Yesterday, the American Federation of Musicians staged a protest aimed at TV shows with live bands, here and in New York. In the Los Angeles area they picketed outside of The Tonight Show, Dancing With the Stars and Jimmy Kimmel Live. The 116 year old organization claims its performers haven't been granted a raise in seven years, despite renewed pressure on networks.
Fanning out from Burbank to Hollywood, about 30 union musicians from their Local 47 chapter handed out leaflets to line-bound prospective audience members in blistering heat.
It wasn't much in the way of spectacle; the protesting musicians don't chain themselves to anything or carry placards or even yell, really -- they just chatted with folks and handed out flyers which read "Cheated: Musician's Edition" and contained a QR code that led here.
"We tried to use some of our non-performing members," said local Vice President John Acosta in a phone interview, suggesting that performing members may be afraid of network retribution. "But I think that the audience members reacted well. One woman asked what she could do, and we told her to go in and get the flyer into the hands of some executives if she could."
Acosta, a rock guitarist by trade, joined the union about 10 years ago and got swept up into the politics of it and now helps run the 8,000-strong chapter that covers musicians all over Southern California.
"The bands on these shows are essential to the product that these shows are putting out. Ultimately it's going to come down to what the networks are going to do." And without a raise in seven years -- or health care increases in even longer -- those musicians are suffering. While Acosta and other union heads restarted negations a few years ago, the networks refused their demands in lieu of certain concessions.
As to what concessions specifically the networks are demanding, Acosta hinted the situation is similar to the 2008 Writer's Guild strike, which saw writers demanding more compensation for new media and internet usage of their work.
"They're trying to decimate the re-run payments from new media and use a percentage based system, which means that we would go into business with them and when they make money, we make money. We as musicians should have some guarantees...and the reality is that if you go with a percentage then you have to audit them and audits are costly...we're not interested in those kinds of concessions," he said.
Some younger local members we spoke to did not attend yesterday's leafleting due to work concerns and disinterest. "It's kind of an old boys club," said a string player who declined to give his name for fear of reprisal by the union or his peers. "With the proliferation of home studios and independent productions, we can pick up more gigs that aren't studio-run and make more money that way." That said, he went on, there aren't as many live TV bands in the grayer independent market.
The American Federation of Musicians goes back to the negotiating table with ABC, CBS and NBC next week.
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