[78-L] The Petrillo we loved to hate

Rodger Holtin rjh334578 at gmail.com.invalid
Mon Sep 19 17:48:19 PDT 2016

Petrillo's Big Ban Era


Some of you will find this as fascinating as I did.  Reading stuff like
George T. Simon's big band books, and almost any other books or articles on
the big bands, one would conclude that James Caesar Petrillo was a first
class jerk and his strikes in 1942 and 1948 were simply foolish.  


With that as backdrop, I went looking for articles that would share all the
positive things that came about as a result of Petrillo's strike against the
record companies.  


History re-writes are popular and so are conspiracy theories.  I've
wondered, since it worked out so sweetly, if there had been a conspiracy to
hamper the record business so that the government could step in as the hero
with the V-Disc.  Let me hasten to point out that I don't believe that for a
moment, but it does sorta fit and just knew I'd find modern takes on the
1942 strike concluding that it was a good thing and portraying Petrillo as a
hero, and this might work right into that silly conspiracy framework.


Found it, although it falls way short of suggesting the conspiracy angle,
unless calling the strike "an overwhelming success" includes the creation of
the vinyl V-Disc, because it was a direct result of the strike.  The AFM
Local 802 in New York published a story in July of this year, portraying
Petrillo as a champion.


In fact, they published two stories about him this summer.


The first, from July, lionizes Petrillo



Here's just the concluding portion of the text:



. The strike was over - and it was an overwhelming success.

Ultimately, the strike was settled with the creation of the Recording and
Transcription Fund, which at its height had over 600 contributing employers
paying varying amounts dependent upon the sale price of the recording.
During the years that it existed, the fund collected approximately $4.5
million and ultimately paid wages to 45,000 musicians. The funds were
controlled entirely by the AFM, but were used to provide free live music in
parks, schools, hospitals and nursing homes. Monies were also disbursed to
unemployed musicians who were members in good standing in their local.


However, the legislature, fearful of the AFM's unbridled use of the
significant sums of money it was collecting from the record labels, took
steps to curtail the union's discretionary use of it. In 1947, the Taft
Hartley Act was enacted. It contained a provision, Section 302, which
criminalized a union's collection of money directly from employers "for
services that are not performed or not to be performed." Thus, the Taft
Hartley Act rendered the recording fund illegal, and it had to be dissolved.


Coincidentally, in 1948, the popularity of network TV revitalized the
royalty issue since the networks were using recorded music without paying
any royalties. At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, 1947 unionized
musicians were again directed by Petrillo to cease making recordings. This
strike lasted only a year. To settle it, a new jointly-administered
labor-management "trust fund" was created in accordance with the
requirements of Section 302 of the Taft Hartley Act, which allows for the
creation of such funds. The networks and the recording label all became
participants in this fund, the Recording Musicians Performance Trust Fund,
which still exists (under a slightly different name) and performs the same
basic functions as the disbanded fund. See www.musicpf.org.


The significance of these strikes for musicians and the recording industry
as a whole cannot be overemphasized. The impact of the Music Performance
Trust Fund (as it's known today) is felt throughout the country today, some
80 years after its creation. The fund still subsidizes free educational
concerts throughout the country.


However, the strike had a profound impact on music as well. As a result of a
lack of instrumental recordings, vocal-based recordings became prominent and
the rise of the pop star era began. Prior to the strike, big bands and swing
music were extremely popular throughout the country. However, the lack of
recordings of these bands during the height of the swing era ultimately
contributed to their demise and eventual replacement by singers such as
Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.

One would be very hard pressed to name any other strikes that have had so
prominent an effect on pop culture and how we listen to and pay for music
today as the AFM recording strikes of 1942-44 and 1948. 


Musicians throughout this country owe a huge debt to James Petrillo.




The second article, however, from September, uses the same primary and
secondary resources and forms an opposite opinion, and takes us right back
to what George Simon said all along.  I've pasted it in its entirety below.
Even the rebuttal doesn't really refute it.




Current: Volume 116 No. 9 September, 2016





Another Take on James Petrillo

by Jay Berliner

Was he actually a champion of all musicians?

James Petrillo in 1948.


Harvey Mars' article in the July/August issue portrays James Caesar
Petrillo, the AFM president from 1940 to 1958, as an heroic figure to whom
"musicians throughout the country owe a huge debt." Unfortunately, Mr.
Petrillo was no hero to the recording musicians of that era; he was, to put
it bluntly, their enemy.


Throughout his 18-year presidency, Petrillo waged a relentless - indeed,
fanatical - war in favor of "live" music and against all types of recorded
"canned" music. In the process, it became a war against all recording


On Aug. 1, 1942, Petrillo called a strike against the record companies. All
recording was banned. There were no exceptions; not even symphony
orchestras, name bands and solo instrumentalists could record. The strike
lasted for over 27 months, costing the striking musicians millions of
dollars in lost wages. The settlement reached in November 1944 called for
royalties to be paid on recordings, not to the musicians who played on those
recordings, but instead to Petrillo's Recording and Transcription Fund,
which he had established to fund his fight for live music. Petrillo had sole
discretion over the use of the money in that fund, thanks to Article 1,
Section 1 of the AFM bylaws, which gave him dictatorial powers. Most of the
money was distributed to tens of thousands of "non-employed" "live"
musicians in small locals who were supposedly suffering losses caused by
"canned" music. The great majority of these recipients earned their living
in professions other than music. They were, at best, part-timers. In the big
city locals, it was widely believed that the fund was being used as a
political slush account whose purpose was to get Petrillo re-elected as AFM
president at the annual Federation conventions.


On Jan. 1, 1948, Petrillo called a second strike against the record
companies that was settled on Dec. 14, 1948, resulting in more royalties to
be paid not to the musicians, but rather to the Music Performance Trust
Fund, which replaced the Recording and Transcription Fund - which had been
found to be illegal under the Taft-Hartley Act.


In total, in the 1940s, recording musicians were on strike for one-third of
a decade, during which time they were out of work and forbidden by their own
union to work. They made this sacrifice only to see all of their royalties
end up in Petrillo's fund.


In 1951, Petrillo negotiated an outrageous deal with the four television
networks, which called for a 5 percent upfront fee, based on a television
show's overall budget, which had to be paid by a television producer before
any musicians could be hired. If the show was reused, an additional 5
percent payment was due. These payments went into Petrillo's trust fund.
This was highway robbery to the producers and by 1955, 80 percent of those
TV shows were using "canned" library music from overseas. How ironic!


In 1955, the $25 payment to film musicians for every film sold to television
was diverted by you-know-who into you-know-what!


In 1956, the Reader's Digest ran a featured article by Lester Velic entitled
"The Union that Fights Its Workers." It was a devastating report about
Petrillo and the AFM.:"Last year, $2,080,000 withheld from the musicians who
earned it, was dribbled into 654 areas in which the union's locals were
located. The money was slivered among 179,000 beneficiaries, giving each an
average $11.60 'unemployment benefit.'" This article ran in the December
issue, just in time for Christmas! Around that time, it came to light that
Petrillo had diverted $275,000 from the MPTF into a pension fund that served
only top union officials and their dependents.


In the press, which referred to Petrillo as "Little Caesar," "musical
Hitler," and the "U.S. Music Czar," he was quoted as referring to "those
selfish Hollywood musicians" and "$800-a-week communist fiddle players." To
a complaining recording musician, Petrillo was quoted as saying "Well, kid,
cinch up your belt, 'cause it's gonna get a lot tougher."


Finally, a disgusted group of Los Angeles film and television musicians,
along with several brave souls from New York City, staged a revolt and filed
four lawsuits against the Federation, seeking $15 million in damages. Led by
Cecil Read, an outstanding session trumpet player, they founded the
Musicians Guild of America. In July 1958, the Guild (as it was
affectionately called) succeeded in becoming the bargaining agent for the
television musicians, thus superseding Petrillo and the AFM. In a
negotiation with the producers, the Guild was able to obtain a guarantee of
at least one recording session for each 13 episodes of a television program
in exchange for getting rid of the hated 5 percent upfront payment.


Time passed. Petrillo was long gone. He was succeeded by Herman Kenin, who
saw the Guild as a prime example of dual unionism, which was a big no-no at
the Federation (as was the term "guild" - which the Guild was!). But seeing
the success of the Guild, he decided to try to bring the Guild members back
into the Federation. So in 1961, in New York City, Henry Kaiser, the AFM
general counsel, approached a visiting group of Guild officials and told
them President Kenin was hopeful that a deal could be reached to disband the
Guild and bring everyone back into the AFM. After a long negotiation lasting
several months, the Guild members agreed to rejoin the Federation. The Guild
was disbanded; it had served its purpose.


In a now historic letter dated Sept. 5, 1961, Herman Kenin carefully spelled
out the agreement in great detail.


The MPTF would be split in half, with 50 percent of the money payable to the
MPTF going to the musicians who contributed to the making of the records.

Guild musicians who have been expelled from the AFM and Local 47 will be
reinstated to full membership. All fines will be nullified.


All musicians employed in the fields within the AFM's jurisdiction will have
the right to ratify all contracts it negotiates.

A recording musician advisory committee will be established in Los Angeles.
A representative or representatives of the committee shall serve in an
advisory capacity at all Federation collective bargaining negotiations.

In addition to the letter, Kenin abolished Article 1, Section 1 of the AFM
bylaws, began reducing contributions to the Trust Fund, rerouted to
musicians the wage increases that had gone into the Trust Fund, and, most
important, established a pension plan for casually employed musicians. The
lawsuits were eventually settled for $3.5 million.


Petrillo lived to be 92 years old. It was said that he sometimes listened to
recorded music, but he never wore cans!






Jay Berliner has been a member of Local 802 since 1961. He served as the
international secretary for the RMA from 1985 to 1995. About this article,
Jay says, "I used the following books for reference: 'The Musicians and
Petrillo' by Robert D. Leiter; 'Music Matters: The Performer and the
American Federation of Musicians' by George Seltzer; and 'For the Record' by
Jon Burlingame. I also used my own memories and experience. I knew a few of
these Guild heroes. I got started doing session work in the early 1960s and
was involved in the jingle negotiations from the early 1970s to the mid-90s.
I saw Henry Kaiser in action many times when I sat at the bargaining table."


Local 802 counsel Harvey Mars replies: "I found Mr. Berliner's detailed
historical account of the recording industry strikes to be fascinating and
that it certainly added a new dimension and perspective to these events. I
reviewed the same secondary sources as he (and some primary ones as well).
Whatever can be said of Mr. Petrillo, no one could say that he didn't evoke
strong feelings in our membership."        




No conspiracy - just a fun "What If" look back at an historical event.


We see it in politics, education, religion and everywhere else - two people
read the same text and come to opposite conclusions.


Happy election year, folks!




For best results use Victor Needles


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