Musicians Union Rallies for Streaming Residuals, Seeking to End Disparity With Other Guilds

Jonathan Handel

They’re “sticking it to musicians [and] that’s not fair, that’s not right,” said one AFM Local 47 leader.

Over one hundred members and supporters of the American Federation of Musicians Local 47 rallied Thursday at the Sherman Oaks headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, demanding something that above-the-line guilds achieved in 2014 and enhanced in 2017: residuals on product made for streaming services such as Netflix and its coming wave of competitors from Disney, Comcast and others.

Obtaining contracts that harmonize with the other guilds’ would be sweet music for Local 47, but so far the instrumentalists are finding themselves drummed out by the AMPTP. As the industry pivots ever more toward streaming video on demand platforms, musicians assert they are being left behind. They get no residuals on SVOD product.

It’s a familiar place for the AFM, since — even before SVOD — musicians were (and remain) subject to contracts that pay out residuals under far fewer circumstances than directors, writers and actors enjoy; the checks are smaller too. But the sotto voce contracts are also a bitter irony, because the AFM was a powerhouse in the earliest fights for residuals during the 1940s and ’50s.

“We are through being scared, we are though being pushed around, we are through being treated like second-class citizens,” said Jason Poss, a Local 47 member who is one of the leaders of the union’s effort. “We know they make huge profits on streaming media. We know they can afford to pay everyone properly and still make millions.… They don’t get to make more by sticking it to musicians. That’s not fair, that’s not right, and today they will know that we are standing together because we will not allow it.”

But it’s a tough fight. Gone are the days when huge orchestras routinely convened on studio lots. Offshoring of work has been a concern for half a century, and today it is even easier thanks to the Internet and other telecom technology, with London and Eastern Europe as popular destinations. The union’s existing TV and theatrical contracts expired over a year ago, then were extended to this November but without progress on the residuals issue.

In addition to Poss, other speakers at the rally were UTLA (teachers union) vp Juan Ramirez, SAG-AFTRA secretary-treasurer Jane Austin, WGA West executive board member Angelina Burnett, Local 47 musician Lara Wickes and Local 47 musician and executive board member Dylan Hart.

Poss also attempted to deliver residuals petitions signed by over 500 members to the AMPTP, but was rebuffed when the organization refused to answer the intercom and building security kept the front door locked.

The shoe was on the other foot almost 80 years ago though. In those days, the AFM was powerful enough to resist entreaties from management, the general public and even the U.S. president, maintaining a two-year strike against the radio and record industries even during wartime and despite an appeal from no less than FDR.

That labor action, the so-called Recording Ban of 1942-44, and a 1948 Recording Ban, were led by the AFM’s then-legendary leader James Petrillo and were instrumental in securing some of the earliest residuals. But that was then. Now the question has become whether a vastly weaker union can muster the crescendo necessary to convince the AMPTP to welcome players into fuller membership in the residuals club — or whether a de-residualized solo will be the union’s fate.

For more on this subject, visit THR‘s labor page.