Union threatens dues-shy musicians with arrest

The battle between Local 47 and financial core musicians escalated quickly today as a New Era Scoring (NES) musician filed a federal charge today against American Federation of Musicians Local 47 responding to what the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRWF) says is “an ugly union campaign of intimidation, coercion and retaliation against employees exercising their legal rights.”

Professional violinist Sai-Ly Acosta (no relation to Local 47 official John Acosta) who has played for the New Era Scoring orchestra filed a federal unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after union officials enforced a policy, labeled as “illegal” by the NRWF, requiring all musicians to be “in good standing” with the union in order to practice in a union-owned rehearsal facility with an orchestra (not NES) which is represented by the union under a collective bargaining agreement.

An NRWF release today said that union officials informed Acosta, who is not a formal member of the AFM union, that she and others could be arrested if they attended rehearsal tonight.

Orchestras and other musical groups require that all musicians, as a condition of employment, participate in certain rehearsals – many occurring in facilities owned by AFM Local 47. However, Acosta and several of her coworkers exercised their legal right to resign from formal union membership and become financial core status, and pay a reduced fee to cover the cost of union bargaining. As a result, according to the NRWF release, “union officials are attempting to unlawfully prevent her from practicing with the orchestra. Union operatives have harassed and intimidated the dissenting musicians, calling them ‘scabs.’” Financial core status musicians can work union jobs and accrue benefits like other full union members on those jobs, but can also work non-union jobs without fear of penalty by the union.

“These thuggish actions by union officials are both despicable and illegal,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. “But this union intimidation is all too common in states like California where there is no Right to Work law on the books. No one should be forced to pay dues to an unwanted union just to get or keep their job”

In a statement to Film Music Magazine today, Local 47’s General Counsel Louis Levy said the alleged threats of arrest were “absolutely false.” Regarding the charges filed with the National Labor Relations board, Levy said, “The allegations that have been submitted by the National Right to Work Committee are completely denied by Local 47 and we believe they are false. We believe as the owners of our property we have the right to regulate the use of our property consistent with the law, and we will do so.”

Greg Townley, co-founder New Era Scoring, an orchestra that employs financial core musicians, said, “The union has property rights, but the issue that is relevant here is that property rights do not override anti-discrimination laws. If the only reason the financial core musicians are being discriminated against is because they are financial core, then legally that’s just as wrong as denying services to any group of people based on race or ethnicity.”

According to the NRWF, under the Supreme Court decision in Communications Workers v. Beck and subsequent NLRB rulings, union officials cannot require formal union membership or the payment of union dues unrelated to collective bargaining as a condition of employment. Employees are also entitled to notice of their right to refrain from union membership, an independent audit of union expenditures, and notice of their right to object to paying for non-bargaining activities, such as union political activities.

The NRWF contends that because Acosta and other musicians exercised their legal rights under Beck, they have been unlawfully targeted for retaliation.

The unfair labor practice charge will be reviewed by the NLRB's Regional Director who will decide whether to take the union to trial before a federal labor judge.


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