians handed out leaflets to audience members waiting to get into the Leno, Kimmel and Letterman shows that said “Cheated: Musicians Edition… watch the networks hammer your favorite show’s hardworking musicians in contract negotiations… Give musicians fair pay for fair play.”

According to AFM officials, musicians who play on these shows last received a pay raise in 2005, when ABC, CBS and NBC last approved a new contract.

AFM Local 47 vice-president John Acosta said negotiations on a new contract began late last month in New York but that the networks demanded “major concessions” before they would even discuss wage hikes.

Network officials contacted late Tuesday had no comment.

AFM officials say the big three networks have historically negotiated the “videotape agreement,” which covers musicians who play live on television — as opposed to music played on narrative TV and movie soundtracks, which are covered under a separate contract — and that Fox (which airs “American Idol,” a show that would be covered under this pact) and other production companies routinely sign on.

AFM president Ray Hair issued a statement saying, “Instead of appreciation for all we do, we were met with demands for unjustified concessions that have angered the musicians. Actors and stagehands get raises every year, but musicians are left out in the cold.”

Hair and other AFM execs declined to be specific about the concessions being sought, but they are believed to involve back-end payments to musicians when shows are rerun or aired in different media.

Of equal concern, Acosta said, were healthcare costs. “Health care contributions on these shows are less than half of what they are in most other musicians’ contracts,” said one rank-and-file member serving on the negotiating committee. “These shows don’t qualify them for health insurance.”

Talks resume next week in Los Angeles. Other shows covered by this agreement include “Saturday Night Live,” “The X Factor,” “The Voice,” the Oscars, Emmys and other awards shows.

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