The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) was founded in 1896. Owen Miller, the first President of the AFM stated: “The only object of the AFM is to bring order out of chaos and to harmonize and bring together all the professional musicians of the country into one United Progressive Body.” Today, the Mission of the AFM states in part:
We are the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada, professional musicians united through our Locals so that:
- We can live and work in dignity;
- Our work will be fulfilling and compensated fairly;
- We will have a meaningful voice in decisions that affect us;
- We will have the opportunity to develop our talents and skills;
- Our collective voice and power will be realized in a democratic and progressive union;
- We can oppose the forces of exploitation through our union solidarity.
The international character of the union has also undergone change during the past hundred years. As early as 1897, the AFM invited the Montreal Musicians’ Protective Union and the Toronto Orchestral Association to join the union. Montreal accepted immediately and was designated as Local 62 (although it only survived a few years and was rechartered as Local 406 in 1905). Toronto joined in 1901.
By 1900 the union changed its name to the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada and was actively organizing on both sides of the border. In 1937 a position was created to provide for an initial level of Canadian representation, as Walter Murdoch was elected International Executive Officer for Canada. However, as the music industry changed, becoming less a local business and more a national and international industry, the union faced two challenges. First, the laws that govern union activities in each country are fundamentally different in certain areas. Second, the Canadian members sought ways to preserve their own identity.
With the election of J. Alan Wood in 1965, that position evolved into the office of AFM Vice President from Canada. The Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) was formed in 1975. In 1979, after nearly 75 years of part-time representation, the AFM Convention designated that the Vice President from Canada would become a full-time officer supervising a full-time Canadian Office. During the 1980s, under the leadership of J. Alan Wood and with the election of Ray Petch in 1991, David Jandrisch in 1997, Bobby Herriot in 2003 and Bill Skolnik in 2007, the Canadian Conference continued to achieve greater autonomy over solely Canadian matters.
Alan Willaert, the current AFM Vice President from Canada was appointed to that position on March 12, 2012 following the resignation of Bill Skolnik. Willaert has worked for the AFM for more than 20 years in close collaboration with five different Vice Presidents from Canada, making him a natural choice to assume the post. In his most recent position, Willaert was Canadian Federation of Musicians (CFM) Executive Director overseeing copyright compliance matters, lobbying efforts, and collective bargaining, and also serving as a liaison with Canadian Locals and members.
The Canadian Conference consists of Locals of the AFM located anywhere in Canada. In addition, the Conference recognizes representatives of the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) as official Delegates.
The Canadian Conference’s object is to “unite the Locals within Canada to promote the interests of the members thereof, within the framework of the AFM.” Canadian Locals, and OCSM each elect delegates to represent their member’s best interests at the annual convention. It provides an opportunity to discuss issues and problems that affect the working lives of all Canadian Musicians. The delegates are charged with the responsibility of finding solutions to the issues presented and helping to affect positive change by making recommendations to the Canadian Office and/or by submitting official Resolutions to the tri-annual AFM International Convention.