#WhyUnion?

So often, people ask why they should join the Union, why a project should be placed under a Union contract, or even why, once joining, they should remain a Union member.

We’re asking the members of Local 47 who, year in and year out, renew their membership, bring projects to the Local to be placed under contract, and perhaps encourage their friends and colleagues to join or remain in the Local, to answer.

Local 47’s #WhyUnion? campaign features members from every part of our profession, answering in their own words, this question: “Why Union?”


Share your own answer here!


Unfortunately, I’m not knowledgeable in legal or work-related matters, especially when it comes to getting paid. With the union I have resources behind me to ensure I’m treated fairly. We are in a business that, for me, is so lonely and isolated that the comfort to know I’m not alone makes the difference.

It’s in the sense of belonging that matters!

– Billy Sullivan, Drums
Member since 2004


I joined the Musicians Union, Local 47 after experiencing a free Trust Fund concert by the Gerald Wilson Big Band at the Pilgrimage Theater, I was 19 years old. At that time I knew I didn’t want anything to stop me from being able to one day play with my hero. I learned that the musicians were paid through a Trust Fund that had been set up by the AFM National.

Over the years, I have performed countless Union recordings, TV recordings, live shows and hundreds of Trust Fund concerts. I never thought about all of my pension contributions until I was into my 50s but thinking back on all those “green sheets” I signed and all of the many concerts and musicians I employed through “green sheet” concerts, I’m very proud to be a Union member.

My father was a Teamster (as a truck driver) and I am a Union member and proud of the fact that a Union sets standards and protections for the worker. I’m proud to belong to Local #47.

– Dr. Bobby Rodriguez, Trumpet
Member since 1983


A unified voice makes for a happier workplace.

– Rachel Berry, Horn
Member since 1995


Without the tremendous support of the Musicians Union, Local 47, the 68-member Symphonic Jazz Orchestra would not exist. The challenge of combining a symphony and a jazz band to perform newly commissioned music blending jazz, classical and other genres was met with the creation of a specially tailored CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement). The Union’s flexibility to work with our unique ensemble allows us to perform and record this special hybrid music with the finest musicians on the planet.

– Mitch Glickman, Conductor/Composer
Member since 1984


Joining the Musicians Union is the moment when you become a professional musician. The Union is your support team that helps to manage the business side of music making leaving you more time and energy to pursue your artistic and career success. Wages, working conditions, health insurance, pension, dispute resolution, and Intellectual Property Rights protection… there is no practical way a musician can enjoy all those benefits without the being a member of the Musicians’ Union.

– Joseph Stone, Oboist
Member since 1980


The AFM represents the single most viable organization representing professional musicians of all genres and backgrounds to be treated fairly and to receive the benefits of collective bargaining.

The alternative is to essentially become pawns, each of us fending for ourselves, with nowhere to turn if we are hurt, treated unfairly on the job, or unpaid for our work.

Musicians all want to go to work, comforted by the thought there is a place with a team of fellow professionals with the resources to represent them to see they are treated professionally and fairly.

We need a place where we can turn to support each other as well as stand up for our profession.

Our past, present and future pay rates, working conditions, health insurance, and pension contributions would have not have existed (and will not exist) without us having a place to come together to make them happen.

The AFM is that place.

– Alex Iles, Trombonist
Member since 1983


It’s important for musicians to have (legal) representation for matters that we ourselves can’t or handle ourselves. Also all the other resources — e.g., contracts, education, directory of other musicians — are a must.

– Robert Burns, Trumpet
Member since 1992


Whether our work is on stage, in a pit, on a scoring stage or a studio, whether we’re playing in a restaurant or a hotel ballroom, union coverage means we’re not alone. Getting the right money, health and safety protections, protections for the use of our music when others use it, access to health care and pension benefits are all important.

Perhaps the most important aspect of our union is that it is made up of us — musicians. We can vote on our contracts, work with our Local and the AFM for the help we need, have a voice in public policy in areas that affect our lives.

Imagine what our world would be without our contracts, without our union, musicians out there in the workplace alone. If we agree that we need a musicians union, our participation is what makes it happen.

– Marc Sazer, Violinist
Member since 1980


Years before I joined Local 47, I was already well aware of the power of the Musicians Union. At the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, where I was assistant manager, I tended to side with the musicians on labor issues, which did not make me very popular with management. Much longer story here but that’s for another time. Some of the members of Local 1 actually asked me to run for president. Honored, but not something I could take on at the time.

Four years later, when I was in the artist management business, an entire series of jazz and pop concerts I had put together for Grant Park in Chicago was cancelled by the city’s Parks Department after unruly members of the audience provoked a riot that brought a scheduled Sly Stone concert to a premature close. They equated pop and jazz with the rioting element whereas they considered classical music perfectly safe. They also informed me that they weren’t going to pay the artists whose concerts had been canceled. I didn’t argue, I just said, “Yes, you will,” called Local 10-208 and put them on the case. The artists themselves said, “We’ll never see that money.” I said, “Yes you will. Chicago is a union town.” A couple of days later I got a call from the Parks Department saying, in essence, “Where should we send the checks?”

I joined Local 47 in 1975 with the sponsorship of the late Harry “Sweets” Edison. I personally at that time was a fairly dreadful performer (piano), although I had established some credentials as an orchestrator, copyist and arranger — my primary reason for joining was to gain access to the Musicians Credit Union. Since then, my chops have improved even if my finances have not. I am proud to call myself a Life Member and have always hired union musicians whenever I was in a position to do so. Spelling out that history, or my history with Local 47, would take much more space than I have here. Solidarity, brothers and sisters!

And when I say “solidarity,” a longtime vision of mine has been that all the major sports and entertainment unions will band together to leverage their resources and media visibility to increase awareness of the importance of unions in general, and then that coalition bands together with all other existing unions and organizing movements to (a)  restore labor activism to its rightful place in American society, and (b) at the grassroots level, combat the forces of voter suppression. We have a short window of time while there is an administration favorable to labor in the White House. Your previous president, John Acosta, has already made some strides in this respect and I am hopeful his efforts will be continued and reinforced at both the local and national levels. Thank you for listening!

– Michael O’Daniel, Keyboardist
AFM 47 Member since 1975


These are great professional people.

– Howie Rich, Bassist
AFM 47 Member since 1974


Because I have been a member of the union for my whole career I have been provided with health insurance, a pension, helpful guidance releasing my own CDs, workplace protections, and assurance that I will be paid for my work in a timely manner.

– Alan Kaplan, Trombonist
Member since 1970


Why Union? Simple. Wage minimums, contracts, contract enforcement, negotiating clout, and finally back end.

– William Roper, Tubist
Member since 1992


It is an honor to be affiliated with Local 47, especially with the quality of work generated here in Los Angeles. There are so many extraordinary musicians. To sit in the middle of the string section and hear the incredible sound that surrounds me is simply sublime!

– Lesa Terry, Violinist
Member since 1999


I have been a union man my entire life.

I first joined Local 16 in Newark, New Jersey (my home town).

I then joined Local 802 in New York (I’m still a member).

Later I joined Local 47 here In Los Angeles (I’m still a member).

The guidelines that you receive being a union musician are very important to let you know what agreement you are working under, casuals, sound recordings, live TV and motion pictures. Under all of those agreements there are Health & Welfare and pension payments for work that you have done.

In addition there is a great reuse arrangement that you receive through each year, also for work that you have done.

Union is the only way to go.

I have never done a non-union job.

– Joe Soldo, Saxophonist/Music Contractor
Member since 1975


I am glad you are thinking of joining Local 47 AFM and the American Federation of Musicians.

So here are the advantages of membership. This organization represents the best musicians in the world for negotiations of wages and working conditions. The major reason to join the union is to play with the best musicians. Other perks include the good guaranteed wages, health insurance and a pension fund that helps you make your retirement plans. In your younger years you decide if you need a supplementary retirement plan depending on how much union work you do. You also have the staff of the union to help resolve disagreements with employers.

Then there are the obligations. As a fraternal organization, members are obliged to help other members keep up the standards of other musicians. The only way the union really works is when the members are committed to uphold and protect the wage and benefits for all musicians.

Other than your own church there is no reason for you to work non-union. That is what keeps our standards safe. If you want to use the union when it is convenient and do scab work when it is not convenient you lower the standard for all musicians. If you are asked to work non-union, talk to our President or other staff member that you trust on how the situation can be brought up to the union standards.

Without faithful members it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to do the job we elect them for. So, when you join our union please take your oath seriously.

You will have a great union if you are a good member. No one can defeat a group of strong, determined musicians that are willing to stand together.

– Mike Vaccaro, Clarinetist
Member since 1966


A union creates standards and guidelines so individuals don’t under-evaluate their services AND a union must also create standards that equally serve all of the members it has committed to lead.

– Susan Chatman, Violinist
Member since 1985


The bottom line, together we are stronger. The Union, when functioning optimally, helps set fair base rates and protections so that all members are properly compensated for our services. For peace of mind, I’m a fan.

– Aaron Smith, Trumpeter
Member since 2013


Hey, do you remember that time you accepted that job with that swing band. It was just a quick two hour show on guitar. It didn’t pay all that well…but you thought, “What the heck…..I’ll just be sitting around twiddling my thumbs otherwise….I should go play….it might be fun.”

Remember when, after you’d said yes, they then called two rehearsals?

Unpaid?

That wouldn’t have happened on a union job.

Remember how when you arrived at the first rehearsal you saw the book and realized you needed three different guitars? And a banjo? And a mandolin? And a pedalboard? All that stuff to cart around and play, and no extra money?

That wouldn’t have happened on a union job.

Remember the night before the two-hour job, they gave you the call time…. three hours before downbeat? You know….so you could do a soundcheck….that turned into another two-hour rehearsal….remember? And then once you started playing….it ran another 35 minutes longer than they promised….because they really wanted to get through all the tunes…

No overtime pay for you.

That wouldn’t have happened on a union job.

But hey…at least you got through it. Glad that was over! Whew! Remember how you went to the bandleader to get paid the $275 he’d promised you? Remember how he said, “Oh…yeah….Let me just cash the check from the venue and then I’ll pay you guys all out…three days, tops!”

Remember how three days later nothing came. So you wrote to the leader and he said, “Oh yeah…lemme get that over to you ASAP.”

Six weeks later you got a check for $200. So you wrote to the leader and said, “What happened to the other $75?” and he responded, “Well we didn’t really get the turnout we were hoping for….and we thought you guys were going to do more on social media to promote…”

Yeah.

That wouldn’t have happened on a union job.

When you work union, you’re protected by contracts. You have contractors there to ensure they’re enforced. That means both you AND your employers have to hold up your ends of the deal. There’s no taking advantage. No asking for favors, no shorting you, no asking you to take on more work and not compensating you. And if ever a problem does arise, you have a whole organization behind you to make sure you’re taken care of.

Add to all this, your employer contributes to your health and welfare fund. If you do enough work, you qualify for totally affordable health insurance at a great price! That may not seem like a huge deal if you’re just starting out….but trust me, it’ll be a big deal for you down the line.

But perhaps the best part of the deal is that when you go to work, you find yourself surrounded by some of the most incredible, and sometimes legendary, musicians in the world! Walking into a room with heroes and knowing you’re all there to work together is one of the most gratifying parts of this job. It never gets old.

So…why union? That’s why.

– Justin Smith, Guitarist
Member since 2002


Why union?

There are a hundred reasons why I proudly work union jobs. The simplest reasons are the ones that seem like givens to those outside of our industry: that I will be paid the agreed upon wage for my services, that I will receive overtime when I stay late, that my work conditions will be safe, and that I will receive meal and restroom breaks.

However, as I have graduated from young newbie to middle-aged freelancer there is one issue that rises above all others: health insurance. When I accept union work I receive contributions towards qualifying for health insurance. One or two jobs won’t get me there, but over the course of the year I earn enough to qualify.

A few years ago I went from perfectly healthy to having a life-threatening incident that put me in the hospital for a week. Had it not been for Local 47’s health care plan my family would have gone bankrupt from the cost of that treatment and the subsequent care that I needed. I am now considered healthy and stable (and plan to stay that way!), but the reality of having good health insurance has never been more clear.

Health insurance for musicians is rare, and we are fortunate to be part of a Local that provides coverage. I am thankful every day for that safety net, to the union jobs that get me there, and to our union for keeping the fund alive, even through a pandemic when no one was working.

– Danielle Ondarza, French Hornist
Member since 2003


As a jazz musician, I’ve spent my life watching my heroes and colleagues being cheated and taken advantage of in professional situations. We’ve all got stories. I believe that organized solidarity and unity is key to battling these very real and negative elements. That’s where a union comes in. If the people we work for perform dishonest acts, we need to hold them accountable. Our combined voices and numbers are our strength. The stronger our union, the stronger our voice. That’s the way it’s supposed to work and we should all find ways to create as strong a union as we can.

– John Clayton, Bassist
Member since 1976


The AFM protects each musician’s legal rights, guarantees payment, provides pension and health care and most of all, assures that those on a job are all the best professionals.

– Jim Self, Tubist
Member since 1973


The Musicians Union protects its members in that it sets the standard of pay and allows for the benefit of health care and pension. History has shown that without these standards it is extremely difficult if not impossible to maintain a safe working environment and a fair working wage.

– Kathleen Robertson, Violinist
Member since 1991


Regardless of background or socio-economics, or diversity of the genres music performed, the Union strives through our contracts to create a working environment for all musicians to thrive.

– John Lofton, Bass Trombonist
Member since 2008


Why Union? I’ve remained a union member since 1976 because the jobs are more professionally run, musicians are shown more respect (proper breaks and environment), access to rehearsal rooms, and we receive our benefits and back-end payments. No brainer. #winwinwinwinwin

– Gina Kronstadt, Violinist
Member since 1976


Now more than ever, the musicians that bring our scores to life need us. With the challenging times we’re in, unions become even more important in supporting our fellow players and collaborators. It’s important for musicians to know that a union, and we composers have their back.

– Siddhartha Khosla, Composer
Member since 2013


It seems to me that especially during a time of great instability, people need community and support. These valid forms of human need are met through the union’s support systems which keep musician’s pay and health benefits steady. Nothing could be more crucial for an artist.

– Beate Walden, Violinist
Member since 2021


The most important aspect of our union to me is solidarity. We watch out for each other, and stand up together for our rights and adequate pay.

– Chris Walden, Arranger
Member since 1996


#WhyUnion? Share Your Answer!

Answer this important and fundamental question: “Why Union?” and share what makes you a proud AFM Local 47 union member. Submit your photo & statement here.