Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘AFM’

Prince Was a Champion for Working People

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallThe world lost a musical icon [on April 21]. You’ll read about his impact as a musician and an entertainer elsewhere, but let’s take a second to look at Prince’s career-spanning fights on behalf of working people.

For more than 40 years, Prince was a union member, a long-standing member of both the Twin Cities Musicians Local 30-73 of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and SAG-AFTRA. Beginning with “Ronnie Talk to Russia” in 1981 on through hits like “Sign o’ the Times” and later works like “We March” and “Baltimore,” Prince’s music often reflected the dreams, struggles, fears and hopes of working people. (And he wasn’t limited to words, his Baltimore concert in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death raised funds to help the city recover. I got to sit on the right side of the stage, high in the rafters, to watch joyously.) Few of America’s artists have so well captured the plight of working Americans as Prince, putting him in the line of artists like Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen as working-class heroes.

Ray Hair, president of AFM, spoke of Prince’s importance: “We are devastated about the loss of Prince, a member of our union for over 40 years. Prince was not only a talented and innovative musician, but also a true champion of musicians’ rights. Musicians—and fans throughout the world—will miss him. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and fans grieving right now.

And this is a key part of his legacy. Prince was deeply talented and could have easily made his success without much help from others. And yet he was a massive supporter of other artists, from writing and producing songs for artists as diverse as Chaka Khan, the Bangles, Sinéad O’Connor, Vanity, Morris Day and the Time and Tevin Campbell (among many others) to his mentoring and elevating of women in music, to the time where he put his own career on the line in defense of the rights of artists. And every musician that came after owes him a debt of gratitude.

The music industry has a deeply troubled past, with stories of corporations exploiting musicians, especially African American musicians, being plentiful enough to fill libraries. At the height of his popularity, Prince decided that he would fight back. He was set, financially and career-wise, and had nothing to gain from taking on the onerous contracts that artists were saddled with when they were young, inexperienced and hungry. If he lost everything by taking on the industry, he still had money and fame to rely on. But he knew this wasn’t true for many other musicians, and Prince was always a fan of music, and he knew that taking on this battle would help others. So he took on the recording industry on behalf of music. On behalf of the industry’s working people—the musicians themselves.

And it cost him his name and his fame.

In the ensuing battle, Prince famously renounced his birth name and began performing under an unpronouncable symbol instead of a name. He fought the company at every turn, even writing the word “slave” on his face in protest of the conditions he worked under. He said: “People think I’m a crazy fool for writing ‘slave’ on my face. But if I can’t do what I want to do, what am I?” For the rest of his career, which never recovered to his early heights, he continually fought to change the way that record companies treated artists, explored new ways to distribute music to fans and battled to give artists more control and more revenue for the art they create. In a still-changing musical landscape, Prince was one of a handful of artists who helped shape a future where musicians, working people, get the fruits of their labor.

In honor of Prince’s passing, check out his performance, an all-time great, at the country’s largest annual event brought to you by union workers, the Super Bowl.

This blog originally appeared at aflcio.org on April 22, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell: I am a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, I worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  My writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.  I am the proud father of three future progressive activists, an accomplished rapper and karaoke enthusiast.

Workers Mobilizing to Get Fair Pay for Music Artists

Friday, April 30th, 2010

For the past 80 years, radio stations have used the publicly owned airwaves to make billions of dollars playing music without paying anything to the artists who created it.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) President Roberta Reardon and American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM) President Thomas Lee joined with members of Congress today to announce a strong push by the union movement to pass legislation that supports the fundamental right of American musical artists to be paid for their work.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (third from left) jams with Rep. Jerrold Nadler, AFTRA President Roberta Reardon, musician Peter Yarrow and Reps. John Conyers and John Garamendi.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (third from left) jams with Rep. Jerrold Nadler, AFTRA President Roberta Reardon, musician Peter Yarrow and Reps. John Conyers and John Garamendi.

The Performance Rights Act, H.R. 848, would close a loophole in copyright law that allows AM and FM stations to duck royalty payments to performing artists. The United States is one of a handful of countries that do not provide fair performance rights on radio. The others include Qatar, Iraq, Iran, North Korea and China.

Trumka told a Capitol Hill press conference that workers should not be cheated out of their wages:

The labor movement was founded on the principle that a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. That’s the principle at stake in the fight for the Performance Rights Act.

The reckless greed that drives Wall Street is the same as the unconscionable greed that drives the handful of conglomerate corporate radio executives that control 75 percent of our nation’s radio stations.

The bipartisan legislation, introduced by House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), has 46 co-sponsors. Both the Obama and Bush administrations endorsed the legislation along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and former House Minority Leader Dick Armey.

Reardon told reporters:

The Performance Rights Act will help thousands of hard-working, middle-income recording artists, legacy artists, and session singers earn a living, provide for themselves and their families and support an economy that works for everyone.

Big Radio has launched a propaganda campaign against the legislation led by Cathy Hughes, owner of the African American mega-company Radio One, which claims the legislation would hurt African American and small radio stations.

Last year, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) and the NAACP endorsed the legislation saying it would not hurt black radio and that musicians, like all workers, deserve to be paid a fair wage.

Radio One is a classic example of corporate greed, Trumka pointed out. In the middle of the recession, Radio One executives fired workers, cut salaries and slashed benefits while setting themselves up with millions of dollars in bonuses.

Trumka issued a challenge to members of Congress and activists across the country:

If you care about music, if you care about the right of Americans to get paid for their work, if you care about doing what is right, be a part of the good fight for our performing brothers and sisters.

The Music First Coalition, which includes AFM, AFTRA and the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), is leading an effort to pass the bill. The AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees (DPE) also is backing the bill.

*This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on April 27, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris.

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