That Thing That is Taft Hartley

by Gordon Grayson, EMD Administrator

Every Monday the Local sends a stack of automatically generated letters to all sorts of non-member musicians from all sorts of places for all sorts of engagements. These Taft-Hartley Musician Notifications refer to multitudes of musical employment, but all have one particular thing in common: my signature. The letters are something of a blunt tool, meant to apply to all manner of varied circumstances of employment that today’s musical workplace presents, but they most assuredly are intended to inform rather than offend. They do seemingly never cease to generate curiosity and/or concern among their recipients, who inevitably call the phone number at the bottom to discuss – also mine. Sometimes once a day, sometimes five, I have the opportunity to wax philosophical on the subtle intricacies of congressional legislation as it relates to collective bargaining, labor and union employment… Taft-Brother-Truckin’-Hartley, baby!

So, Robert A. Taft and Fred A. Hartley got together and, despite a veto from President Harry Truman, managed to amend the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 with the enactment of the Labor Management Relations Act, also known as the Taft-Hartley Act, in 1947. Considered by many to be anti-labor, this legislation governs union employment in the United States to this day and, all politics aside, has significant implications for all working people in unionized industries. Whether you’re an auto worker, plumber, electrician, or an actor, director or even, yes, a musician, if you’re not a member of the union that is a party to the collective bargaining agreement under which you are engaged, then Taft-Hartley has some news for you.

Our union operates with the understanding that a non-member musician has 30 days from the initial date of employment to work under an AFM or Local 47 agreement before the membership obligation described in our favorite letters applies to them. Signatory employers can hire non-member musicians who have not already made use of this allowance previously, and are obligated to treat these musicians in accordance with the applicable contract. The employer is also are required to file an engagement report with the Local in whose jurisdiction the work is performed, which report form details the particulars of the session or performance, including listing players and services performed. These employer obligations are based on its signatory status, and not the membership status of the musician. Such non-member musicians should still get their checks, but they are also going to get some Taft-Hartley mail from the Membership Nazi.

Once the engagement or steward report is processed, non-member musicians are identified by the Taft-Hartley module of our database program, and a letter stream is automatically generated. The notices explain to the newly employed players that upon the expiration of the allotted 30-day term, eligibility for further employment is contingent upon satisfying the membership obligations set forth in the collective bargaining agreement and the relevant Taft-Hartley provisions of law. In other words, if one is working under AFM or Local contract again or still after 30 days from the initial date of engagement, the membership obligations described apply in order to maintain such eligibility. If one is not working again or still under our agreement on the other hand, then the obligations described in the letter do not apply, and the musician may then disregard… After they pay their work dues, of course. 😉

Lastly, musicians often ask about the distinction between employment under a national agreement versus a Local one. Good question! Federation contracts provide terms and conditions of employment throughout the U.S. and Canada, so the scale for a record date under the SRLA in Los Angeles is the same as a record date in Nashville, and the reuse payment for a jingle track recorded in Chicago under the Commercial Announcements Agreement is equal to reuse of a track laid down in New York. Accordingly, meeting the membership standard in any AFM Local satisfies a musician’s Taft-Hartley obligation under a national agreement, no matter where in the AFM’s jurisdiction the work is performed. Conversely, if the parties to the agreement are a Local and a local employer, then musicians engaged thereunder have a membership obligation to that particular Local, and membership in another AFM Local would not satisfy the musician’s Taft-Hartley obligation. So, for example, if a player comes from Chicago for a six-month engagement with the LA Phil, their membership in Local 10-208 would not be sufficient, since the party to the CBA is specifically Local 47. And, if this player wasn’t already aware, not to worry, there is a letter on its way to tell them all about it. Oh, and that guy at the Local who is happy to explain it in more detail if they have any questions.

– This article was originally published in Overture Magazine, July 2016