Video Game Music Composer May Get $50K Fine By His Own Union For Working

from the workers-unite? dept

It's a strange thing to me when a union, say, the American Federation of Musicians, turns on one of its own members or even non-member musicians. Now, I'm supportive of the concept of organized labor as a general idea, though I certainly recognize that unions quite frequently fall into all the same trappings of any unwieldy and large organization -- where the original intent and the eventual results are quite different. So when the AFM demanded an apology from a musical artist simply for speaking his mind against a Canadian bill that the union supported, I could only scratch my head. But when that same AFM union goes after one of it own members for the crime of making video game music, a thing that I love, that's when I start to get really angry.


What's most striking in that video to me is the clear and obvious passion with which composer Austin Wintory speaks about working on game music. Still, the back story here is what makes it so ridiculous. AFM management constructed a contract for video game composers without the input of the union's own membership, a contract that is so one-sided that not a single game developer even hesitated to reject it completely, and constructed an ecosystem in which no AFM member could be hired with union sanction to perform his or her craft. For two years, the music in games was either made by composers not in the AFM or by composers who just ignored the AFM's rules. The union failed to benefit in any way. Then, when it discovered that one of its members, who had been vocally critical of the contract, had the gumption to actually make a living, the union threatened to levy a $50,000 fine against him.

Unions have a terrible reputation in this country because of stories like this, which is a shame. This union is an example of how not to behave, in making demands that will never be accepted, refusing to consult its own membership, actually coming out and suggesting that it chiefly operates through fear and intimidation, and going after its own members for daring to make a living doing what they do best (the kind of thing a union should be supporting, not hindering).

"Unfortunately employers have not signed the current agreement," admits AFM Local 47 Vice President John Acosta who represent the recording musicians of Los Angeles, "and the limited work we were doing before has all but vanished into non-union land."
And the solution to that is to levy fines against one of your members instead of negotiating a contract that will actually get composers back to work under the union umbrella? Please.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 8:59am

    and the limited work we were doing before has all but vanished into non-union land.

    ...luckily, we can fine Austin Wintory - the ONE GUY WE HAVE THAT LANDED A JOB, and we will be able to recoop all of the unpaid dues from the other members that have not been able to work because of our crazy rules.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    Jay (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 9:03am

    Hold on...

    This union isn't representing its smaller people. I feel that this union sentiment is a little misplaced. Who funds the unions? If we're taking "follow the money" approach, I believe the ideas are coming from the music industry and the possibly the movie industry to attack a younger entertainment medium.

    I don't doubt that some of this is the union being out of touch, but I don't think the information is updated to assess the entire problem. Who find the unions should be the first question and then we can get to a solution for the composers besides no work at all.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 9:07am

    Is he legally obligated to remain a member of the union in order to remain in his profession? If not, why doesn't he quit?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 9:14am

    Re: Hold on...

    Who funds the unions?


    Generally, they're funded by dues from the members. They certainly aren't funded by the companies hiring the musicians (except indirectly, since the companies pay the musicians and the musicians pay the union.)

    So I don't think this is any sort of conspiracy. It's just incompetent leadership.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 9:34am

    Re: Re: Hold on...

    yep. Unions certainly have a place in society, but when they go completely overboard with restrictive contracts like this you have to wonder if they aren't acting against their own interests.
    The best way to learn the members best interests is a combination of negotiating with employers and employees. Unfortunately many unions are lacking in their ability to identify the right employers to convince...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 9:42am

    Re: Re: Hold on...

    Generally, they're funded by dues from the members.

    Unless, of course, they have restrictive contracts and none of their members can make any money. Of course, then they don't call it a union, it is just a group of unemployed people sitting around complaining (AKA the line at the department of motor vehicles).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 9:42am

    Re:

    Not sure how this particular Union works, but having been a musician (performer) in the past I can tell you that the vast majority of those jobs require you to be a member of the union, i.e. "closed shops". Could be different for composers, but i doubt it. And video games, while huge, are only one part of the overall industry.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Matthew A. Sawtell, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 9:45am

    Having a Flashback to the Blues Brothers...

    ... the response the 'Good Old Boys' had when asked if they had Union cards to play at Bob's Country Bunker.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    Rikuo (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 10:21am

    Where does a union get the legal authority to issue a fine against someone? I can understand suing someone in claiming damages, but a fine?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 10:29am

    Re:

    They can, and do. It's contractual - the same way a homeowner's association can fine people for having grass too long or gardening naked.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    Rikuo (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 10:35am

    Re: Re:

    ...you'd think being in my mid 20's, I'd know these things already, but no...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    weneedhelp (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 10:37am

    Unions suck ass

    Ok... at the Phila Convention Center... a Stage Hand(IATSE) is not allowed to unplug a lamp... an electrician must do it, then the Stage Hand can move the lamp. Plug it back in you say? No no no, you have to wait for an electrician. I shit you not. (Electricians & Teamsters have since lost the contract. big bru ha ha like a month ago.
    http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/WHYY-Philly-Unions-Cross-Picket-Lines-at-Pa-Convention -Center-258968081.html
    -
    Stage Hands(IATSE) are not allowed to unload trucks... Teamsters handle that job.(Used to) For a load-in, which is the term used in the biz to... load in equipment before a show... Teamsters make $350 Same for Load-Out. $700 beans for non-skilled labor to work a few hours? BS. LI's usually take 3-4 hours and LO's 1-3.
    -
    Oh and dont you dare try and use non-union labor... or you get picketed... unless you pay off the union leaders.
    Been there done that, seen it first hand.
    -
    Unions end up like Government, crooked and corrupt.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 10:51am

    Re: Unions suck ass

    Stage Hand(IATSE) is not allowed to unplug a lamp... an electrician must do it

    Funny you say that. I was thrown out of a convention center once because I was setting up a booth and plugged in the electrical myself rather than waiting for the union guy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 10:53am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Read contracts carefully. I have seen this kind of crap in employment contracts too.

    Unions do some crazy things to enforce their rules.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 11:26am

    Re: Unions suck ass

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 11:31am

    Re: Unions suck ass

    I was helping to set up a culinary salon in a convention center. The participants began showing up to set up their displays around 3:00 AM. They started to bring their submissions (some of which required a lot of setup, and others some finishing touches, and all were delicate). The union objected to their carrying their own pieces in from the loading dock. I told the union leader that I would not mess with them, they carry knives. The union leader went away and did not bother us again.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Shmerl, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 11:38am

    If he doesn't like the union, why does he need to be the part of it? What are the downsides?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    Bergman (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 11:39am

    Re: Unions suck ass

    Don;t forget, the electrician isn't allowed to move the lamp, stage hands have to do that...even if its his own lamp and he's moving it six inches.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 11:40am

    Re:

    If he doesn't like the union, why does he need to be the part of it? What are the downsides?


    In many cases, unions often provide access to things like healthcare and other insurance that are difficult to get on your own... It's possible that's a major benefit for independent composers like Wintory.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 11:58am

    Re: Unions suck ass

    Yeah, that is a good example of them getting ridiculous in the extreme. While I find various rules of different unions also ridiculous, they can and do have more reasonable rules. It's easy to have rules where, say, carpenters can build a form of size x where some concrete will be poured, but anything over that size has to be done by the appropriate union workers.

    A lot of them, (unions and union members)) still act batshit crazy. I always love the union people who do under the table side work, which they aren't supposed to do by union rules, and of course they aren't paying taxes or anything either. But if they see non-union people doing that same thing, they are scabs!

    Unions, like any large organizations such as corporations and governments, need reforms. Especially when they've gone to professional management run by lawyers and such with little or no input by union members. Really, they're just another corporation pretending to be pro-labor.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Shmerl, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 11:59am

    Re: Re:

    I see, I guess it depends on the industry. In this case it became an annoying middleman.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 12:14pm

    Re: Re: Unions suck ass

    I'm a Philly person, so I can definitely vouch for him.
    Since you got picketed, did you get the Philadelphia Union Rat inflatable?
    The Unions here protest even non-profit benefits, link, and have long been known to incite violence against scabs, Post Brother's site.
    The light deal though is the same in NYC, at least last time I had to work in Manhattan, I couldn't bring in a desk lamp without having a union contractor ride up with it in the elevator and plug it in.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 12:22pm

    Re: Re:

    Not only this, but I find it abhorrent for people to look at someone staying IN the situation and trying to change and telling them to just leave the union and not fix the problem. This guy staying in and still fighting is way braver than simply bailing....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Shmerl, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 12:43pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Point is that such situation is not clear at all for those who aren't in it, and the video from the author doesn't really explain the background of the need to use the union in the first place (assuming all should know it by default). That's not really helpful since the message is addressed to the wide audience.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 12:43pm

    Re: Unions suck ass

    Let's not forget that tenure means EVERYTHING in a Union. I used to work in a Union at a Paper Mill. When a job comes up for bid, the senior man gets it. Period. No matter that he is incompetent and will never be able to perform the job adequately.
    This guy I worked with had to measure the size of the paper we were running and he couldn't even read the difference between 1/8in. and 1/16in. even tho he had been doing it for 3 years. The QA guy would tell him it's wrong and he'd have to do it all over until he got it right, sometimes taking 4 tries to get things lined out.
    A friend worked at a chemicals plant for a large corp. and about 2 weeks in, a supervisor told him to slow down because he was making his union 'Brothers' look bad.
    Unions do nothing but promote mediocrity.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 12:57pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I see your point, but if union rules mandate that he cannot work (except under a contract nobody will agree to) then he should probably either follow those rules (while working to change them, perhaps) or get out. Unless there's some reason he can't do that.

    From a practical perspective, I don't think most people can pay $50,000 fines on a regular basis.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Beech, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 1:57pm

    Re: Re:

    Yeah, but clearly the game studios are not "closed shops" since they refused to sign the contract. I'm not sure why he doesnt leave the union, but if he did doubt the Union would drop the fine, since he did the no-no thing while he was a member and bound to the by-laws.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Beech, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:06pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    A valid point, sir, but from the article it seemed that there was NO benefit to being in the union in the first place. It's either, try to get a job and pay the bills but face a fine, OR sit on your ass and hope someone decides to accept a silly contract.

    For example, I am in a union but it provides pretty clear benefits to me. I have a regular work, job security, higher wages than the company would like to pay me, better benefits than they would like to give me, and the like. But video game composers? They work on contract. And if the union adopts a contract that doesn't let them work, whats the point of the union? I could see if all the studios were closed shops, and to get a job you had to have a union card, but since literally every game studio is foregoing the union, having said card provides no benefits.

    What Mike said makes tons of sense though. Healthcare is super expensive, and you probably don't get any working on a contract basis.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2014 @ 3:36am

    Re:

    Here's what he wrote in the YouTube comments:

    FREQUENTLY RECURRING QUESTIONS:
    QUESTION 1:
    "Why not quit the union / why join to begin with?"
    >> Simply put, I'm a believer in the union. I would rather help it reform than just give up on it and its amazing musicians; but that requires membership.

    I see many accusations of being anti-union. I AM NOT. If I were, I'd definitely not have joined. No, instead I have tried to work within the union and fight for opportunities to hire them at every turn. The Banner Saga was a situation where it didn't work out, and despite efforts to hire them, they are trying to punish me. Even despite that, I am STILL not anti-union. Just anti-Ray Hair and the current members of the IEB.

    Here is the more elaborate answer (forgive its being long-winded):
    I joined the union out of a proactive desire to collaborate with union musicians, particularly the outstanding orchestras in Los Angeles' Local47. A big part of what inspired my pursuit of this career was seeing countless photos and videos of my childhood heroes working in these very special LA scoring stages with AFM musicians. So I joined.

    The realities in 2014 are far from what they were then. The overwhelming majority of ALL films and 100% of games are produced by non-AFM signatory companies. That means that for those productions, union agreements must be reached as a one-off, and this is a very tough sell to producers because global competition has provided viable competition to AFM musicians. In the game industry, the current game contract was rejected throughout the entire industry which means that all composers and musicians who work in games must do so non-union.

    BUT I remain a believer in the union. I believe it can be reformed from within, but ONLY with a huge show of outside public support. The purely internal politicking hasn't worked (as evidenced by a more than 50% drop in all union film scores over the last several years, and a 100% elimination of game music recording).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
Advertisement
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Chat
Techdirt Reading List
Advertisement
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Support Techdirt - Get Great Stuff!

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.