© 2005 Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and
Archives, Cornell University Library
The American Federation of Musicians, AF of L, unilaterally decided
the minimum terms and conditions of employment. They never negotiated a
contract with a broadcasting, electrical transcription or recording company.
The Union believed that mechanized music was displacing live musicians
so they entered into conferences in 1937 with the broadcasting, recording and
transcription companies concerning this matter. The conferences resulted in the
broadcasting industry accepting the so-called quota agreement, under which the
independent stations and stations affiliated with networks agreed to spend more
money on staff musicians. The term of this agreement was set at two years, but
in 1938 the Department of Justice advised the parties that the agreement was
In 1938, the Union adopted a policy of "licensing" recording and
transcription companies. The license allowed union musicians to work for these
companies on the condition that the companies limit the use of their products
to non-commercial purposes. At no time-did the license contain any of the terms
and conditions being fixed unilaterally by the union and all licenses being
terminable at its will. The courts in RCA Mfg. Company vs. Whiteman case held
that the limitation on the use of phonograph records which the parties had
agreed to could not be enforced. Therefore, the purpose of the license
arrangement was largely defeated, but they continued to renew the license until
The Musicians Union in 1942 decided that the only way to alleviate the
unemployment of musicians caused by recorded music was to refuse to work for
recording and transcription companies. The union made no demands on the
employers, but on August 1, 1942, all union members stopped making records and
Early in August 1942, the Department of Justice charged the union with
violation of the anti-trust laws. The complaint was dismissed in the lower
courts on the ground that the controversy was a labor dispute and the union
was, therefore, immune from such prosecution. The Supreme Court affirmed this
The next development was a hearing before a subcommittee of the Senate
Committee on Interstate Commerce, pursuant to Senate Resolution 276, 77th
Congress, second session, regarding the use of mechanical re- production of
music. The hearings were held on a number of days in September and then
discontinued until February 1943. The February hearings disclosed for the first
time the unions demands. The principle demand involved payment to the unions of
an agreed sum on each recording made, and the fund thus created was to be used
in various ways for the alleviation of unemployment.
The employers upon hearing the union demands rejected them and took
steps to bring the controversy before the National War Labor Board on the
grounds that the cessation of work constitutes a work stoppage seriously
interfering with the war effort and they asked the Board to terminate the
The War Labor Board refused to terminate the strike and set up a
National War Labor Board Panel to conduct hearings. The Panel was composed of
Arthur S. Meyer, Chairman and Public Member; Max Zavitsky, Labor Member;
Gilbert E. Fuller, Industry Member. The Panel started the hearings on September
7, 1943 and on September 9 decided to adjourn until September 20, so as the
Musician Union and World Broadcasting System could put their verbal contract
agreement into written form. The hearing was reconvened on September 21 and
then adjourned until September 27. On September 29 World Broadcasting System
and Musicians Union signed an agreement. The Panel at this time adjourned until
October 20, 1943 at the request of the parties so that they could negotiate
privately. The Panel on various occasions at the request of the parties acted
as mediator. When the hearings were resumed on October 20, 1943, six of the
seven original companies had signed agreements with the union.
The remaining company, National Broadcasting Co., was joined at this
time by two additional companies, RCA-Victor Division and Columbia Recording
Corporation, to the proceeding. The Panel finished its hearings on November 22,
1943 and submitted its report and recommendations to the National War Labor
Board on March 9, 1944. The National War Labor Board on June 15, 1944 issued
its decision on this case.
The union's position in the hearings was that: the Board did not have
jurisdiction because there was no strike, no substantial interference with the
war effort, no labor dispute, and the members of the union are not the
employees of the phonograph and transcription companies, but of the band
leaders, contractors and symphony associations, none of whom are parties to
this proceeding; the union demanded that the company pay money into the union's
unemployment fund and that the union receive financial remuneration for
phonograph records made for home consumption and used commercially.
The companies' position in the hearing was that: how do you measure
unemployment of musicians and to what extent is the unemployment of musicians
due to records and transcriptions which fellow union members helped create; the
use of an unemployment fund would aggravate rather than relieve unemployment
due to the fact that the Musician Union is an open union; the companies
maintained that the unemployment fund is really a wage increase and is contrary
to the Wage Stabilization Program; the adoption of the Union's demands would
result in the creation of a private system of unemployment relief and a
undermining of our National Social Security System; the companies proposed that
the Union and the companies unite in pressing for copyright legislation so as
to prevent records designed for home use from being used commercially without
The Panel, besides having to evaluate the demands of both sides, had
to consider if the Union's demand for an unemployment fund was a "customary"
demand or a usual and novel demand which the union was able to impose due to
wartime conditions. The NWLB could not impose on companies unusual and novel
union demands which arise due to wartime conditions.
United States. National Labor
Relations Board (1942-1945)
American Federation of Musicians.
World Broadcasting System.
Empire Broadcasting Corporation.
Associated Music Publishers.
Lang-Worth Feature Program, Inc.
C. P. MacGregor Collection (Library
Standard Radio Transcription
Radio Recording Division.
National Broadcasting Company,
RCA-Victor Company, inc.
Columbia Recording Corporation.
Meyer, Arthur S. (Arthur Simon),
Arbitration, Industrial -- United
Collective bargaining --
Telecommunication -- United States.
Telecommunication -- Employees --
Labor unions -- United States.
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