It is difficult to ignore the current economy and its potential impact on our orchestras. During periods of such uncertainty, managements may seek to open up current agreements to ask for concessions. Chairperson Ridge’s timely and well-written column contains many important points to consider during such discussions. My column is intended to provide additional perspectives.
Like many young men, I was a Boy Scout as a youngster. Their familiar motto is “Be Prepared.” I can think of no greater advice for ICSOM musicians and committees during bargaining, especially when concessions are possibly at stake.
Being prepared includes:
- Understanding your orchestra’s true financial picture
- Mobilizing the orchestra beyond just the negotiating committee members
- Enlisting the services of your local, SSD, ICSOM, and possible consultants
- Obtaining ICSOM musician support
Learn as much as you can about your orchestra’s finances. Be sure to request and study their audited financial statements, IRS Forms 990, and management generated internal financial reports. Request the detailed versions as well as summary views from several years so that you are better equipped to understand the true financial picture. Also request endowment reports from each entity that holds funds for your orchestra’s use, especially when not included in the audited financial reports. Part of managements’ responsibility to bargain in good faith is to provide negotiating committees with financial materials in a timely manner.
One terrific resource the AFM provides to every ICSOM negotiating committee is to have AFM’s independent financial consultant, Ron Bauers, available to conduct an independent third-party analysis of your orchestra’s finances. The process is simple. Ask the local to make a written request to the AFM/SSD; Ron will use the necessary materials to complete a thorough review of the orchestra’s finances. Also take advantage of the conference call with Ron, which will help explain the report to us neophytes. The AFM and local split the cost of this service with no additional cost to the musicians.
The phrase “information is power” has been an ICSOM cornerstone for decades. During negotiations, the responsibility falls to the committee to keep the full orchestra and the local regularly informed. Naturally, specific details about negotiating strategy and other confidential issues are not to be shared publicly. Holding regular orchestra meetings, though, will help keep the orchestra informed and address the many questions/concerns about this stressful time.
Maintaining a close connection to the musicians helps to build the solidarity needed to weather tough times. Of course, musicians should learn about the progress of negotiations through their committee and not management. Individual musician meetings with management and/or board members often backfire and create division within the orchestra. Whether by intent or not, management and board members all too often pull individual musicians aside either to pump them for information or to make their case away from the table. The best counterattack is to cultivate an atmosphere of open and frequent communication with the bargaining unit and, in return, for musicians to trust their elected committee leaders.
Many an orchestra sends representatives to the board of trustees, board sub-committees, or even the executive committee. Regular communication back to the elected musician committees and full orchestra about the work of these groups should be common course, particularly during negotiations. It is important to remember that any musician who serves on a board or related committee does so as a representative of the full orchestra. How many times have we heard an executive director or board chair assert that musicians must park their “musician hats” at the door when entering a board meeting? This is simply not appropriate and ultimately can be quite problematic for all of the obvious reasons.
One trend to watch closely is the increase in number of orchestras that use an outside consultant to perform institution-wide assessments and feasibility studies. While there may be some benefit to musicians—and that is debatable—issues abound. Consider having the musicians and the local included in the initial discussions of whether to engage such a consultant. If a decision to engage is mutually reached, there is merit to having both parties hire the consultant, not just the management/board. In addition, any interviews and/or working groups in which musicians participate should be meticulously planned. All musician representatives should, of course, be selected by the full orchestra and not simply appointed by management or the board.
Reports about declining and graying audiences continue to find their way into bargaining sessions. Rather than simply accepting these reports as fact, request the specific titles and authors. Research those reports and seek out contrasting information. Question everything. For every gloom and doom report released there is an equally compelling story of success and positive change.
The positive turnaround in ticket sales and attendance for many ICSOM orchestras following the horrific events of 9/11 took creative and energetic leadership as well as concentrated focus within those institutions. In addition, the Baltimore Symphony and the Florida Orchestra recently turned their financial pictures around with the assistance of new and improved leadership that engaged all of the different constituencies: staff, board, musicians, and their communities. A key to each success was that they did not succumb to the “gloom and doom” reports from outside (and even within) our industry.
Just this past November 15, the Houston Chronicle published an article titled “Investment in Art Pays Off for the Houston Economy.” It is truly refreshing to read an article that actually promotes the value of the arts in a community. The article reported that Houston’s not-for-profit cultural organizations and their audiences generate over $626 million annually and support more than 14,000 full-time-equivalent jobs. What a truly powerful message this is for civic and business leaders as well as for Houston residents. One of the authors is Robert Lynch, the president and CEO of Americans for the Arts (AFTA). AFTA is the leading nonprofit arts advocacy organization in the country. ICSOM is proud to have recently forged what promises to be an important partnership with AFTA. Every ICSOM musician is encouraged to learn more and to join their Arts Action Fund.
The strongest bargaining units regularly inform and empower their members. Consider exploring ways for musicians to become even more involved. Examples might include the creation of publicity campaigns and player association websites, meet-and-greet sessions with audience members before and after performances, musician announcements from the concert stage, receptions hosted for board members and donors, “take a board member to lunch” invitations, and cultivating relationships with music critics and other interested community leaders. There are many creative and rewarding ways to highlight the valuable contributions our musicians make to their orchestras and communities.
ICSOM remains ready to assist negotiating orchestras in need. In the past we have hosted conference calls with committees, local presidents, and attorneys of negotiating orchestras along with members of the Governing Board, ICSOM counsel, and SSD folks. During just the past four years, 18 ICSOM orchestras of all budget sizes have participated. We will make this service available again upon request. Please contact me for more information.
This holiday season is an appropriate time to reflect on the tremendous generosity and goodwill extended by ICSOM musicians to their colleagues in Jacksonville and Columbus. Your collective responses were heartening and continue to inspire the Governing Board. There is no limit to what ICSOM can do when we work together.