Federal Trade Commission and AGO Setttlement

April 4, 2017

To All AGO Members:

As you may know, on Friday, March 31, the Federal Trade Commission issued a press release announcing that the AGO had entered into a Settlement Agreement with the Commission. The release references a proposed consent order that resolves a complaint initiated by the agency alleging that the Guild’s rules restrained competition and harmed consumers in violation of the FTC Act.

The FTC’s announcement is the culmination of 17 months of careful negotiations between the Guild and the Commission. We have previously detailed this process in emails to chapter leaders, articles in TAO, notices on the AGO website, and presentations at the 2016 National Convention.

As part of the settlement agreement, the Guild did not admit to any wrongdoing nor have we been found guilty of any wrongdoing. We will not enter into any litigation, and we will not be subject to any fine.

In settling the FTC’s charges, the AGO agreed it would not restrain its members from soliciting work as musicians, and it would stop issuing compensation schedules and model contract provisions.  We also updated our Code of Ethics several times to ensure that we are in full compliance with the FTC’s interpretations of the law. We are taking an aggressive stance toward complying with the terms of the agreement so that we can put this matter behind us.

The FTC press release reiterates what we have been focusing on for the last year. We are now in a 30-day period for public comment on the terms of our agreement with the FTC, but nothing in the agreement changes our core mission.

The AGO is a thriving 120-year-old educational organization that abides by the law.  Our Committee on Career Development and Support, working closely with our antitrust legal counsel Claudia Higgins, has already begun the process of developing new educational resources for our members to use in negotiating their salaries and contracts with their employers.

In this holiday season, we express our heartfelt thanks to our dedicated attorney, Claudia Higgins, for her wonderful guidance, and we extend our very best wishes to all for a blessed Easter and a happy Passover.

FTC Press Release

Agreement Containing Consent Order

Sincerely yours,

Michael Bedford, AAGO, ChM

James E. Thomashower, CAE
Executive Director


  1. Andrea Anderson says:

    We are not a “union” because membership in the guild has always been a privilege. Organists are employed in many denominations and institutions of learning which are not involved with the guild and over which the guild has no jurisdiction. We are not a regulating body. The salary guidelines were simply guidelines. Because we work for religious institutions, we are sensitive to their needs and limitations. It never meant that our churches valued us less because they couldn’t pay as much as the guidelines stated. The government has no right to tell us what to do. We are a fellowship of musicians who agree(d) annually to a code of ethical conduct which means that we do not stab our fellow members in the back by trying to take their jobs. Rather, we respect our members. I repeat, the government has no jurisdiction over our guild. Membership is voluntary. It is a non-profit organization. I just happened to go to my junk email today and found my ONE renewal notice. The fact is that the guild is losing membership. It is because we need to get back to chapter control. I need to feel allegiance to my chapter and pay my dues through it rather than the national organization.

    • Bill Valentine says:

      When we first learned of the FTC’s allegations that the AGO was in violation of antitrust statutes, it also occurred to us that perhaps those statutes did not pertain to us. We consulted with several highly experienced antitrust attorneys, and each of them assured us without hesitation that the AGO, as a 501(c)(3) educational organization, is indeed subject to the provisions of Federal antitrust statutes. We are not beyond the reach of the law. In fact, several other national music associations whose policies were deemed to be in potential violation of antitrust statutes entered into settlement agreements with the Federal Trade Commission just as we did. Those associations include the Music Teachers National Association and the National Association of Teachers of Singing.

      The fact that we are not a union and that we are a voluntary membership association has no bearing on whether we must abide by Federal antitrust statutes. We are still subject to government regulation. When our own highly experienced legal counsel urges us to settle with the FTC rather than fight the Federal Government, we know we are doing the right thing to settle rather than to go to the expense of litigating in Federal Court what would undoubtedly be an exceptionally costly and losing battle. The Guild’s modest resources are no match for those of the Federal Government, and it made no sense for us to burn through funds we have painstakingly accumulated over many years’ time when we could settle the case with the Federal Government at no cost to the Guild and without admitting any guilt or wrongdoing. That’s why the National Council unanimously chose the path of a negotiated settlement. In doing so we also recognized that by agreeing to the terms of the settlement, we would become a more law-abiding professional association.

      The Federal Trade Commission has made it clear that the AGO must not issue salary guidelines because it affects the free marketplace for salary negotiations between musicians and churches. It’s as if we have our thumb on the scale in the negotiation. Similarly, our Code of Ethics had to be modified so that we were not following anti-competitive practices such as restricting potentially qualified candidates from applying for a job simply because an incumbent musician already held that job. There is nothing that prevents Guild members from following that policy on their own, but organizationally we cannot mandate it without breaching federal antitrust statutes.

      Thanks again for bringing your concerns to our attention.

      James E. Thomashower
      Executive Director
      American Guild of Organists

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