How Jason Fitz of The Band Perry and Other Musicians are Getting Fleeced


July 25, 2016 1:18PM

Jason Fitz has made it in Nashville. Working for an established act like The Band Perry, getting paid ought to be easy for him. It’s not. His paycheck is in the hands of a union he did not join, the American Federation of Musicians, and it won’t release it until he pays a $61.38 fee for a service he did not request.

What “service” the union performed is as much a mystery as why they performed it. According to them, the fee is a “modest administrative service fee” for, apparently, the chore of paying Fitz. But Fitz didn’t work for the union; he worked for Interscope Records. Rather than pay him directly, someone unnecessarily sent the check to the union to do it. The union wants $61.38 of it. Why? Who knows? Whatever “service” the union provided was never requested by Fitz, but he is the one who must pay it.

This is common. As people increasingly choose not to join a union, unions increasingly find ways to force them to pay anyway. Teachers unions (in states where they can get away with it) will still charge fees to non-members, and they can get fired if they don’t pay. Last term, we signed onto a brief requesting the Supreme Court put a stop to all this. The unfortunate death of Justice Scalia means that this affront to the American Constitution will endure for the time being.

Make no mistake: this is an individual liberty and free speech issue. The American Federation of Musicians advocates for specific positions, and is particularly concerned with pressuring artists to employ union members. Fitz does not wish to join. Even though he consciously disassociated himself with the organization and its message, which he may or may not find objectionable, he is still forced to provide financial support for the union and its message.

The freedom of (dis)association is under assault such as this from all fronts these days. This country was founded and settled by persons who wished to disassociate with the country of their birth. The right to associate is at the core of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has in the past recognized that “freedom of association therefore plainly presupposes a freedom not to associate.” Roberts v. U.S. Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, 623 (1984).

In Nashville, “paying your dues” means working for tips doing covers on lower Broad, not bogus fees for non-services in union backrooms.