The economy was in the tank, and we were at a very, very low point in terms of financial stability due to our previous administration. Six positions remained unfilled by mutual agreement to avoid financial catastrophe. It was not a pretty picture.
As in every negotiation, our negotiating committee began by taking a survey. The results of that survey were disheartening to several of us, but we had to look at them objectively and take the message seriously. Our initial proposal called for a two-year agreement, restoring the 11% due to us in year four of the previous agreement, which had been reopened, as well as restoration of all positions. The counter offer we received six weeks later was brutal. Management “offered”: a five-year agreement cutting two weeks from the season, elimination of all paid leave, elimination of instrument insurance, elimination of all six positions, a 40% cut in guarantee for Oboe III, and integrating our Community Engagement services into the regular service count.
Consulting with our lawyer, Jon Axelrod, as well as several colleagues from around the country, we set out to pick the offer apart piecemeal. We researched instrument insurance options and found the vso a rate that would save them thousands of dollars. We obtained records on paid leave, analyzed the data, and discovered that the true cost to the VSO was less than half what was presented by management. Additionally, we were absolutely unwilling to fold our Community services into our salary.
Our counter offer edged closer to their position in terms of weeks. We held firm on the positions and on our paid leave. We proposed total elimination of the Community Engagement program if, as they said, it was too costly. This tactic was successful in keeping those services outside our salary and optional.
Going into September, it became clear that we would need mediation. Federal Mediator Rich Giaccholone was indispensable. The first thing he did was get both sides to agree to drop the old format of offers and counter-offers.
Our first session in mediation was spent brainstorming ways to increase revenues for the orchestra. During those four hours our team suggested hundreds of ideas to raise revenue. Our executive director, being new to the job, learned a lot during that session about our specific circumstances and regional niceties. The next session was spent talking about ways to reduce spending.
An agreement was finally reached when management increased their offer using some of our revenue ideas. The two-week cut remains, but we will receive a 15% raise in our weekly rate over the term of the agreement. This, however, was at the expense of converting the six unfilled positions into per-service positions. The issue of paid leave was unexpectedly complex. Management proposed to eliminate the distinctions between sick and personal leave. For various reasons, we decided to take that offer.
What I Know For Sure:
- Know your orchestra to a member. Know what they will and won’t accept.
- Know your community in the same way. What works in Texas won’t work in New England and vice-versa.
- Cultivate a relationship with your board members. I truly think this is what saved us as an orchestra.
- Reach out to as many sources as possible, but trust your instincts as to what will work.
- Get a great committee together! On the off season, work on wooing potential committee members.
- Never stop loving your colleagues. Take the time to do so and you will be a better leader.