[Editor’s Note: Watch for ICSOM settlement bulletins to learn the details of these settlements. Those bulletins are sent to each delegate and can also be found on the ICSOM website at www.icsom.org.]
In the spring of 2007, members of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra voted in a contract renewal team (Brad Buckley, Erik Harris, Susan Slaughter, Bjorn Ranheim, and David DeRiso) in preparation for the September 2008 end of its current contract. The orchestra then split up for a six-week opera season and afterward dispersed completely for 13 weeks of summer.
Imagine the orchestra’s surprise, then, when it showed up in the third week of September for the season opener to find a memorandum of agreement for a new two-year contract ready to go. With a unanimous recommendation by the contract renewal team and the union, and after two days of meetings (sandwiched between Stravinsky and Rouse), the agreement was ratified.
There were strong arguments offered for the agreement. Several weeks previously, SLSO Chairman of the Board Cindy Brinkley had contacted the team with a proposal for a two-year contract to be in place by the end of the season’s first week—almost a year before the end of the current contract. Her first reason for making this significant proposal was stability. With three major staff positions open (executive director, development director, and director of communications), the chairman felt the chances of attracting good candidates would be greatly enhanced with a stable environment in place. Her second reason was fund raising. With donor hostility left over from the recent work stoppage, having a new contract in place a year early would send a message to the Saint Louis community that all constituencies of the SLSO were working together, thus enhancing fund raising efforts.
The SLSO management has been following a spectacular if unbalanced business plan over the last several years. The goal of the organization has been to raise enough endowment to ensure the orchestra’s financial future into the next major ice age. To these efforts it has raised over $150 million. However, there has been little attention paid to virtually anything else, so earned income and annual giving have both fallen significantly. As a result, the orchestra’s annual shortfall (over $3,000,000) has increased to the point that the SLSO could be bankrupt in four years. When this was explained to the orchestra, along with the possibility of losing the $150 million endowment to the Art Museum should the orchestra go belly up, heart rates went up dramatically. This may have been a factor in the easy passage of an agreement that will guarantee a 25% drop in inflation-adjusted income over the 12-year period since 1998.
Chris Woehr, Delegate, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
The musicians of the North Carolina Symphony ratified a new four-year contract on September 1. The settlement represented gains in many aspects of the contract, including wages, benefits, working conditions, and compensation for extras and substitutes. Season length will increase to 44 weeks over the term of the contract. The size of the orchestra continues to grow, with the addition of three new string positions this season. Plans are in progress for several recording projects under the direction of Music Director Grant Llewellyn.
Beth Lunsford, Delegate, North Carolina Symphony
The Utah Symphony recently completed negotiations for a three-year contract that maintains the season at 52 weeks. For the last three years, base pay had been frozen at $1,110 per week. Starting September 1, that amount will increase to $1,143, with an additional bump to $1,166 on March 1, 2008 (a 5% increase). The second and third years of the contract will both include 2% increases, bringing the weekly salary for 2008–2009 up to $1,189 and for 2009–2010 up to $1,213. Contract negotiations can be re-opened at the end of the first or second years, but for the salary issue only.
One of the most important issues resolved was that of health care. Fortunately, it will remain the same, with fully paid coverage for orchestra members and dependents. (That is the main reason why re-opening contract talks were limited to salary.)
There was also a bump in the orchestra’s pension plan contributions. Previously, contributions were at 8%. Currently, for those musicians with 15 or more years of service, that amount will go up to 8.5% next season, and then 9% for 2009–2010. There were also modest increases in seniority pay and per diem.
The size of the orchestra compliment was another contentious issue. Management wanted to reduce the complement from 85 to 82 musicians by not filling three section string positions that have been open for several years. It was agreed that those positions will be filled in three years, after a new music director is in place. Until that time, the positions may be filled only with long-term substitutes.
Even though base pay will not rise to the level that was hoped for, overall, the Utah musicians’ negotiating team feels very good about what they were able to accomplish—especially since they were facing a leadership vacuum created by the absence of a full-time CEO. It is hoped that the modest gains that were won can be increased in the second and third years of the new contract once a new CEO is in place.
George Brown, Delegate, Utah Symphony
On Labor Day, San Antonio Symphony musicians overwhelmingly ratified a four-year contract that will provide steady growth in season length each year, beginning with 27 weeks in 2007–2008 and reaching 30 weeks in 2010–2011. Previously, working weeks had been frozen at 26 per year. In order to achieve the twin gains of economic relief for the musicians and more performances for the community, expanding the season length was one of the union’s primary goals for the new agreement.
The agreement also includes annual increases in weekly salaries and in health coverage benefits. It is estimated that the new compensation package provides an average of 4.6% increase per year to the musicians. While this does not represent full recovery to pre-bankruptcy levels, it is a strong step in the right direction.
Significantly, the agreement rejects the concept of a two-tiered, A/B orchestra (where certain members of the orchestra would have been employed only during classical subscription performance weeks rather than full time). The Society had made such proposals last spring, but the union consistently and successfully rebuffed them at the bargaining table.
Emily Watkins Freudigman, Delegate, San Antonio Symphony
On September 25, the musicians of the New York Philharmonic ratified a new four-year contract, with the possibility of a fifth year pending further discussions regarding the pension plan. It was mostly a congenial negotiation, with the vast majority of time spent on pension issues.
Management wanted to freeze the defined benefit plan and to roll the musicians into the AFM-EPF. The musicians wanted to achieve a $75,000 pension during the life of the four-year contract that was being discussed.
Although the fourth year wound up at $70,000, it was agreed that there would be an actuarial study of alternatives to the current Philharmonic pension plan, with a view to increasing the pension benefit level to $75,000 at no significant addition cost to management in a potential fifth year of the contract. Any musician retiring at any point during the life of the contract will receive the pension increases that occur during the contract, up to the maximum pension benefit at the end of this agreement. Base weekly salaries in the first through fourth years are: $2,280, $2,380, $2,495, and $2,595. If a fifth year is agreed to, the base salary will be $2,700 per week, plus the usual $20 overscale.
Both sides feel confident that they will be able to reach agreement on the pension issue, and that there will be a fifth year of the contract. There were no other major changes to the contract, with health benefits remaining intact.
Kenneth Mirkin, Delegate, New York Philharmonic