From baristas organized at Starbucks to warehouse workers organized at Amazon, Trade unions are all over the news soon. But did you know that Austin has a union for musicians?
Like the movie’s frontman, Nelson Valente Aguilar wasn’t.
“I don’t know any musicians’ unions,” he told Cheer-Up Charlies on a recent Friday.
A local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians, the Austin Federation of Musicians has been active in Austin since 1907. Part of the reason musicians don’t know it can be due to confusion about what a union is and how it can benefit them.
Union president Aaron Luck is trying to change that.
“Music work is work,” he says. “And in order to get paid for our work, we have to come together to create the power of the workers and balance the power of the employers, because they naturally have all other powers. They have the economic power, the organizational power, the administrative power…and we have to come together so that we as musicians can compete against it and get a fair deal. it won’t.”
Admission to the Austin Musicians Federation costs $205. Members then pay an annual union fee of $200 plus additional labor costs.
In return, union members have access to standard union agreements with their employers and full legal assistance from the union should anything go wrong.
“Your employer knows that because they signed the contract,” says Lack. “And most of the time, this kind of misconduct on the part of employers is pretty much eliminated. But when it isn’t, union legal departments are there. I was a lawyer and a musician back in law school.
Having the union’s legal department enforce contracts can be a real benefit for musicians who may not be able to afford a lawyer.
“You have to make value judgments when you spend your own money. For example, are you going to spend $10,000 in legal fees to recover the $3,000 artist fee that was deducted from me?” Luck said. rice field. “But if it’s a union, it’s an industry issue, so we don’t have to make that value judgment. It doesn’t matter how small or large an artist’s fees are.”
Union members also look at different types of gigs to determine the minimum amount a union member can charge. This pay scale helps clarify to ourselves and employers what members should be charged to play the show.
Its size doesn’t prevent members from paying more for their gigs. They can make as much money as possible. But they have to pay his 3% of that minimum wage as labor costs to the union.
Members can also join the pension plan. Every time they apply for a gig through their union, they can donate a portion of that minimum wage to the pension. Once they reach retirement age, they are guaranteed income for the rest of their lives.
Freelance musicians can donate pensions for shows they play even if the show is not a union gig. , all that is required is to submit the contract to the union.
“With my experience and career here in Austin, I was able to do that with very small local gigs and get my pension that way,” Luck said.
Membership allows musicians to earn money when their recordings are played in TV shows and movies. They can get discounts on insurance plans, loans, and more. But the tangible benefits are secondary to those of change, said Lack and Blair Robbins, the union’s secretary and treasurer.
Austin-born Robbins has been gigging in the city for about a decade. For a long time they worked in the service industry while doing low paying gigs. The struggle began to take a toll on their mental health.
Robbins then met Luck and joined the union.
“And this concept started to show me a connection between the financial relationship and the health relationship, including the mental health relationship,” they said. I started to realize how disenfranchised I was in reality, despite having these gigs and opportunities, I didn’t have a stable financial and employment structure to support myself in the long run. bottom.”
Robbins began using trade union contracts to clarify venues and pay scales to calculate wages.
“I can see my own financial gains skyrocketing since I started gigging again in May,” Robbins said. “And I’m more organized. I have all the contracts that I turned in and I have access to them now. So I have history, I have records.”
Robbins said the union could bring the same benefits to others in Austin’s music scene.
“I think the union structure is really supportive and can lift us all up,” they said.
Learn more about the Austin Federation of Musicians by listening to the latest episode of Pause/Play.