Laura Brownell  

SSD Advocates for Symphony Musicians and their Local Unions

Laura Brownell
May 15, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

Collective representation touches the lives of every orchestra musician at a number of contact points. Although most musicians are aware of what "the union" is, they may not realize how many facets of the union directly influence their career. One of those contact points is the Symphonic Services Division (SSD).

In an effort to help professional orchestra musicians better understand the organizations which represent them, SSD Executive Director, Laura Brownell, has written an introductory guide explaining what SSD is, how it connects with the musicians, and what they are working on this season.

- Drew McManus

The Symphonic Services Division (SSD) is a department of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM). The AFM, based in New York City, is a federation of geographically determined Local unions.Established in 1896, the AFM currently represents more than 90,000 musicians.Approximately 10,000 AFM members perform in symphony, opera, and ballet orchestras.Since bargaining rights for orchestras are held by AFM Local unions, the SSD plays a supporting role, providing advice and assistance to Local unions, orchestra committees, and rank and file members. The SSD also maintains a strong presence at the industry level.

The SSD maintains a field staff that provides negotiating and contract administration services.Staff negotiators engage in bargaining for twenty-five to thirty renewal agreements every year.SSD staff members also handle telephone and e-mail requests for advice and assistance on such matters.There is a full-time staff member whose time is devoted to advising on electronic media projects and providing support for media negotiations.

The SSD retains professionals who provide legal advice, analysis of orchestra finances, and public relations training.The SSD, in conjunction with the AFM’s Organizing and Education Department, assists orchestras that wish to obtain union recognition and organize for collective bargaining.Education and training are provided through on site visits, at Player Conference meetings, and at seminars and symposiums dedicated to symphonic issues.Annually, the SSD prepares wage charts that summarize terms and conditions for professional orchestras in the United States and Canada.There is a special “hot line” for audition inquiries. A resource collection is maintained so that up to date comparative information and analysis can be provided.Downloadable handouts on a wide variety of topics are available at

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