At the 2009 ICSOM Conference in Norfolk, Virginia, delegates presented a resolution from the floor directing the ICSOM Governing Board to make public to ICSOM members the comments that ICSOM Chairperson Bruce Ridge delivered to the International Executive Board (IEB) of the AFM in Las Vegas on July 27, 2009. These comments were delivered at the IEB’s annual meeting with the Locals’ Conferences Council (LCC) and the Player Conferences Council (PCC). The IEB, AFM staff, representatives of the LCC, and the heads of ICSOM, ROPA, OCSM, and the Theater Musicians Association (TMA) were present.
Although Chairperson Ridge’s comments, among his calls for unity, contain criticisms of the delayed and subverted process through which the president of the AFM hired the new director of the Symphonic Services Division (SSD), the ICSOM Governing Board wishes to reemphasize, as Ridge did in his remarks, that these are not intended as criticisms of the current SSD director or staff but rather to serve as an argument for increased support for the SSD from the AFM president.
It is a pleasure to be here with you all in Las Vegas. When we gathered here last summer, I spoke to you about ICSOM’s commitment to unity within our union, and about the need for a change in the perception that the Federation does not serve the needs of musicians in America’s symphony orchestras as fully and completely as support provided by those musicians to the Union would seem to call for. This year of difficulty for ICSOM orchestras has not alleviated the concern I expressed to you last summer.
You all know me well, and I’m certain that you know how much it pains me that at this meeting I must deliver a difficult message.
In the 13 months since we spoke of that perception, your union members that perform in symphony orchestras have faced an unprecedented crisis. The worldwide recession and resulting economic crisis have wreaked havoc upon our orchestras and your members.
My phone rings constantly with new heartbreaking stories of orchestras struggling for survival, and AFM musicians fighting to feed their families, pay their mortgages, maintain their pensions, and remain in the profession to which they have dedicated their childhood and adult lives.
The musicians of the Honolulu Symphony, one of America’s oldest and most resilient orchestras, are owed over 13 weeks in pay. Orchestra after orchestra has been approached to renegotiate their collective bargaining agreements and pressured into making concessions of sometimes huge amounts. The Cincinnati Symphony took a pay cut of 11%. My own orchestra, the North Carolina Symphony, will return to work in September to find a 17% cut in pay.
Charlotte, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Virginia, Oregon, Atlanta, Nashville, Phoenix, Utah, Colorado, San Antonio, and many other AFM orchestras have faced this pressure.
Despite the economic downturn, attendance for many of our orchestras continues to rise! Prior to the recession, a renaissance was occurring for orchestras in America, and we believe that these orchestras will play a crucial role in the economic recovery that lies ahead. After all, 5.7 million jobs in America are provided by the arts, resulting in over $166 billion in economic activity. In our cities, our orchestras are frequently the most visible cultural institution. We are ambassadors for our communities, and we are economic engines for business.
It brings me no pleasure to say that, while symphonic musicians have never needed the support of the Federation more, they have never had it less.
In this year of need, the major managers have had the ability to generate nearly instant surveys communicating within their network about ways to curtail the growth of our orchestras. The Federation, on the other hand, has had difficulty even producing the annual wage charts.
In this year of need, the Symphonic Services Division of the Federation has remained understaffed. Actually, “remained” is not even quite accurate. In fact, it has become more understaffed than ever before. While we have long acknowledged the need for an additional negotiator, and long advocated for the expansion of the staff, we now have (instead of a third full-time negotiator) one full-time negotiator, and one negotiator who must also split his duties as director of the division.
While we understand from conversations with the new director that an analysis of staff positions is underway, and that a few new people are being brought into the department, we nonetheless have to wonder why it took so long to begin these critical moves. Reluctantly, we must express our dismay, and the dismay of ICSOM’s 4,000 members in 51 orchestras, that in our time of greatest need, the Federation stood largely silent.
In this year of need, the position of director of the SSD remained unfilled for 9 or 10 months, depending on just when you start counting. From the time that the previous director announced that she would be leaving, it was six or seven months before the process had moved along far enough to even begin the interview sessions, the cost of which (by the way) was borne by the Player Conferences and not the Federation. Following those interviews, it was over three more months before an appointment was made, despite the fact that the unanimous recommendation of the Symphonic Player Conferences was delivered in person to the president of the Federation on January 8.
About the appointment, let me be clear: It is our desire that the Division succeed in its mission, and it is our fervent intention to work with the new director and to help him in any way possible. He does have our support. But, it should be known and acknowledged that he was not the unanimous choice of the musicians he will be representing, and the invidious process through which the final selection was made was unfortunate, misleading, damaging, divisive…and, more than anything else…utterly unnecessary.
We do appreciate that talks were held with our unanimous choice, a person that had unique abilities and represented the best hope for a harmonious department and strong relationships throughout the field. But, it is stunning to us that the talks broke down over what would best be described as a small amount of money. This, especially when we were told that the one unassailable requirement for a new director would be residency in New York. As the new director will not be fulfilling that requirement, the added expenses to the Federation in travel costs alone would more than make up for the difference in salary that cost us our unanimous choice.
Despite that small figure, I was able to convince the unanimous choice to reconsider and accept the president’s last, best and final salary offer. I did so following a consultation with the president, and I did so with the president’s full knowledge.
Despite my success, we were shocked to learn that while I was doing the Federation’s bidding, the president was offering the position to a candidate who had not even been mentioned to me in a conversation that same day. Within 18 hours, the president had been notified that my talks with the unanimous choice had been successful, and that he was willing to accept the president’s offer.
Imagine my embarrassment. Imagine how mystified I must have felt by this turn of events after spending the first few years of my term as chairman of ICSOM working to build a supportive and friendly relationship with the president, the IEB, and every local officer I could meet.
Regarding my ability to convince the unanimous choice to accept the president’s offer, let me state firmly that ICSOM never made an offer to make up the difference in salary. Rather, it was merely my conveyance of the fact that working with ICSOM, ROPA, and OCSM afforded the unanimous choice an opportunity to make a huge difference in the field, and that is what convinced him to accept a position with the Federation even though it represented a difficult cut in pay from his current position.
But, unknown to me, and unknown to the candidate, and unknown to the representatives of the other Player Conferences, the position was no longer open.
Why? Why create ill will so unnecessarily? Why create ill will where none existed? How does treating loyal friends like this serve the cause of unity? How does this invidious action serve the symphonic members of this union, or for that matter any member of this union?
Still, we must move forward. And while this breach of trust and friendship was not caused by the leadership of the Player Conferences or our members, we remain eager and willing to attempt to restore the trust that has been lost. We simply must do so in order to keep this union alive, and in order to serve the members that support it so loyally.
Despite the fact that symphonic musicians make up only about 10% of the Federation’s membership, in 2007 figures they support the union financially through 55% of the work dues, translating into around $2 million a year. ICSOM alone has over 4,000 members in approximately 46 locals, and none of these locals could survive without the financial support of their ICSOM orchestras. Recognizing this, ICSOM has worked to reach out to our local officers, advocating for improved, supportive and strong relationships. We have begun sending our newsletter to every local in the country, and I am delighted that many of these locals have reciprocated. I now receive their newsletters as well. I learn so much about our union and our musicians through these local newsletters.
In my travels across the country I have always made sure to visit with the local officers as I meet with the orchestras. It is my desire to visit not only our nation’s great concert halls, but our great union halls as well. Building trusting relationships throughout the union and the field is the primary goal of this Governing Board of ICSOM.
In the midst of these criticisms, I do want to acknowledge and offer our appreciation for several things. As we prepare for our annual Conference, we are interested in offering a platform for the AFM to advance its legislative agenda. We are grateful to President Lee for allowing Hal Ponder to travel to Norfolk to address our delegates. And we are further grateful that Trish Polach will be able to attend to address the new Integrated Media Agreement.
It is true that the Federation has indeed been willing to invest in national media contracts, but as important as national media is to our orchestras, these media contracts result in but a fraction of our incomes, and as we face this unprecedented crisis, no national media contract will save any orchestra. Still, we are grateful that at least this investment has been made by the Federation.
In this economic downturn, another source of great concern for our members is the health of the AFM Pension plan. It is our hope that the representatives of the AFM-EPF who will be attending our conference will address these concerns, and we are again grateful to the president for authorizing their attendance. We further hope and expect that the president will also address these pension concerns in his address to the delegates, and will offer the same update that has been received by the Southern Conference, among others.
Despite the crisis that has occurred in this year of need, some orchestras continue to make advancements. San Francisco, Dallas, Saint Louis, among a handful others, have settled contracts that demonstrate gains. This is indicative of the viability of the art form we practice. Our musicians must be prepared to help educate their boards and managements as to the best way we can be positioned to benefit from the recovery that lies ahead. But in order to do that, we need unity and we need investment in the Symphonic Services Division. Our network of communication must be more efficient. An investment in the department would mean both additional staff, as well as competitive pay for the most qualified people.
I use the word investment, as that is precisely what a new dedication to the SSD would mean for the Federation. As previously stated, the support of ICSOM, ROPA, and OCSM musicians means $2 million a year to the Federation’s roughly $10 million budget.
The managers have an instant network that can communicate strategies that have called for permanent reductions in the budget and pay scales of our orchestras. We must be prepared to fight that. Our musicians need services, education, support, quick answers, and timely tools such as the wage charts. We must stand united against any attempt by any manager to take advantage of this temporary cyclical downturn in the economy. The managers have developed a new catch phrase to replace the old phrase of “structural deficit.” The new catch phrase is “The new economic reality.” We really don’t know what is so new about a recession. Instead, I have taken to calling the manager’s new phrase “The New Apocalypticism.”
In 1958, the United States found itself mired in a deep recession. Sales of automobiles that year fell 31%, and unemployment in Detroit stood at 20%, which is a comparable figure to 2009. There was a debate within the Eisenhower administration about the budget, with the president insisting on a balanced budget from the Congress, and with Vice-President Nixon concerned that such a balanced budget could deepen the recession, leading to mid-term election losses and undermining his own campaign for the presidency in 1960. Eisenhower won out, the recession deepened, and Nixon lost the 1960 election, due in part to the economy (and also several thousand votes harvested from cemeteries on the outskirts of Chicago.) I’ve always thought the lesson of this was that, in a recession, you don’t balance your budget, but you manage your debt.
The pay cuts we are seeing will create great hardships for AFM members. The reduction in salary will mean a reduction in work dues generated for the Federation. But more so, it will mean higher health costs for musicians, as well as increased struggles to care for their families. Orchestral musicians are a small percentage of the AFM’s members, but we pay a disproportionate amount in dues. In this year of need, our members simply do not have any more to give in dues.
I urge you to invest in this understaffed department. I urge you to invest in your members. I urge you to serve the needs of those who stand ready to serve each other, their communities, and the union.
When hands of trust and friendship are extended, I urge you to reach back. We can and we must heal the damage that has been done to the relationship this season. For if further acts of neglect or further breaches of trust are incurred, we risk going down a path of divisiveness that has haunted other areas of the Federation.
The crisis is not over for orchestras in America. Even as the economy begins its slow recovery, our orchestras face tremendous difficulties as endowments suffer, and charitable giving is diminished. It will be the rededication of our musicians to serving their communities that saves our orchestras.
This year’s ICSOM Conference in Norfolk, Virginia, will be perhaps one of our most important meetings in our history. Our presence in Norfolk will serve to bring attention to the plight of the Virginia Symphony as that great orchestra fights for survival and reinvestment. We are excited that Mr. Michael Kaiser, perhaps the most expert consultant on arts organizations in America, will be there to address how our orchestras can thrive into the future.
Going forward, we pledge to communicate our needs, and we renew a pledge that we have never broken. All of our communications will be in the interest of our members and the AFM, and I believe that you know that all of our communication will be open, courteous, and forthright. We are advocates for unity. Please, join us in this cause.