Composers give up unionization bid

AMPTP won't recognize org despite 2-year organizing effort with Teamsters

Composers have hit a brick wall in their effort to unionize and are giving up the effort for now.

The Assn. of Media Composers and Lyricists, which has been working for the past two years with Teamsters Local 399 to create a collective bargaining unit that would represent score composers and songwriters, announced Friday that six months’ worth of meetings with individual studios and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) had proven fruitless.

“The Teamsters have been told that the AMPTP will not voluntarily recognize us,” the AMCL said in a statement, despite the fact that the composers were seeking only health and pension benefits. “The Teamsters believe that the traditional method of bargaining with the AMPTP will not be successful.”

Sources said studio execs and AMPTP officials continue to believe that composers and songwriters are “independent contractors” — echoing a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board in the 1980s — and don’t feel there is any compelling reason to voluntarily go along with a unionization request.

The musicmakers were hoping that the AMPTP would see them in the same light that they saw casting directors, who signed their first deal with the AMPTP as a Teamsters unit in 2006 after a three-year Teamster organizing campaign. Composers hoped their stated goal of only seeking health and pension benefits would help their cause — by not asking for minimums or working conditions.

It didn’t work. The AMCL cited “the uncertain economic climate, the political impasse in Congress at the moment, and the legislative attack on public workers in several states” as multiple strikes against the current union effort.

“As independent contractors, they can’t organize under federal labor law. We don’t believe anything has changed,” said a source close to the producers. He said the producers looked for ways to help the composers find a suitable health plan but that their legal status as independent contractors bars employers from making contributions on their behalf to multi-employer plans like those used by many film employees.

Two years of meetings produced a united effort by more than 500 composers and lyricists, along with statements of support by the WGA, SAG, AFTRA, and three major music groups including the Society of Composers & Lyricists, the Recording Musicians Assn. and the American Federation of Musicians. The AFM handles other music-making functions such as performing, orchestrating, conducting, and music preparation, but not the actual writing of music.

AMCL organizing committee chairman Bruce Broughton said that the group will now look into alternative means of getting health coverage, and return to the effort “when national conditions are more favorable to us.” In the meantime, he said, the Teamsters will continue to act in “an advisory capacity.”

“It’s still a fairness issue,” Broughton said, pointing out that the composers and songwriters are the only remaining creatives in the film and TV business who don’t have basic health benefits. He said the AMCL would continue to exist and would “restructure and rethink” in trying to figure out the next step.

Teamsters officials and the AMPTP could not immediately be reached for comment.

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