US musicians fear losing their pensions

US musicians fear losing their pensions


norman lebrecht

July 25, 2017

We hear increasing concerns about the state of the AFM pension fund that most US freelancers pay into.

Last week, a group of members filed suit against the American Federation of Musicians, alleging that the AFM engaged in reckless investments in volatile markets.

You can read the full text of the suit here.

AFM officials dismiss the allegations as ‘frivolous’ but the concerns are real.

UPDATE: The AFM says we’ll fight you


  • City Slicker says:

    What could go wrong? The S&P 500 stock index has gone up by 250% since the bottom in 2009. Just buy more stawks! And bitcoins!

  • V. Lind says:

    Nothing would ever surprise me about the AFM.But that they might not have enough money to pay debts: not a chance.V

  • Bruce says:

    In nearly 30 years as an AFM member, I don’t remember receiving any correspondence from them that did not say “we’re not going to be able to pay you as much as we thought.” (Which was almost nothing, because I never made much money in the first place.) So I’m kind of amazed that anyone is surprised by recent developments.

  • Scotty says:

    It’s not accurate to say that most US freelancers pay into this fund. Over the last four decades the AFM has come to represent primarily symphony members, Broadway and Las Vegas pit musicians, and commercial studio musicians. When I was a young musician in Chicago, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, your had to belong to local 10-208 to play just about any gig. Then the union started losing its grip.

  • Steve says:

    It’s not just freelancers. Many of America’s major orchestras are participants in the EPF (Employer’s Pension Fund.) The fund has yet to recover from a series of poor decisions made over the past 15 years.

    • James Scott says:

      It is worth noting here that the Canadian pension (same union, but separate pension to satisfy national tax/income laws in both countries) is in good shape. While there have been some setbacks with the up and down market, they are stable and meeting all of their commitments. There was no sub-prime mortgage crisis north of the border.

  • Buell Neidlinger says:

    Dear Plan Participants,
    You may have seen the latest AFM-EPF newsletter, stating, “Our trustees take seriously the commitment to more frequent, comprehensive communication” (June 2017, p.3). Last month, Musicians for Pension Security requested a series of documents. In addition, we asked specific questions concerning investments, expenses, lobbying costs and other subjects of vital importance. Not one of these requests
    for information was honored.
    In response, Executive Director Maureen Kilkelly simply referred MPS to the disclosure document inventory list on the AFM-EPF website. This list includes several years of actuarial and investment management information, and the copying cost to receive these documents. This information, as required by federal law, must be posted to their website. For our remaining requests, Ms. Kilkelly’s response speaks for itself, “We are not responding to the remaining requests.* ”
    So what were the requests that the trustees refused to respond to?
    • We asked for the minutes of trustee meetings, as well as minutes of the investment and audit committees. It seems to us that trustees who wish to be transparent would make their minutes available, but they chose not to allow us access to those documents.
    • We also asked for specific information about the losses that occurred in 2007-09 during the financial crisis. How much of these losses were in high-yield bonds, as the trustees have claimed? How much were within the category of alternative investments? How much were corporate stocks? The trustees will not disclose that information.
    • With respect to the financial crisis, we asked whether the trustees considered taking legal action against those responsible for catastrophic investment losses. Tens of billions of dollars have been recovered by peer pension plans against wrongdoers in connection with financial crisis losses. Why didn’t the AFM seek compensation? Again, the trustees will not say.
    • MPS has reason to believe that several AFM-EPF trustees actively supported the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act, MPRA, a law that could give trustees the ability to cut our pension benefits, in 2013 and 2014 (NCCMP). We asked trustees whether any of our plan money was used to help lobby for this law. In our view, plan money should be used for the exclusive benefit of plan participants, and any money spent on our behalf for lobbying purposes should be disclosed. The trustees, however, choose to remain silent on the subject.
    • Regarding spending, we asked about travel expenses, meeting expenses, and the cost of education for the trustees. After the AFM-EPF spent $250 million of plan money over the last decade on fees and expenses, coupled with extremely poor performance, this is an area of great concern. Transparency of spending during a financial crisis of this magnitude is critical. Our trustees would not share any information on this subject.
    • Trustees will not answer the simple question of whether the Department of Labor performed an expense audit on the plan in the past five years.
    So while communications from our trustees may have become more frequent and comprehensive as of late, we anticipate that they will be in one of two categories : either divulging only what is required by federal law, or advancing their own point of view. It seems that trustees will not answer inconvenient or uncomfortable questions that would enable plan participants to seek transparency and accountability.
    Musicians for Pension Security, Inc.
    *Ms. Kilkelly included a disclaimer on her email that prevents us from sharing it publicly
    [EC: There is obviously a lot that stinks here. There is obviously
    dishonesty here. Our question is why haven’t the trustees and
    particularly Ms. Kilkelly been fired? We’re being fleeced either
    by incompetence or design.]

    Buell Neidlinger says:
    July 23, 2017 at 4:28 pm
    the name of the gentleman in charge of the Musicians for Pension Security group is
    Adam Krauthamer, his phone # is 215 280 5958, and he would like to hear from any Local 47 pensioners who do NOT want their monthly pension checks cut.
    glad i’m over 80 so they cannot cut mine.
    shelley says:
    July 24, 2017 at 8:43 pm