I recently finished reading Julie Ayer’s wonderful book, More Than Meets the Ear: How Symphony Musicians Made Labor History. I encourage you all to read this wonderful retelling of the formation of ICSOM and of the activism of ICSOM’s founders. It was their actions that began the long climb to the respect and impressive collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) that symphonic musicians possess today. In her book, Julie speaks of the development of the communication network among orchestras from which grew the AFM wage charts for ICSOM, OCSM, and ROPA. Although the AFM now compiles the wage chart information, those charts began with us, ICSOM, as we tried to communicate the most accurate information we had to our colleagues across the country.
The ICSOM settlement bulletin is another important communiqué. This bulletin outlines the changes negotiated in our contracts and is used by our colleagues as a source of important information during their negotiations. The ICSOM settlement bulletin is the first full report from an orchestra to the rest of the field that details wage and benefit modifications, changes to season length and in working conditions, and other miscellaneous adjustments.
When I became ICSOM secretary, I noticed an inconsistency in how wages and Electronic Media Guarantees (EMGs) were reported in our settlement bulletins. Some orchestras do as is required for the AFM wage charts and report regular and EMG wages separately. Others insist on merging EMG wages with regular salary. As ICSOM Electronic Media Committee Chair Bill Foster recently reminded me that, when an EMG is reported merged with regular salaries, it sometimes reflects the underlying CBA. At the 2005 ICSOM Conference in San Diego, both Bill and I requested that EMGs be reported consistent with the wage charts. Now we are also asking that EMGs be clarified in CBAs as separate wages.
This contradictory reporting of wages from orchestra to orchestra has seriously muddied the waters in regard to the real meaning and intent of an EMG. I know EMGs are a touchy subject for some orchestras. Reporting of weekly salary for some orchestras could be reduced by $100 per week if the EMG is not included. It also seriously erodes the “perceived” annual salary. However, as the person who assembles and produces these bulletins, I believe it’s time we all look at this honestly.
My perspective, as a member of an orchestra that agreed to accept an EMG for the first time in 2001, is that EMGs are for electronic media work only and should not be included as regular salary when reporting wages. I have been skeptical with regard to EMGs because, during negotiations with a former manager, we were offered an EMG that increased each season. It was little more than a bad job of disguising salary increases from the board; he offered no guarantee of any media work, just a lump sum that was added to each season’s paycheck to get a little closer to the increases the musicians were demanding. We saw through the ploy, rejected his attempts to hide wages that could be vulnerable at a later date when there was no electronic media work to back up the EMG, and instead got a wage increase that could be built upon during later negotiations.
When my orchestra did accept an EMG, it was because there was guaranteed media work for a number of years to come. We know that this work and the EMG that pays for it could disappear at any time, but for now, since 2001, we have exceeded the EMG each season.
EMGs have been controversial for a long time, and I find myself both defending and decrying EMGs for their current uses. However, if an EMG is nothing more than a bonus to wages, not guaranteeing media work, it should be recognized for what it is and rolled into wages. If an EMG is for media work, it should be used that way. At least one orchestra in recent history has been successful in turning this trend around and incorporated their previous EMG into their wage increase, now agreeing that any media work done in the future will be paid for separately.
ICSOM Counsel Len Leibowitz recently expressed his own concerns about how information is reported. “The purpose of the settlement bulletin,” wrote Len, “is neither for crowing nor whining. That can be done at the end, when everybody and his/her mother are being thanked. The primary, if not the only real purpose, goes to the very core value of ICSOM—to share factual information which can be used at some other bargaining table as quickly and accurately as possible. It is terribly embarrassing to cite some ‘fact’ at another negotiation and have management explain that your information is wrong or incomplete. Thus, the information should be clear, as simply described as possible, and without ‘spin.’ It should provide the information as to what the previous contract contained and how that has been changed in the new contract. Also, of course, brand new contract provisions should be designated as such.”
I should also point out that ICSOM is actively involved, along with the AFM, in working with the ASOL on a project called the Orchestra Statistical Report (OSR). Our hope is that, someday, when we compare budgetary and statistical information from different orchestras, the numbers will actually reflect corresponding data. How can we advocate for that when we don’t report to our own colleagues in the same manner? The AFM Wage Charts report wages separately and we should do the same.
When salaries are listed, they never include seniority pay, overscale, etc. EMGs should be treated in the same manner. So, from January 2006 on, all ICSOM bulletins will list EMG wages as separate from regular scale wages.