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Being a Musician is a Business (Our Music Union)

There’s a pension for musicians? I can get help traveling legally to the U.S. to perform?

As Robin Moir, the Secretary-Treasurer of Local 180, the Musicians’ Association of Ottawa-Gatineau has explained, “Local 180 is our chapter of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (the AFM); the Canadian members of that organization are called the Canadian Federation of Musicians (CFM) – the leading professional organization of its kind available to Canadian musicians.”

The CFM negotiates fair agreements for members, helps to secure instrument and liability insurance and pensions for its membership, and lobbies legislators on Copyright reform, NAFTA, and other matters of interest to professional musicians living and working in Canada.

The AFM has approximately eighty-five to ninety thousand members in North America, with some seventeen thousand in Canada. The chapter based in Ottawa has between six hundred and eight hundred members on average. While some are union members for life, others go in and out of the union, including for P2 visa purposes. More on that below.

Members within Local 180 are varied, including classical musicians, freelance (singer/songwriter), recording musicians, music teachers and pop/hip hop musicians. For classical members, Local 180 assists by negotiating collective bargaining, for example for members of the NAC Orchestra. For other members, Local 180 has an extensive Price List for various types of gigs from bars to festivals. Paying union scale fees means paying what this pricing model provides.

The CFM has standard form contracts that its members can use with employers, either as the only agreement between a member and her employer (such as a festival), or in addition to the standard form agreement provided by the employer between the parties.

It’s not a one-way contract. While the agreement provides that the employer will pay the musician at least at scale, it also commits the musician to the gig and to the other contractual obligations.

Another aspect of the CFM standard agreement is that it incorporates a pension contribution for the musician, namely to the Musicians’ Pension Fund of Canada.

While different locals have different rules, for Local 180 pension contributions can be between 3% and 18% of the scale fee, always contributed by the employer. The percentage of the pension contribution is the artist’s choice, and the choice doesn’t need to be the same each time.

Let’s do some math. If a musician union member has a gig, and scale is $150, and the bar owner is offering $200, the musician can ask him to sign a CFM Local 180 contract, whereby the total paid is $200, however, 10% (as this is the percentage the musician chose between 3% and 18%) of the base ($150) is going towards pension contributions ($150 * 10% = $15). With the signed contract, the musician is committing to performing the gig. The bar owner pays $200 to the musician, the musician sends $15 to the union for her pension contribution on behalf of the bar owner, as well as 3% (3% * $150 = $4.50) for her work dues.

There are multiple options for cash flow. In the prior example, the musician paid dues and contributed pension (on behalf of the employer) to the union. Another option is that the employer pays the pension payments directly to the union, and the remainder to the musician. It important to know that in both of the scenarios above, the contribution to pension and the work dues must be accompanied by a contract.

The funds must be provided to the union, along with the contract, within 30 days of the performance so that the pension contributions may be sent to the Musicians Pension Fund of Canada. Also, there must be 2 gigs covered by a contract with pension contributions, every 6 months for two years, for the funds to be vested, which means that the contributions will increase in value.

You cannot have pension contributions made by an employer unless it’s a percentage (3%-18%) of scale wages and both of you have signed a CFM standard contract

Employers are not required to sign a union contract. There are union members who sometimes work under union contracts for scale, and other times not. However, if you can’t get an employer to sign a union contract, a work around to allow contributions to be made to your pension is by incorporating a company which will engage yourself as the artist, and provide your services to others.

The CFM also helps Canadian musicians get the proper work visa to work in the United States. The Classification P2 Work Permit (aka the P2) allows you to perform in the U.S. Performing across the border illegally, and getting caught, can mean the end of your U.S. touring career for a very long time.

For regular processing, the P2 package should be submitted to the union at least 75 calendar days (105 days) prior to the first U.S. performance. The cost is $460 USD per person crossing the border. The expedited service, which is not guaranteed, costs approximately $1,225 USD per person. You aren’t reimbursed if you aren’t approved, or if it takes longer than anticipated.

While Canadian musicians have various options to obtain the P2, including through immigration lawyers or visa service agents, the AFM is recognized by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services as an authorized petitioner for temporary work permits on behalf of member musicians.

A musician must be a member of the Local to use this service. As alluded to above, if someone tours the U.S. every 4 years, and isn’t interested in the pension or other union benefits, they might join the union every 4 years for the tour, resign in good standing, stop paying their fees, and then rejoin for the next tour.

If you plan to tour in the U.S., one of your options is to book a meeting with the union to discuss all that you will require for the application. A practical challenge is that the tour dates must be finalized very far in advance. Changes to the schedule, especially for changes other than adding shows to the end of a tour, will be challenging.

While the union isn’t for everyone, it’s important for all musicians to understand the services they provide. Membership is not free (just like your shows shouldn’t be free!). The annual Local 180 membership fee is $195 and there’s a one-time initiation fee of $115 (for people aged 21 and older). For those younger than 21 or joining as a band, there is no initiation fee. The next time a family member asks what you want for your birthday, you can always suggest a gift certificate to the CFM (or this entertainment law firm!).

For more information on the Canadian Federation of Musicians, head here – http://www.cfmusicians.org/

For more information on Local 180, head here – http://www.ma180.org

To contact other locals in Ontario, head here – http://www.cfmusicians.org/contact#Ontario

Edwards PC, Creative Law is a boutique law firm provides legal services to Music, Film, Animation, TV, Digital Media, Game, Software and Publishing industry clients. For more information and blogs, please visit www.edwardslaw.ca

© 2018 Edwards PC

* This blog is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Please contact Edwards PC, Creative Law or another lawyer, if you wish to apply these concepts to your specific circumstances.

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