A year after receiving an AFL-CIO direct charter, President Ray Menard and AGMA Governor Evelyn Santiago attended the 29th AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia as union delegates. This marks the first time since 2005 that AGMA had a delegate presence at the conference, which is held every four years.
The AFL-CIO is a federation of 57 unions and 12.5 million members. At the Convention, Liz Shuler was elected AFL-CIO President alongside Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond, both making history as the first woman and the first African American to hold office in their respective roles. President Joe Biden spoke at the Convention as well.
The Convention ran from June 12 until June 15. According to the AFL-CIO website, “elected delegates representing working people from across the country and from every job category come together to choose their leader and express their policy preferences. Our convention adopts resolutions that guide the labor movement and improve the lives of working people. Openness, transparency, and democracy are key components of how we work.”
In addition to having a seat at the table, AGMA and SDC’s collaborative work throughout the pandemic was highlighted and President Menard had the distinct honor of speaking. He was introduced by Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and Executive Vice President of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). Appelbaum is also a member of the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council and presented the Safe Jobs Resolution ahead of President Menard’s remarks.
Below is a copy of President Menard’s Remarks:
Hello! I’m Ray Menard, President of the American Guild of Musical Artists. More importantly, I am a proud member of AGMA and have been since 1979. I am thrilled to be here representing AGMA at the first AFL-CIO convention since AGMA received a direct charter. I want to thank the AFL-CIO affiliate unions and their members, President Shuler for her leadership, and RWDSU President Appelbaum.
In March of 2020, AGMA members lost their jobs overnight, myself included, as Production Stage Manager at the Metropolitan Opera. We didn’t just lose our primary jobs, but our second and third jobs too, as music teachers, as bartenders and food servers, as dance instructors. Many of us did not qualify for regular unemployment compensation, and the first iteration of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance didn’t include a subset of AGMA members until, in a remarkable showing of solidarity, we were able to join forces with 50 other entertainment unions and organizations to successfully demand an amendment to the program.
As we reckoned with the initial fallout of the pandemic, we quickly realized that we would be among very last to return to work, and there was no blueprint on how we could return safely. The COVID-19 vaccine was still almost a year away and no government or regulatory board was issuing COVID protocols that made sense for the performing arts.
We worried that returning to work without adequate, science-based safety protocols would present a profound risk to our health and safety. We could not depend on our signatory companies to take the lead
And so, we resolved to be our own cavalry and our own rescuers, rather than waiting for help to arrive.
Our strength was that the entire live performance industry was facing the same challenges. In particular, members of the Stage Director and Choreographer Society were in the same boat, often with the same employers.
So a few months into the pandemic, we joined forces. We engaged an expert medical advisory panel to assist with COVID-19 safety planning to ensure that artists were protected in the workplace. Soon after we retained our expert medical panel, we released the first version of the AGMA/SDC Return to Stage and Performing Arts Playbook. “The Playbook,” as we call it, has been continually updated throughout the pandemic as the course of the virus has changed and the science has shifted. Whether in rehearsal, backstage, or on stage, we now have science-driven guidelines for a safe workplace. The results speak for themselves; while we continue to tackle challenges the vast majority of our members are back to work, productions are going forward, and the shows have gone on, safely.
The Playbook was initially intended as an internal tool for AGMA, SDC, and our signatory companies, but we made it widely available to the public at large in August of 2020 because we knew that the Playbook could help guide others and get their members safely back to work too.
Over two years later, the Playbook and our additional guidance have proven to be our best tools to get members back to work, prevent the spread of infection, and avoid production cancelations. Once again, AGMA Artists have shown that we know how to turn times of despair into times of hope.
As my experience has demonstrated the necessity of strong, science-based COVID protocols for all workers, I am proud to support this resolution. This is the time to recommit to building a better future for all workers, and ensuring that we come out of this pandemic stronger, together.
I wish to thank the AFL-CIO for acknowledging the work that AGMA and SDC have accomplished together during the most trying time in our history. Thank you.