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Giant Rats in the Street – thank IBEW 269

March 18th, 2009 No comments

ratResponding to daily revelations of corruption and scandal with the AIG bailout, an estimated 10,000 Americans are hitting the streets on March 19, in more than 100 public demonstrations across the country. These public displays of mass outrage will surely force accountability and oversight that decades of litigation and arbitration could never produce.

A common fixture at labor protests, including AFM Local 802 (God bless ‘em!) is a giant inflatable rat. These rodents (Rattus norvegicus gigantus) have become a symbol of corporate greed and are feared by even the most powerful executives, which explains why they’re facing extermination.

In 2005, a Lawrence Township N.J. ordinance was applied to prohibit Electrical Workers’ Local 269 from displaying a 10-foot tall rat balloon as part of their labor protest on a public sidewalk. Wayne DeAngelo, business manager for Local 269 was convicted of violating the ordinance. Mr. DeAngelo appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court (State v. DeAngelo, N.J., No. A-73-07, 2/5/09)

Last month the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Lawrence Township ordinance “does not fairly advance any compelling governmental interests” and is not “narrowly tailored” to target the source of harm it seeks to prevent.”

Samuel Gompers on Compulsory ArbitrationEmphasizing constitutional protections of free speech, the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected the City’s claim that the purpose of the ordinance is to maintain an aesthetic environment, to improve vehicular safety and to minimize adverse effects of signs on property. Justice Wallace offered that “There is no evidence to suggest that a rat balloon is significantly more harmful to aesthetics or safety than a similar item being displayed as an advertisement or commercial logo used in a seven-day grand opening promotion.”

Lord knows, musicians have done their share to further the intersts of healthy public protest. But on this day we recognize brother Wayne DeAngelo for winning one for all of us, while standing up against some detestable creatures.

the Art of federal stimulus

March 10th, 2009 No comments

This mornings email blast from the Colorado Council on the Arts (CCA) contained disturbing news about anticipated stimulus grants. We should be very concerned that 1) only a handful of employers are even eligible to apply for these funds, and 2) if utilized, may only enhance a travel getaway for musicians who summer in Colorado.

The opening paragraph was very promising: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Public Law 111-5 (“Recovery Act”) recognizes that the nonprofit arts industry is an important sector of the economy. The National Endowment for the Arts is uniquely positioned to fund arts projects and activities that preserve jobs in the nonprofit arts sector threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support during the current economic downturn. As part of this important investment, the Arts Endowment has designed a plan to expedite distribution of critical funds for the national, regional, state, and local levels for projects that focus on the preservation of jobs in the arts.

I’m a supporter of the stimulus bill and also the NEA. But like most Americans, I want to know how federal stimulus funds will be disbursed in my industry … how will these funds affect my community?

The CCA email continued: “the National Endowment for the Arts has announced a deadline of April 2 for direct one-time grants to eligible nonprofit organizations as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Applicants for these grants must be previous NEA award recipients from the past four years. A list of Colorado applicants eligible to apply for direct NEA funding is included below:”

  • Arvada Council for the Arts and Humanities, Inc., Arvada CO
  • Aspen Ballet Company & School, Aspen CO
  • Independent Films, Inc., Aspen CO
  • Music Associates of Aspen, Inc., Aspen CO
  • Boulder County Arts Alliance, Boulder CO
  • Colorado Music Festival, Boulder CO
  • Frequent Flyers Productions, Inc., Boulder CO
  • International Tap Association, Boulder CO
  • Naropa University, Boulder CO
  • Shakespeare Theatre Association of America, Boulder CO
  • National Repertory Orchestra, Inc., Breckenridge CO
  • Colorado College, Colorado Springs CO
  • Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs CO
  • Sprinkle Art Inc., Colorado Springs CO
  • City of Delta, Colorado, Delta CO
  • Central City Opera House Association, Denver CO
  • Clyfford Still Museum, Denver CO
  • Colorado Ballet Company, Denver CO
  • Colorado Council on the Arts, Denver CO
  • Colorado Symphony Association, Denver CO
  • Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Denver CO
  • Denver Film Society, Denver CO
  • Denver Office of Cultural Affairs, Denver CO
  • International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management, Inc., Denver CO
  • New Dance Theatre, Inc., Denver CO
  • PlatteForum, Denver CO
  • Su Teatro, Denver CO
  • University of Denver, Denver CO
  • Western States Arts Federation, Denver CO
  • Fort Lewis College, Durango CO
  • National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, Erie CO
  • Arts Alive Fort Collins, Fort Collins CO
  • City of Fort Collins, Colorado, Fort Collins CO
  • Fort Collins Museum Foundation, Fort Collins CO
  • Art Mobile of Montana, Grand Junction CO
  • University of Northern Colorado, Greeley CO
  • City of Lakewood, Colorado, Lakewood CO
  • City of Littleton, Colorado, Littleton CO
  • Littleton Center for Cultural Arts Foundation, Littleton CO
  • Anderson Ranch Arts Foundation, Snowmass Village CO
  • Emerald City Opera, Steamboat Spring CO
  • Bravo! Colorado at Vail-Beaver Creek, Vail CO
  • Among the three employers of musicians, Colorado Music Festival and Bravo! Colorado at Vail operate as summer festivals that import musicians at significant public expense. Consider qualifying criteria of each:

    The Colorado Music Festival (Boulder, CO) offers a base bay of approximately $270/week (4 rehearsals and 2 concerts), which is well below prevailing wage in this industry. Directly relevant to this discussion is the fact that cost of living in Boulder is higher than in three of the five burroughs of New York City.

    The statute specifically states: “Compensate all professional performers and related or supporting professional personnel on Arts Endowment-supported projects at no less than the prevailing minimum compensation.”

    In my view the Colorado Music Festival was ineligible to apply for NEA funding initially, and therefore has no place on a short list of employers eligible for stimulus funds.

    I strongly advise that CMF does not apply.

    Bravo! Colorado at Vail-Beaver Creek is a product of philanthropic largesse. The Summer ’09 festival will feature the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic as orchestras in-residence. They’re invited back because they bring extraordinary levels of funding to the table. Simply put, this is pay to play.

    Importing three major orchestras for the exclusive benefit to one of the wealthiest communities in the world is certainly defendable as a commercial venture, but not when drawing on scarce pubic funding such as the NEA or the CCA. The prerequisite as stated by the NEA is “to fund arts projects and activities that preserve jobs in the nonprofit arts sector threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support during the current economic downturn.”

    Let’s accept for a moment that Bravo! experienced a decline in contributions. The Vail community can still satisy their ‘discriminating’ musical taste by importing just two ensembles. And, they can just as easily take the family for a short drive to experience and support a wealth of entertainment and artistic offerings that exist in their own regional community. Their recreation-based economy would suffer greatly if not for large numbers of Colorado residents who support them.

    Similarly, I strongly advise that the Bravo Festival does not apply.

    President Obama has assured transparency with this program so the public can follow and track how these dollars are spent and review jobs created. I anxiously await the report.

    Pete Vriesenga

    Performer Rights – a good fight

    March 3rd, 2009 No comments
    AFM members meeting in Rep. Henry Waxman's office

    AFM members meeting in Rep. Henry Waxman's office

    On this day (March 3, 2009), representative AFM members from across the U.S. are meeting with members of the House and Senate to lobby in support of the Performance Rights Act, H.R. 848 and S.379. Denver Local 20-623 members’ Bob Montgomery and Tom LeRoux are among the AFM contingent. This effort is made possible through contributions to the AFM’s Legislative Action Fund (formerly TEMPO).

    Passage of this legislation would establish performer royalties for sound recordings that are broadcast over AM/FM radio, therefore bringing the United States one step closer to royalty standards enjoyed by most of the civilized world. Much of the necessary groundbreaking has been laid for this effort. The AFM was a key partner in passage of the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995 (also the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998) that established a performer right for the first time in U.S. history. Royalty payments for digital transmissions such as XM and SIRIUS radio are now paid to Sound Exchange, which is an independent performer rights organization designated by the U.S. Copyright Office. This year, Sound Exchange will distribute $10 million in royalty payments to professional musicians through the AFM/AFTRA Fund.

    A toast to the AFM, and the AFM’s Legislative Action Fund!

    Thank You! – For the Weekend

    December 1st, 2008 1 comment

    By Pete Vriesenga
    The Denver Musician, Winter 2008

    The bumper sticker on my wife’s car is a good reminder of what we stand for: “The Labor Movement – the folks who brought you the weekend.” We often take for granted that the weekend is that time when we do our Holiday shopping, catch up with chores around the home and change the oil in the car. It’s a time when we meet the neighbors for dinner before going out for a concert, and a time when we can go to church or spend a day with family at the zoo.

    It’s hard to imagine life without a weekend, but it was little more than a concept through much of the industrial revolution when men, women and children were working 10 & 16-hr days and seven-day weeks. There was a strong work ethic at the time as many of these workers came from farms, but as farmers they could still regulate their work day to maintain a healthy and sustainable regimen. Suddenly these same workers were thrust into a workplace regulated only by profit, where steam whistles signaled the start and stop of the day.

    Massive worker demonstrations in the 1870s marked the beginning of a long, collective fight for the eight-hour day. Protesters were literally gunned down at Haymarket Square in Chicago and labor leaders were hanged for inflammatory speeches in support of this cause. It wasn’t until 1938 that the 40-hr. work week, along with minimum wage guarantees, child labor protections and more, were signed into law with the passing of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

    Credit for this historic effort goes first and foremost to generations of workers who held out principle before their personal livelihood. But we also recognize forces and individuals outside of the labor movement who helped to champion this cause. Henry Ford, for example, hated labor unions, but he also understood that the automobile could never be sold to a population that had no time to use it. Ford gave his workers two days off long before the passing of the FLSA, and then went about promoting weekend getaways and road trips.

    So, what does this have to do with making a living today as a musician? A question I often hear is “what does the union do for me?”

    For starters, consider the dozens of local, publicly-funded orchestras, dance and theatre organizations in metro-Denver. They have given written assurance of compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act in their grant applications, but too often avoid paying even minimum wage. This may be acceptable for youth orchestras, but certainly not with “professional” organizations with six-figure budgets. The common loophole is to pre-classify performers (the entire orchestra?) as “volunteers.” Economic impact and job creation that should have targeted studied and accomplished performers once again fails to trickle past the bookkeeper.

    Protection against this abuse was with you all along, but maybe you didn’t see it. You need only to request to be properly classified as an “employee” before the FLSA guarantees that you will be paid at at least minimum wage from this point forward. You will be protected against employer retaliation for standing up for your rights, and you shall have the right to organize a Union if you so wish.

    Now ask yourself again, what does the union do for me?

    “Right-to-Work” FOR LESS

    September 15th, 2008 No comments

    By Pete Vriesenga
    The Denver Musician, Fall 2008

    Amendment 47, “Right-to-Work” for less is slated for the November Ballot. It is as deceptive in name as its proponents: “A Better Colorado.” They claim that “Amendment 47 will strengthen Colorado’s economy, create jobs and make our State more competitive,” but nothing could be further from the truth. Average annual earnings for workers in right-to-work states are $5,333 less than their counterparts in free-bargaining states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    Right-to-Work states have higher populations (21% more) who live day to day without health coverage, as compared to free bargaining states. Poverty rates are 12.5% higher in right-to-work states and infant mortality rates are 16% higher. Maximum weekly worker compensation benefits are $30 higher in free bargaining states ($609 versus $579 in right-to-work states). Additionally, workplace deaths are 51% higher in right-to-work states because its very difficult to find anyone with the courage to SPEAK UP when Unions have long gone by the wayside.

    A Better Colorado wrongly claims that “Amendment 47 protects workers’ paychecks” (workdues under union collective bargaining agreements) when statistics clearly show that the alternative ensures that much of the workers’ earnings shall never trickle past the bookkeeper. A Better Colorado wrongly claims that “No one should be forced to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment” when federal law already prohibits compulsory union membership in all states.