Vancouver Musicians in Peril

Vancouver Musicians in Peril  ....

The longstanding, well managed, universally beneficial Vancouver Musician's Association has provided services and created a strong music scene in Vancouver for decades, complete with an attractive and viable pension plan for members. It is now being attacked by outside forces which threaten the whole fabric and stability of the Vancouver Music Community. Read about it below and see how vindictive and arbitrary the charges are. You can make a difference by sending an outraged email to Alan Willaert, Vice-président FAM, Canada, the perpetrator of this whole mess.

Below is a letter to VMA members from David Brown, (VMA Board-in-exile) explaining the basis, drama, and subterfuge of this story, and I ask that you share it with any media (social or news) and all other musicians, regardless of what city you are in!  Points covered below...

My thanks and what you can do to help
A Synopsis of the VMA Trusteeship
BC Supreme Court Injunction Sought
News! June 15 AFM Trusteeship Hearing

Our struggle is continuing. In addition to AFM Vice-President Alan Willaert's charges against our board and officers we have learned that our member Hal Beckett has also been charged. Mr. Willaert is calling for the same $50,000 fine and/or expulsion as he is requesting for our board and officers. (So far TEN charges for penalties of $50,000 have been laid) There is also an implication that anyone who has worked under the VFO agreement could also be charged.

I understand many of you have resigned or are threatening to resign from the VMA. Please don't! While your reaction is understandable, your resignations are going to hurt our local and our members WAY MORE than the small effect it will have on the AFM. Your voice and support will be vital in the future of the VMA. As I urge below, having conversations, writing letters, sending emails and using social media will be more effective and will benefit us all.

My deepest thanks and what you can do to help... 

Thank you so much for all the wonderful, supportive emails you have sent in response to the notice informing you of the charges facing the entire VMA Executive Board. Your responses have ranged from outrage and incredulity to 'You have my full support. What can I do to help?'  

First and foremost your emails are tremendously helpful in bolstering the spirits of all of us facing the impact of these charges. Needless to say a great deal of uncertainty and emotional turmoil has been created by this action. Due to the sheer number of messages I probably can't answer them unless you have a specific question or concern. Please know however that I will share them with the board members and that they are greatly appreciated!

This past year we have tried to work quietly through proper legal channels to resolve the dispute over the Vancouver Film Orchestra agreement. We have kept you informed but have not taken the story public nor personalized the issues. Charges have been laid against us by the AFM while a Supreme Court decision, which will decide this matter, has yet to be made. This completely changes the nature of the situation. It has become personal, punitive and vindictive. If we want to bring about change then many more people across the nation need to be made aware of what is going on within our union.

We only have access to our own email list whereas the AFM controls all its messaging in the International Musician and can contact the full AFM membership by mail and email. The best thing you can do to help our cause right now is to contact your friends and colleagues across Canada and the US by email, social media etc. and spread the word widely about what is going on. Righteous indignation is to be encouraged but please don't resort to slanderous or inappropriate language as it simply weakens our appeal.

I am including some factual information that you can use in your communications. You can also forward the email you received from me informing you of these charges. I encourage you to distribute any or all of this and to discuss the issue widely. This is truly the greatest help you can give us at present.

On behalf of all the VMA board members I convey our sincere thanks to you all.   

A Synopsis of the VMA trusteeship 
  • The VMA is a local of the American Federation of Musicians. Ultimate control of the VMA's activities lies in the hand of American officers at the AFM headquarters in New York, even though the VMA has a reputation as an organization that is well run, financially stable, and provides excellent member services.
  • The VMA has been placed in trusteeship because it negotiated a made-in-BC agreement for recording music for film and TV movies.
  • The issues driving negotiations for the made-in-BC agreement included: a drastic reduction in Vancouver film and TV recordings; industry changes; and the movement of film recording work to non-AFM locations such as the UK and Europe. The VMA Board asked the US head office of the AFM to address these issues many times, but the AFM did not do so.
  • BC has unique labour legislation that defines a "trade union" as a local or provincial organization, or a local or provincial branch of a national or international organization. The VMA has been recognized as a trade union for decades. Under BC labour law, the VMA has authority to make key decisions when negotiating collective agreements.
  • Quebec is also unique in Canada, as it has provincial "Status of the Artist" legislation. The GMMQ is certified as bargaining agent for Quebec musicians.
  • Both the VMA and GMMQ have distinctive responsibilities under their provincial legislation, and those responsibilities affect collective bargaining in their respective jurisdictions - including bargaining on film recording.
  • The AFM - a US based organization - does not recognize these distinctive responsibilities.
  • The elected VMA Board believed it had the authority under the AFM Bylaws and under BC labour law to negotiate a made-in-BC agreement, and that it was in the best interests of VMA members to do so. Under the AFM Bylaws, the VMA has authority to negotiate collective agreements for work in its jurisdiction, and the AFM Bylaws state that they must not be enforced in any manner that conflicts with public law - in this case, BC labour law.
  • The VMA's made-in-BC agreement followed a current AFM Canadian agreement model in which increased hourly rates were paid to musicians in exchange for a "buy-out" of future payment rights. And as in other AFM agreements used in Canada and the US, and in agreements negotiated by the BC Council of Film Unions, the agreement provided for tiered payments to musicians depending on film budgets.
  • The agreement was ratified by VMA members at a properly-called membership meeting, and later the VMA was certified by the BC Labour Relations Board to represent musicians engaged under the agreement.
  • Even so, the AFM imposed a trusteeship and challenged the validity of the film agreement. The AFM alleges the VMA violated an AFM Bylaw that protects AFM control over all electronic media recording - even though that provision conflicts with other AFM Bylaws and with BC labour law. The BC Supreme Court has been asked to interpret the AFM Bylaws and deal with these conflicts, and the VMA is waiting for that decision. But it is interesting that AFM counsel stated in court that the VMA members could have worked "non-union" rather than accepting and working under the VMA's made-in-BC agreement.
BC Supreme Court Injunction Sought

On June 3, we will be returning to BC Supreme Court to request an injunction that suspends the charges laid by Vice President (Canada) Alan Willaert against VMA members. In addition we will ask that the injunction protect any VMA members who worked under the VFO agreement from similar charges. The injunction application will be heard by Madame Justice Ross, the same B.C. Supreme Court justice who presided over our Petition hearing in early April 2014.

This hearing will take place on Tuesday June 3rd at 2:00 pm at 800 Smithe Street in Vancouver. You are all welcome and encouraged to attend.

NEWS! June 15 AFM Trusteeship Hearing!

You will soon be receiving an email notice from Vice President (Canada) Alan Willaert about a June 15 Hearing on whether or not the VMA trusteeship should be continued. The notice indicates Trustee Allistair Elliott "believes that the underlying cause for the trusteeship has not yet been cured, and proposes continuing the trusteeship for an additional period of time to give effect to a remedy that will permit the removal of the Local from trusteeship in a proper and orderly manner."

Ken Shirk, AFM Assistant to the President, has been appointed by International President Hair to conduct the hearing. The hearing will be held Sunday June 15 at 6:30 pm in the Arbutus Ballroom of the Holiday Inn at 711 West Broadway, Vancouver.

We note the the AFM has scheduled the meeting for Father's Day and we hope this does not prevent your attendance. Mark your calendars! 

Please attend the meeting and express your views on the continuation of the trusteeship!

My Contact Information
David Brown 604 985 5579

Vancouver Musicians' Association Board | 1311 McNair Dr. | North Vancouver BC | Vancouver | BC | V7K 1X4 | Canada