Legislation and Public Policy Report to the DPE General Board
During the ongoing 107th Congress, the Department has been directly involved in a number of legislative, regulatory and other policy matters. In particular, the DPE was on point for the labor movement on two major issues – the rulemaking by the Federal Communications Commission regarding the existing ban on Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-ownership and the fight to save H-1B training monies. In addition, the Department continues to provide legislative, research, strategy and agency liaison support to affiliates while advising the AFL-CIO on policy matters that are unique to DPE affiliates. The following report summarizes the public policy advocacy work of the DPE.
MEDIA AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS
Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-ownership Rule
America’s working families, as citizens and consumers, depend upon diverse media sources to provide the kind and variety of meaningful news and information that is essential to their informed participation in our democratic society. This diversity is also necessary to the preservation of localism in news reporting which in turn and drives a level of news competition that is vital to both content quality and comprehensiveness of coverage.
Yet these standards are being seriously threatened by a continuing frenzy of media mergers that has resulted in a marketplace that is increasingly dominated by fewer and fewer independent news voices. In this environment, despite their best efforts, many media professionals have seen their journalism diminished. Merger mania, where ownership and outlets change daily, has depreciated news quality and substance as the driving force that underlies them – genuine news competition – fast disappears, giving way to business conglomerates concerned only about the bottom line of balance sheets and profit margins. Meanwhile, broadcasters and journalists are well aware that, ultimately, it is the public and an informed citizenry that is badly served by such outcomes.
Against this backdrop, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced last summer that, as part of its biennial review process, it would reassess its 27-year Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership rule banning the common ownership of a daily newspaper and a broadcast station in the same local market. The original 1975 prohibition was designed to promote two important goals in broadcast regulation – diversity of viewpoints and economic competition. The Commission largely based the rule on the diversity goal, explaining “it is essential to a democracy that its electorate be informed and have access to divergent viewpoints on controversial issues.” Moreover, the Commission concluded that it is “unrealistic to expect true diversity from a commonly owned station-newspaper combination.”
In today’s highly concentrated media marketplace, the DPE and its affiliated unions representing nearly 200,000 workers in broadcast and journalism along with the AFL-CIO and a host of public interest, consumer, civil rights and other organizations believe that the rule is needed now more than ever. These organizations share the conviction that societal goals of protecting the diversity of voices is best safeguarded by maintaining the current cross-ownership ban. Its repeal would only serve to exacerbate market concentration in both large and small communities at the expense of the public interest.
Soon after the FCC announced its latest deregulatory assault, the DPE formed an FCC Working Group of interested affiliates. Along with ATRA, TNG, NABET, WGAE, the DPE began to develop options for a campaign to stop repeal of the rule. At the November meeting of the Department’s Arts, Entertainment and Media Industries Committee, the affiliates agreed to invest resources and staff in the campaign but also wanted AFL-CIO involvement because of the larger public interest issues that were at risk. In November, then DPE Chairman Morty Bahr and President Almeida met with AFL-CIO President John Sweeney who agreed to support the effort. Over the next several months the Federation filed extensive briefs on behalf of the labor movement with the FCC in support of its retention during both the public comments and response periods set aside by the agency under its rulemaking process for public input. A number of public interest groups also filed along with the anticipated media industry filings. The AFL-CIO also commissioned the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) to issue a policy paper laying out the economic and public interest arguments against abandoning the rule. The paper was authored by Douglas Gomery, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland who has written widely on the subject of media concentration. With the financial support of the working group unions, the EPI report was reprinted and widely distributed to all members of Congress, the press and other organizations.
The second phase of the DPE campaign strategy was to build greater public visibility of the issue by hosting a widely-publicized policy briefing at the National Press Club. The Department, with the help of other organizations, succeeded in recruiting over 30 national groups as co-sponsors of the event. Staff from the CWA, AFL-CIO, the Media Access Project and EPI did extensive outreach to press, congressional staff and other organizations. The Media Access Project made sure the event was cleared as “approved” for attendance by FCC staffers. Meanwhile, the Newspaper Guild and AFTRA collaborated on the development of a set of five principals that would guide labor’s work on preserving the rule and DPE worked with CWA to create a policy fact sheet on the issue.
The briefing was held on the March 15th. DPE President Paul Almeida opened the event which was moderated by DPE Secretary-Treasurer and President of the Newspaper Guild Linda Foley. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps presented opening remarks and Professor Gomery formally unveiled his EPI study. A panel of experts followed and offered a variety of perspectives in support of the rule. The panelists included:
- Edward Fouhy, five time national Emmy winning, former CBS news director, CBS and ABC Vice president and Washington Bureau Chief, founding member of the Pew Center on Civic Journalism;
- Belva Davis, six-time local Emmy award winning, African-American broadcaster and AFTRA vice president commented on her personal experiences at the San Francisco cross-owned (Chronicle) television station;
- Mark Cooper, Research Director at the Consumer Federation of America provided a graphic picture of the state of media concentration and how repeal of the rule would worsen market conditions;
- Wade Henderson, Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, addressed the importance of news diversity to the nation’s minority communities, and;
- Stephen Kimber, Director of the Kings College School of Journalism (Halifax, Nova Scotia) who had recently resigned his columnist position with the cross-owned Halifax Daily News in protest over the censorship actions of the parent company – CanWest Global – Canada’s largest media conglomerate.
The briefing was attended by over 115 participants including 17 key FCC policy analysts, a number of reporters, Hill staffers, a host of representatives from sponsoring organizations as well as some industry people. The event succeeded in accomplishing several goals. First, it served as a focal point to coalesce a growing number of constituency groups in opposition to repeal of the cross-ownership rule. Secondly, it ratcheted up the decibel level in the ongoing public policy debate about this matter. Third, it gave key FCC staffers a better sense of the widespread public support for the cross-ownership ban. Finally, it got the word out to the public, press and other organizations about what is at stake in this rulemaking.
At present, FCC staff is reviewing the submissions made earlier. Expectations are that a draft rule will not emerge until late fall or early 2003. In the meantime, the Department will be coordinating with affiliates the scheduling of meetings with both key regulatory staff and later the FCC Commissioners as well as revisiting the issue with FCC Chairman Michael Powell. As to the longer term strategy, the consensus of working group – given the GOP tilt on the FCC – is that labor’s goal should be to stop the FCC from repealing or substantially gutting the rule and, if possible, limit changes to more modest revisions in the standard. If a more drastic draft rule is proposed, efforts will focus on trying to convince the Commission to adopt some of the standards proposed in the Principles document, precedents for which were originally adopted by Congress when it passed the 1970 Newspaper Preservation Act.
At the same time labor and other public interest groups will be pressing the FCC to undertake a thorough market analysis with specific parameters in order to determine the extent of ownership concentration that already exists in the media. DPE is already pressing this message with Congressional allies on Capitol Hill. Efforts are focusing on the Senate where DPE has teamed with Consumers Union to lobby Democratic and GOP members of the Senate Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over communications issues. Senator Fritz Hollings, Chairman of the Committee, has already publicly spoken out in support of the rule and held the first round of hearings last fall.
The H-1B Technical Skills Grant Training Program
In October 2000 the U.S. Congress authorized a massive, three year expansion of the H-1B guest worker visa program principally to solve–on a short term basis–the alleged labor shortages that existed in the high tech industry. One month later, the industry went into an economic free fall. Since then it is estimated that well over a half a million high tech workers have lost their jobs through out the economy as an even broader recession has taken hold.
Despite the availability of hundreds of thousands of highly trained U.S. tech workers and thousands more well-qualified, recent college graduates, the high tech industry continues to import H-1B guest workers in large numbers. And now some in the industry want to make sure that these “temporary” guest workers stay put by reprogramming over a $100 million in Department of Labor funding earmarked for worker training and instead shift it to expedited processing of “green card” permanent labor certifications. This would be accomplished via a request contained in the FY 2003 budget proposed by the Bush Administration to wipe out the H-1B Technical Skills Grant Training program designed to prepare American workers for employment oppor6tunities in high skilled occupations such as high tech, telecom and health care.
The training initiative targeted by the Administration was conceived as a direct result of Congressional action taken in both 1998 and 2000 to expand the H-1B guest worker programs. When it did so, Congress imposed on employers a “user” fee for each guest worker visa issued to them. Of the funds generated, 55% are allocated to the Department of Labor (DOL) for job training grants for technical skills training programs. The fee, which is now $1,000 per visa, will produce nearly $200 million each year over the next six years if the yearly allotments of guest worker visas allowed under the current H-1B law are used or renewed.
Specifically, the Administration’s wants to shift all of the funds in the current H-1B visa-generated training account – estimated at between $100 to $150 million –and dedicate it to the processing of permanent foreign labor certifications. In other words, over the next several years, nearly a half billion dollars that would have otherwise been earmarked for job training for our citizens–thus reducing the need for guest workers–would instead be lavished on the alien labor certification program in order to speed employer access to still more foreign workers.
Since the first grants were awarded in 2000, the H-1B Technical Skills Grant Training Program has invested nearly $175 million in some 73 training programs in 31 states and the District of Columbia. Since the program is entirely financed through employer “user” fees, no tax revenues are expended. So “spending” for this program has no adverse effect on the federal budget. In addition, one of the requirements of receiving an H-1B training grant is an additional match of employer funds and/or other tangible assets. Thus, the value of available training monies is actually increased by 50% over and above the initial using private sector resources. And in some cases the local match of private sector dollars has actually exceeded the 50% requirement.
The program has blended some of the best in private and public sector training expertise from big and small businesses, education, unions, various business alliances and consortiums and well as over 100 state and local workforce development agencies. Project partners include a number of DPE affiliates–the CWA, IBEW, UAW, AFSCME and SEIU–that have been involved in job training for decades. In addition, major U. S. corporations, including15 of the top one hundred, Fortune 500 companies as well as some of the nation’s most prominent high tech firms are also participants. Finally, educational institutions that are on the leading edge of workforce development in most states – the community colleges – are partners in over 75% of the H-1B grants awarded thus far. Over 50 community and technical colleges, several statewide systems along with over 30 colleges and universities are key players in H-1B training programs.
Soon after the budget proposal was announced the DPE met with Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations subcommittee staff to discuss the importance of the program. At their request, the Department developed background and other information that could be used when the Secretary of Labor testified before the panel, chaired by pro-labor Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA). In addition, using material from the AFL-CIO and the work for America Institute, the DPE created a compendium of information which became the basis of a comprehensive briefing book to be used by Hill staff, affiliate lobbyists and grassroots advocates to fight for retention of the program.
The first legislative flare-up came in late April during Congressional consideration of the FY 2002 Supplemental appropriations bill. The White House proposed using all of the remaining H-1B funds as an offset to increased spending being sought lawmakers in other program areas. DPE and AFL-CIO lobbyists worked with the Democratic staffs of the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees to send the message that this was unacceptable. As a result, their first attempt to eliminate the program was snuffed out. However, the original budget proposal still remains on the table and will be considered by the GOP-dominated House subcommittee when markup of the Labor-HHS appropriations occurs in late June. DPE and affiliate lobbyists are now making the rounds of member offices to explain the value of the program and urge defeat of the Bush budget proposal to eliminate it.
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): High Tech Exemption
With the AFL-CIO seeking to pass legislation to increase the minimum wage, the danger exists that when that debate is engaged, efforts could be made to further erode overtime coverage for certain classes of professional workers. One of the most serious threats is legislation – H.R. 1545 introduced by Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) – to further weaken 40 hour work week protections for computer specialists and other “high tech” workers. This bill adds to the categories of already-exempted high tech workers by including among them all network and database analysts and designers as well as those who manage or train employees named in the exemptions. If passed, this bill would exempt tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of additional high tech workers who currently receive overtime compensation. In 2000, when the Republican-controlled House last considered minimum wage, a GOP-sponsored bill included the Andrews proposal. Despite strong opposition from organized labor and the Clinton Administration, the House passed the bill with these and other FLSA erosions included. However, the legislation died in the Senate.
Soon after Andrews re-introduced his bill in this Congress, the DPE urged him to reconsider. The Department pointed out that with the high tech economy in free fall, computer workers had already experienced severe economic hardship including layoffs, drastically diminished hours of work, pay cuts, loss of benefits and stock options and unfair job competition from an army of H1B guest workers as they try to re-enter the job market. In a letter to Andrews, the DPE outlined its case against the bill:
- Eliminating overtime protections for these workers would exacerbate conditions in an industry that is already notorious for workweeks of 50, 60 or even 70 hours – a reality that diminishes the attractiveness of these jobs, particularly among workers with young families, making it hard both to retain current employees and recruit a new generation of IT workers.
- Wages in many computer occupations have been stagnant. For example, computer operations and systems researchers and analysts (an occupational category affected by the proposed legislation) saw their after-inflation, median earnings actually decline by 6.8% from 1997 to 2000. For women in these same occupations, their before-inflation, median weekly wages actually declined from $826 to $817– a 10% drop in inflation-adjusted real wages!
- Exempting certain hourly high tech workers from overtime coverage imposes a second-class status on “new economy” workers, an untenable public policy position. For example, hourly production workers in auto manufacturing, transportation and construction who make more than the $27.63 or $57,470 per annum (the threshold for exemption in the amendment) would continue to be covered by the law. Meanwhile, those who trained in the computer fields would not.
- If overtime pay is cut off, these technicians will likely find themselves working the same amount of hours (in excess of 40) but with no additional compensation beyond their set salary. In effect, their hourly/yearly wages would decline to below those of many other highly skilled workers. Such a wage policy is at odds with a whole range of existing and proposed public policies designed to attract workers into this industry.
- Without overtime pay, computer technicians working 50 hours per week – not uncommon in the computer fields – and earning $27.63 per hour would see their real hourly rate shrink to $22. And at 60 hours per week, it would be down to $18 per hour – far less than the hourly rate of a union production worker in an auto plant – and hardly the kind of compensation that these workers envisioned when they undertook years of advanced training to qualify for employment in the high tech jobs of the new economy.
- Part-time temporary and contingent workers–who rely more than most workers on overtime pay–would be especially hard hit. Characteristically, they work fewer overall hours and are often denied benefits. Premium pay available to them for project-defined tasks with excessive hourly work requirements somewhat compensates for their sporadic work schedules. Without overtime compensation, their wages would also decline.
In 2002, in anticipation of possible Senate action on the minimum wage, the AFL-CIO, DPE and affiliated unions representing white collar workers are already lobbying Senators to oppose any and all erosion amendments.
Fair Labor Standards Act: White Collar Exemptions
Since coming into office, the Bush Administration has unleashed a series of deregulatory assaults against the labor movement. The infamous defeat of the ergonomics standard is the most prominent among these attacks. It also appears that overtime protections for white collar workers are also in the Administration’s cross hairs as the Department of Labor (DOL) announced in early 2002, that it would “review” the criteria for determining if executive, administrative, professional or outside sales employees are exempt from FLSA overtime requirements.
By way of background, one of the key mandates of the FLSA is its limitation of the work-week to 40 hours. The Act requires employers to pay an hourly overtime wage for work in excess of that standard. However, Section 13 (a) (1) of FLSA provides an exemption from this requirement for those employees working in a “bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity.” To be exempt, white-collar workers must meet each of three tests to qualify: the employee must be paid a salary, not an hourly wage – the salary-basis test; the amount of the employee’s salary must indicate managerial or professional status – the salary-level test, and; the employee’s job duties and responsibilities must involve managerial or professional skills – the duties test. There are also subsidiary regulatory clarifications within each category. For example, to be exempt as a professional, a worker must either: have a requisite academic degree and his or her job must also require consistent exercise of discretion and independent judgment, or; be involved in original or creative work requiring invention, imagination or talent in a recognized field.
In 1999 the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report on white-collar exemptions calling on the DOL to revise and modernize its regulations to better deal with the realities of today’s world of work and to narrow existing professional exemptions. In this context, the DPE and other unions have long pointed out that:
- The tests applied under FLSA regulations to determine white-collar/professional exemptions from coverage insufficiently restricted the application of exemptions–often illegally–by employers.
- DOL failure to adjust the “salary level test” since 1975 has eroded the minimum salary for exempt professionals down to near minimum wage levels.
- The duties test for executive and managerial employees had been weakened through court decisions, resulting in inadequate protections for low-paid supervisory workers.
- Abysmal enforcement by DOL due to insufficient resources has seriously undermined legal protections for professionals.
As a result of these problems, millions of workers who otherwise would be covered are now excluded from FLSA protection.
In April, the DOL began a series of meetings with individual AFL-CIO unions regarding the overtime issue. The agency is expected to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking soon with final rules proposed for early next year. The DPE is working with affiliates and the AFL-CIO and will be closely monitoring the rule-making process.
While women are now the majority in U.S. professional and technical occupations, they continue to earn less than men in these fields. For example, in 2000, professional women earned about 26% less, female technicians and related support workers earned 29% less and female administrative support, including clerical workers, earned over 20% less than similarly employed men. Pay inequity persists even though women have been earning more Bachelors – and Master’s degrees than men for almost 20 years. To illustrate: The median income of women with Bachelor’s degrees was over 40% less than that of similarly qualified men while women with Master’s degrees earned 34% less than men with a Master’s degree.
While the overall wage gap has narrowed slightly, DPE research has shown that the gap in pay between male and female technical and professional workers has actually expanded in recent years– a particularly disturbing trend, because these are the occupational categories expected to grow most rapidly between now and 2008. Wage disparity remains a serious and pervasive problem, even though gender differences in labor force participation and occupational distribution are diminishing. Recent studies indicate that between and quarter and one half of the gender wage gap remains unexplained by differences in education, training, tenure, experience and hours worked. Some economists attribute some or all of this to pay discrimination.
To help remedy this economic inequity, in the 107th Congress the DPE strongly backed S. 77 and H.R. 781–the Paycheck Fairness Act. The purpose of this legislation is to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to toughen penalties for equal pay violations and step up enforcement against this insidious form of wage chiseling. The bills have been referred respectively to the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee and the House Education and workforce Committee.
Regulations Governing Foreign Labor Certifications and H-1B Guest Workers
In early May, the DOL also announced a notice of proposed rulemaking to expedite the process for approving employer requests for both of these categories of foreign workers. For permanent “green card” certifications, the proposal initiated by the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) is aimed at streamlining the process by which employers apply to permanently hire immigrants by creating a new filing system and cutting back the role of state workforce agencies in the procedure. ETA also is recommending changes to the regulations stipulating that employers hiring foreign workers under the permanent labor certification program and the temporary H-1B program pay those workers the prevailing wage for the job and the location. The proposal would eliminate the requirement that prevailing wage determinations be made under the Service Contract Act and the Davis-Bacon Act. According to ETA, using the wage component of the BLS expanded Occupational Employment Statistics program is a more efficient and cost effective way to develop consistently accurate prevailing wage rates.
Other changes include:
- requiring employers to conduct both mandatory and alternative recruitment before filing for a permanent labor certification;
- establishing an automated processing system to deal with the applications;
- eliminating the “business necessity standard,” which, according to ETA often works to the disadvantage of U.S. workers by allowing employers seeking foreign workers to justify job requirements that exceed those normal to jobs in the United States.
According to DOL’s latest regulatory agenda, ETA hopes to issue the final rule by August. At present, both the DPE and the AFL-CIO are analyzing these proposals.
Tax Relief for Middle Income Performers
Because of a quirk in the federal tax code, middle income actors and performers are unable to deduct the full cost of legitimate business expenses related to securing employment in their respective industries. Because of the nature of their work, these artists incur a disproportionate share of high dollar expenses such as agent fees, voice, acting and dance lessons, portfolio development and other expenditures. None of these outlays, which can run into the thousands of dollars, are reimbursed by their employers. Ironically, under U.S. tax law similar kinds of expenses for other professionals are tax deductible; but for performers they are artificially limited. As a result, these costs – some of which are already taxed as income to the providers of these services–a–are not deductible under the revenue code. To end this discriminatory tax treatment, Rep. David Camp (R-MI) introduced H.R. 3573 to establish a new deductible limit of $16,000 annually. The legislation has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
The explosion of retail sales over the Internet has raised a number of policy issues. According to one estimate, business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce retail sales, which were a paltry $1.5 billion in 1997, are projected to be well over $150 billion by 2004. As these transactions – which are now free of sales taxes – grow, traditional “bricks and mortar” retail stores may lose customers, sales taxes traditionally collected at the register will dry up and state and local governments that benefit from those revenues may suffer. State and local governments are in the meantime held hostage by two Supreme Court decisions that prevented them from demanding that the catalogue sales companies collect the tax at the point of sale because the court viewed that as overly burdensome on interstate commerce. Since state and local sales taxes now comprise over 40% of their revenue base, the erosion due to increased e-sales is estimated to be $5 to $10 billion annually over the next three years. Over time, in addition to lost jobs in traditional retailing, sales tax revenue losses will skyrocket. This could have a catastrophic impact on state and local services and programs as well as public sector employment.
In an early manifestation of their eagerness to be e-friendly, Congress waded into the controversy in 1998. At the behest of the “dot-coms” it passed legislation to place a three-year moratorium on state implementation of any new Internet access taxes. In effect, this assured that e-commerce commodity sales would also continue to be tax-free in state and local jurisdictions that had not moved to tax these sales. Prior to its expiration in 2001, high tech proponents tried to make the tax exclusion permanent – a position supported by the Bush Administration. When that proposal went nowhere, they rallied around H.R. 1552–introduced by California Republican Chris Cox–to extend the moratorium for five years. DPE and a number of affiliates including AFSCME, AFT, CWA, AFSA, IFPTE, UAW, UFCW and SEIU along with most of the retail industry and several state government organizations opposed the bill preferring no extension or one of shorter duration. In a surprise move, the House Judiciary Committee voted 19 to 15 for a substitute proposal by Rep Barney Frank (D-MA) to extend the ban for only two years. That proved to be the final version as the House and Senate later adopted the proposal and President Bush signed it into law.
Pickering Nomination – The DPE joined the AFL-CIO campaign to oppose President Bush’s nomination of Charles W. Pickering–a federal judge from Mississippi–to the Fifth federal Circuit Court of Appeals. In a letter to the members of the Senate Judiciary, DPE described Pickering as a jurist that “frequently demonstrated both an insensitivity and hostility to the basic tenets and remedies that are the foundations of this nation’s civil rights laws.” In summarizing some of Pickering’s more egregious actions as a federal judge, the DPE concluded that “given Judge Pickering’s record, judicial temperament, extremist views and ethical lapses, we believe he is unfit to serve on the appellate court.”
The Department communicated with its affiliates urging concerted grassroots activities aimed at holding the Committee Democrats against the nomination. They did and the Committee voted 10 to 9 on a party line vote to reject the nominee.
Patient Bill of Rights – This important health care reform legislation is designed to provide health care consumers an array of protections against abusive practices by HMOs and other managed care providers. Among its protections, the legislation would allow patients who have sustained injury because they were denied appropriate medical care, to sue their health care provider in federal and state court. Organized labor strongly supported the intent of the legislation. However, serious concerns were raised with congressional sponsors because under the pending bills (S. 1052, H.R.2563) unionized Taft-Hartley Health and Welfare plans and their trustees would also be subject to this lawsuit provision. On behalf of DPE affiliates in broadcast, entertainment and other sectors, the Department advised the AFL-CIO of its serious concerns regarding this legislation.
Discussions between the AFL-CIO, the National Coordinating Committee for Multi-Employer Plans (NCCMP) and the staff of key lawmakers succeeded in somewhat limiting liability exposure for these plans before the House and Senate passed their respective versions of the legislation in late summer 2002. However, because of significant differences between the two bills, no conference has occurred to work out a final proposal. As a result, continuing efforts to more fully address labor’s concerns in conference have also been detoured.
Musicians and Airline Travel – Professional musicians, who daily travel the nation by airplane on their way to concert and other engagements, often must hand carry with them fragile musical instruments that are worth thousands of dollars. For many years these artists have found themselves victimized by haphazard, inflexible and sometimes irrational airline policies that force them to risk property damage by requiring them to store these instruments in the cargo hold of the plane. As a result, some instruments have been irreparably damaged and in some cases stolen. In cases where musicians have refused to allow the confiscation of an instrument for cargo storage, they have been summarily thrown off of the flight even when – as instructed by the airline– they had purchased a second ticket in order to store the instrument on board. While some airlines have such transport accommodations, they are unevenly applied and often vary from flight to flight and airport to airport.
During debate late last year on airline security legislation – H.R. 3150–the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and the DPE saw the opportunity to remedy this long-standing problem. With the help of Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC) and Sen. Dan Inouye (D-HA), “sense of the House” language was added to the conference report on the final bill despite the opposition by the Flight Attendants union and the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department that opposed any liberalization of carry-on baggage procedures. The provision explicitly directs the new Under Secretary for Security in the Department of Transportation to “develop procedures to allow passengers transporting a musical instrument on a flight of an air carrier to transport the instrument in the passenger cabin of the aircraft.” The AFM is now in discussions with the DOT to devise appropriate parameters for implementation of this directive.
Recording Artists Rights – At the state level, the DPE backed efforts by AFTRA and the AFM to remove the recording artist’s exemption under the existing California law limiting personal services contracts to seven years. Presently recording performers are the only exemption in the state law. Recording artists are typically tied to a contract that runs seven years or seven albums and no artist is capable of producing seven albums in seven years in today’s market. Artists are therefore indentured to the same label often for periods of time greater than ten years preventing the artist or group from having any opportunity to test their value in the free market. The repeal bill –S. B. 1246 – was introduced by California Democratic State Senator Kevin Murray. In late January, DPE President Paul Almeida joined a coalition of artists and labor leaders in Sacramento to meet with California Governor Gray Davis – staff along with many state legislators to present an artist’s perspective on the legislation. The press conference announcing the legislative campaign included such high-profile artists as Carole King, Cheryl Crow, Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, Ray Parker Jr., the Deftones and other solo and group artists. At the event, which included top officers from the California AFL-CIO, Almeida presented a letter from Federation President John Sweeney strongly endorsing the Murray bill. The legislation has drawn all out opposition from the recording industry. As of this writing, the bill is pending in Committee in the State Senate.