Federal Lawsuit Claims AFM Locals Blacklisted Nonunion Orchestra Musicians

Film Music Magazine • November 20, 2008

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Locals 7 (Orange County, CA), 47 (Los Angeles), and 581 (Ventura County, CA) unions on behalf of seven nonmember musicians. The lawsuit alleges the careers of these musicians were seriously damaged by union actions.

Filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the suit alleges that union officials conspired to blacklist musicians in retaliation for resigning from formal union membership. Union officials are accused of violating their “duty of fair representation” by refusing nonmember musicians access to a rehearsal hall, hindering their efforts to find employment, and enshrining certain discriminatory policies in contracts with several local symphonies.

Under the Foundation-won Supreme Court precedent Communication Workers v. Beck, workers have the right to resign from formal, full dues-paying union membership. Because California has no Right to Work law making dues payment strictly voluntary, employees in a union-controlled bargaining unit can still be obligated to pay certain dues for union activities related to collective bargaining. However, employees who exercise their right to resign from formal union membership cannot be discriminated against by union officials or employers. The lawsuit contends that every plaintiff musician has met its forced-dues obligation to the union’s local affiliates.

The Foundation, in a press release describing the lawsuit, described the specific allegations claimed by the musicians:

* “AFM union employees attempted to blacklist dissenters who resigned their union membership by informing prospective employers that they were “not in good standing” and therefore ineligible for work. As a result, several orchestras and producers declined to hire nonunion musicians.”

* “AFM union officials included a discriminatory clause in contracts with local orchestras explicitly forbidding the employment of nonunion workers.”

* “Union officials from one local also prevented nonunion employees from accessing a rehearsal hall used by several employers.”

Foundation attorneys are seeking financial restitution for the plaintiffs as well as a court injunction preventing future discriminatory practices.

“Ugly union discrimination and intimidation of this nature is a widespread practice in the entertainment industry,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “We expect the union will face a substantial and embarrassing defeat as a result of this lawsuit.”

Local 47 legal counsel Lewis Levy told Film Music Magazine that Local 47 does not comment on ongoing litigation . Officials for Locals 7 and 581 did not respond to requests for comments about the lawsuit.


By Lesley Moore on November 22nd, 2008 at 1:39 pm

Okay, it wasn’t quite fair, and the musicians union never did much for me when I paid dues, but if you are playing in the orchestra, perhaps it would be wise to belong to the union, and stay in the union, doncha think?

By Fernando Periera on November 22nd, 2008 at 4:24 pm

This is a further attempt on the part of organized right-wing economic assaults on unions in general across this country. It is ridiculous to believe that the interests of the working musician in this case, as opposed to other union members, will be served by the arguments of the plaintiffs in the above referenced lawsuit. the very nature of a “Right to Work” ordinance is to allow the employer to pay whatever the employer feels is just compensation to the employee. An examination of the base wages of workers in any category where a comparable union contract exists elsewhere demonstrates the gross disparity in earnings to the detriment of the “Right to Work” participants. It is essentially the “Wal-Mart” effect upon wages. Yes, you have a right to work, but for less! This is union busting at its finest. I have my qualms with the union as do many a member. However, whatever benefits we own at present would be subject to attack by slow creeping hands of those who would utilize these soap boxes to further their nefarious anti-union, anti worker-rights manifestos. Beware the Trojan horse.

By David Walterburg on November 25th, 2008 at 1:18 am

I’ve been a professional musician for 31 years and the musicians union has NEVER done anything for me. I play rock, mostly. Maybe the union is great for symphonic guys, BUT NOT FOR THE REST OF US.

By Greg Townley on November 26th, 2008 at 9:24 pm

The movement we started was completely and totally by the book of U.S Labor law. We never intended nor succeeded in “bringing down” the Union. It was the unethical, intimidating as well as illegial tactics performed by “Local” officers that brought on this current situation. They knew what they were doing the whole time. We had our lawyers keep them informed every step of the way. They chose this course, counting on the money to fight them for our lawyers would run out , and it eventually did. There are laws in California designed to protect people from ” Forced Unionism” These laws are not Un-American, right wing, or otherwise. They are there to shield people from bullying tactics by Unions.

By Rick Blanc on November 29th, 2008 at 11:00 pm

Local 47 indicated its intent to violate the law in general, and Beck specifically, when it cavalierly announced that with a new US President all this Beck-enforcement unpleasantness would go away. In one sense they may have been right; the Obama Administration will certainly pack the NLRB with union-biased lawyers. On the other hand non-enforcement doesn’t mean law is not binding, which is where litigation comes in. Mr Townley (above) is right. This is a matter of law, both federal and state — mostly federal in this case. While the actors in this drama may have personal ideas about politics the issues are not fundamentally pro- or anti-union.

I wrote about this situation concerning LA musicians in a FMM article a while back, and I’m glad to see these developments. Its about time. No “ends” should justify the “means” of abusing workers. I can’t help thinking that RMA excesses and inordinate RMA control of Local 47 had a lot to do with generating this lawsuit.

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