AFM Local 47 President Stephanie O’Keefe was the latest labor champion to be featured by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor in the 9/14/2023 edition of the “On the Move” newsletter. The article is reprinted below.
Spanning a 40-year career as a musician, Stephanie O’Keefe became involved with the American Federation of Musicians as a college student and now serves as President of AFM Local 47.
O’Keefe started in music, learning the French horn when she was 10 years old, eventually becoming a music major in college, when she first joined the union. After college, she landed in Las Vegas, where she worked in showroom orchestras for Dolly Parton and other major acts. It was in Las Vegas in 1984 that O’Keefe walked her first picket line with the AFM.
O’Keefe was always active in her union, gaining experience by participating in negotiating and political committees. After her stint in Las Vegas, O’Keefe moved to Los Angeles, where she helped negotiate an historic first contract for the Desert Symphony, which had previously been non-union. The Desert Symphony contract victory holds a special place in O’Keefe’s heart, as it was an orchestra she performed with for many years and for which she was the chairperson of the bargaining unit. In the first contract fight and the several successor agreements O’Keefe helped negotiate, the jobs of many musicians were saved, including one whom management had fired after they were outspoken about missing overtime pay. Twenty years later, the Desert Symphony remains union and recently ratified a new contract that includes significant pay increases, increases in health care and pension contributions, and a small stipend for travel.
As President of AFM Local 47, O’Keefe keeps the musician community and her experience as a female horn player central. “When you come out of the rank and file, you realize you have the chance to build the local of your dreams — to protect members, organize, negotiate CBAs that compensate them fairly and enforce those contracts,” said O’Keefe.
Since beginning her term in 2021, O’Keefe has grappled with how to tackle the numerous issues her members face. From streaming models to artificial intelligence and lack of residual pay, musicians are also on the front lines of the problems plaguing the entertainment industry, with AFM Local 47 gearing up for their own battle with the AMPTP at the end of this year.
“When you represent musicians, you’re representing artists, but their desire to create is not a justification for an employer to exploit them,” said O’Keefe. “Musicians need to be paid for their labor. I am tired of hearing, ‘The union won’t let you do something.’ No, what the union won’t let you do is something for free.”