Musicians' Unions | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Musicians' Unions

Fraternal organizations formed to protect professional performing musicians through the establishment and maintenance of standards for working hours and conditions, wages, and other economic benefits.


Unions. Fraternal organizations formed to protect professional performing musicians through the establishment and maintenance of standards for working hours and conditions, wages, and other economic benefits. The need for such unions first arose in Canada during the latter half of the 19th century as the demand for musical and theatrical entertainments rapidly increased in growing towns and cities. Instrumental musicians were needed to provide the accompaniments for opera and musical theatre and to perform in concerts, yet they were at a disadvantage when negotiating fees for their work.

One of the earliest musicians' organizations in Canada was the Toronto Orchestral Association. Founded in 1887, the association held its meetings in quarters located above Thomas Claxton's Music Store on Yonge Street. In December 1888, with the summer Opera Season on Toronto Island, it negotiated its first agreement, guaranteeing its members a weekly payment of $12 for nine performances. It later changed its name to the Toronto Musical Protective Association, with Claxton as president, and in 1897 it decided to admit bandsmen as well as orchestral players. In 1901 the name was changed to the Toronto Musicians' Association. Among other early efforts at Canadian unionization was the Association des corps de musique de la province de Québec (1887), and the Musicians' Protective Union of Montreal, with Edmond Hardy elected president, in 1898. The latter organization later became the Musicians' Guild of Montreal.

In 1897 the newly formed (1896) American Federation of Musicians (AF of M, which later expanded its name to the AF of M of the United States and Canada), invited the Toronto Musical Protective Association to become a member local, and in 1901 both the Toronto association and its Vancouver counterpart joined. Associations in Ottawa-Hull affiliated in 1902, Hamilton, London, and St Catharines in 1903, Montreal (although there is some evidence of earlier affiliation) and Berlin (Kitchener) in 1905, Brantford, Ont and Edmonton in 1907, Saskatoon in 1910, Windsor in 1911, Quebec City in 1917, and Halifax in 1938.

Black musicians who had been barred from joining the Montreal local (406) created their own organization in 1928 - the Canadian Coloured Clef Club.(the word coloured was later deleted). Membership was open only to black musicians, and most were jazz performers. Another union, known (1934) as the National Musicians' Union of Canada, and later (1935) as the Canadian Federation of Musicians, was formed by musicians disenchanted with the AF of M over a CRBC dispute which began in Montreal and spread across Canada. This union eventually formed locals in seven cities, and its Montreal chapter (local 10) had a peak membership of 144 in 1935. Black musicians, still excluded from both other unions, obtained an official charter from the All-Canadian Congress of Labour (later the Canadian Congress of Labour) on 26 Jul 1935, for the Clef Club, which became local 11 of the Canadian Federation. By 1939 Montreal's local 10 was absorbed into AF of M local 406, and by 1940 black musicians were admitted. The Clef Club ceased to exist in the early 1940s.

In 1990 the AF of M had a total Canadian membership of approximately 24,000 served by 36 Canadian locals, the majority (22) in Ontario, the largest (local 149, with approximately 6500 members) in Toronto. Vancouver, Halifax, Calgary, and Winnipeg locals had approximately 1000 members each, and Edmonton about 600. In 1988 the three Quebec locals - the Musician's Guild of Montreal (local 406), Quebec City region (ex-local 119), and the Saguenay region (ex-local 816), merged to become the Musicians' Guild of Quebec (local 406), with a combined 1991 membership of 4000. Hull remained the only Quebec area otherwise represented - as part of the Ottawa-Hull District local covering the national capitol region.

It has been the custom for the Canadian locals to send delegates to the AF of M conventions and for one of these delegates to be elected (beginning in 1987) by the Canadian representatives as vice-president from Canada, a position created in 1967. Prior to that time (1909-66) national officers for Canada sat as members of the executive committee of the International Executive Board. Walter Murdoch (president, Toronto local 149, 1932-57) held this position 1938-65. J. Alan Wood (president, local 149, 1960-80) succeeded Murdoch. In 1980 the AF of M established a national headquarters in Toronto.with Wood as its highest ranking officer (vice president from Canada), which became a full-time position. On his retirement in 1991 Wood became vice president emeritus, and was succeeded by Ray Petch, formerly of the Calgary local (547).

Within Canada, locals have held national conferences annually, one several days preceding the biennial US convention, the other held alternate years at different Canadian locations, to deal with issues affecting the Canadian music industry. The national AF of M executive assumed responsibility for the negotiation of union agreements with other professional organizations in related areas (radio, TV, film, commercials, recordings, videos) in which music is used.

No provincial bodies or union officers have been created, each local being autonomous, setting its own wage scale, and holding jurisdiction over its assigned territory. Most locals have elected a number of officers, including a president, a vice president, a secretary-treasurer, and an executive committee, all of whom usually have served as trustees for the local. Individual locals have issued monthly bulletins, eg, local 149's Crescendo, local 406's Entr'acte, and local 145's British Columbia Musician. In addition, the International Musician, the official monthly journal of the AF of M of the US and Canada, has been sent to all its members. Membership in the AF of M has not been mandatory in Canada for non-performing musicians, however, most professionals have joined this union, including composers and teachers affiliating with such organizations as Canadian Music Centre, SOCAN, and provincial educators' associations.

In order to join an AF of M local in 1990 a musician was required first to apply to his or her local and to pay an initiation fee. Upon acceptance the musician is expected to pay annual dues and to adhere to the prescribed rules of the local. Members transferring from one local to another were subject to the requirements of the new local regarding waiting periods or performance restrictions. Within Canada an internal agreement between locals has enabled union members to move and work (at prevailing rates of pay) within the jurisdictions of different locals. The same agreement has established a portable pension plan, to which all members have contributed, irrespective of locale. Individual locals have negotiated agreements with symphony orchestras, concert halls and theatres, convention sites, radio stations, and other organizations employing musicians within the locals' jurisdictions and in most cases have obtained exclusive contracts for the employment of union musicians. However, the union never has represented itself as an employment agency for its members. Instead it has been concerned with their protection from exploitation and the maintenance of goodwill with their employers.

In addition to protecting its members' rights, the union has established rules of professional conduct applicable to all AF of M members. Under those rules, members have been required to refrain from any activities that might be prejudicial to the union or to any of its members. For example, a union member is liable to a fine for lateness at a playing engagement or rehearsal, and, if unable to fulfil a contract, is expected to provide and pay for an approved substitute. Fines can be imposed as well for unprofessional conduct or for improper attitudes towards fellow musicians. A union member can be fined for accepting less than union fees or for performing with non-union members without prior approval.

For many years the AF of M has worked to counteract any developments that it deems detrimental to the livelihood of its members. During the 1940s an agreement reached with the recording industry resulted in the establishment of the Music Performance Trust Fund, an attempt to offset the lack of royalties paid to recording musicians and the decreasing opportunities for employment resulting from the growth of commercial and domestic use of recorded music. In 1948, through financial contributions from the recording industry to the Trust Fund, 'make-work' programs, including free public concerts in parks, hospitals, homes for the aged, and elsewhere, were made possible. Such performances, to encourage 'live music,' continued, co-sponsored by the Trust Fund and a municipal agency and/or a private industry. At the discretion of its trustee, the Trust Fund has been used also to pay for the services of union members who form the nucleus of a civic or community orchestra, for concerts given by that orchestra, provided no admission is charged. Non-union players in such orchestras have received, on occasion, union-scale wages paid from the Trust Fund, but only with the understanding that they must contribute all or most of their pay to the orchestra to assist in its maintenance.

The Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM/l'Organisation des Musiciens d'Orchestres Symphoniques du Canada OMOSC) was formed in 1974 and had its inaugural meeting in Toronto in August 1975. An organization within the AF of M, OCSM functions as a lobby to improve the working conditions and enrich the life style of musicians in symphony orchestras. In 1991 there were 19 member orchestras, representing approximately 1000 Canadian musicians. OCSM has concerned itself with issues pertinent to musicians' working conditions.such as emergency strike funds, instrument insurance and the charges made by airlines for instrument transport, income tax deductions, tax information, presenting briefs to government bodies and commissions, symphony contract negotiations - both individual and master agreements, immigration regulations, auditioning procedures, mandatory retirement for symphony musicians, study grants, and the disparity across the nation of 'fees per service,' which govern the salaries of symphony musicians. OCSM has continued to hold an annual conference attended by representatives of its member orchestras, the AF of M, and authorities on outstanding issues. It began to publish a quarterly newsletter in 1976. OCSM maintains close ties with its US counterpart.

Singers, who were not previously eligible for membership in the AF of M, began to be admitted in 1985, and must also be members of the Canadian Actors' Equity Association (CAEA) and the Union des artistes (UDA) or the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA)

Canadian Actors' Equity Association (CAEA) originally was a part of the US organization Actors' Equity. In 1955 Canadian branches of Actors' Equity were formed, initially to protect artists engaged for the newly established Stratford Festival, but later for all English-speaking stage performers. On 1 Apr 1976 the Canadian branches gained autonomy, and the CAEA was formed to protect Canadian artists involved in live staged productions including opera, musicals, drama, and ballet, while continuing to maintain reciprocal agreements with the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and American Actors' Equity (AAE).

Following the example of musicians who were already unionized, UDA was founded in Montreal 7 Nov 1937 under the name Fédération des artistes de la radio to represent singers. René Bertrand was the first president. Not long afterwards actors, announcers, and sound technicians were admitted, and by December membership numbered 64. A charter from AFTRA was obtained in 1938, but in 1942 the Montreal local dissociated itself from the parent organization to become the Union des Artistes lyriques et dramatiques. It was affiliated with the American Federation of Radio Artists (AFRA, later American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFTRA). The union became formally a part of the Canadian Council of Authors and Artists (CCAA) in 1952, (when the name UDA was adopted) and affiliated with the Fédération internationale des acteurs (FIA) in 1953. In 1956 CCAA was granted a national charter from the Canadian Congress of Crafts and Labour (later Canadian Labour Congress). A 1958-60 strike by Quebec members of CCAA (now FAAC Féderation des auteurs et des artistes du Canada) against Radio-Canada producers was not supported by the rest of the union, and in consequence the French-speaking branches refused to forward their fees to CCAA. In 1960 a permanent split in CCAA took place, with UDA re-establishing its independence, taking jurisdiction over all French performances with CCAA continuing to represent the English. By 1980 UDA firmly represented the Quebec artist-performer and in 1987 it celebrated its 50th anniversary.with a televised gala.

Built on traditions of Canada's radio performers and writers including the CCAA, the Association of Radio Artists was formed in 1943, evolving on Jan 5 1963, to become ACTRA (Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists, and in 1984 Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) to serve English-Canada's broadcast industry. In the 1950s UDA and ACTRA were united, an arrangement which lasted until the early 1960s.

In 1991 UDA with 4000 members and another 4000 trainees, continued to maintain jurisdiction over all French-language (and some other non-English-language) productions, whether live or recorded; ACTRA (with 10,000 members including writers, and broadcast journalists who became part of the guild in 1982) protected rights and fees in the English-language (and some non-English) recorded media; while Equity concerned itself with live staged performances. Services in neither official language often depended upon the circumstances of individual contracts. The three organizations continued to support harmonious reciprocal arrangements, provided the membership and permit requirements were fulfilled properly. When instruments were involved, similar reciprocity existed between the three organizations and the AF of M. All four organizations have adopted nationalistic positions emphasizing the protection of Canadian artists while undertaking the protection of musicians from exploitation and encouraging the profession of music as a viable and respected occupation.

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