Chicago Symphony Orchestra
by Steve Lester, Members Committee Chairman
The contentious and stalled negotiations between the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and the musicians of the CSO, represented by the Chicago Federation of Musicians, Local 10-208, resulted in a brief strike that affected only one service, a concert on Saturday, September 22. A new contract was agreed to on Monday, September 24, and ratified on Tuesday prior to the morning rehearsal. The details of the settlement are available in the ICSOM bulletin. Here is a summary of what happened, and some commentary.
One of the noteworthy elements of our recently completed negotiations is that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association began telling the Members Committee two years prior to the commencement of negotiations that major reductions were needed to our benefits. Further, they asserted in a new long-range plan called “Vision 2020” that the Association would be unable to meet our expenses (pension, health care, and salary), even if they remained flat, into the future.
These predictions were based on consultants who used worse case, politically motivated, inaccurate prognostication to “convince” a new and ultra-conservative board leadership that these changes must be made. Resurrecting the discredited jargon of the past, the dreaded “structural deficit” was cited, evidenced by the fact that the revenue from ticket sales could not be increased much beyond one-third of total revenue. This was coming from an organization that had an 86% renewal rate for subscriptions, over 83% capacity utilization, earned income of over $20 million, annual giving of $27 million, and an endowment of $238 million (on which they drew 4.75%), and whose staff outnumber the members of the orchestra—all achieved in the face of the worst economy since the Great Depression. The Association’s budget last year was $75 million, up over 11% from the year before. They have also already acknowledged that a major new endowment campaign is about to begin.
Clearly the Association has resources, but in the background is a problem from the past. In 1994 the Association decided to redevelop Orchestra Hall into Symphony Center, at an un-audited cost of $110 million. The Association raised over $92 million privately and received $60 million in TIF (Tax Increment Financing) funding from the City of Chicago (that was not acknowledged in the press or to the musicians). The Association then floated, in three separate issues, $144 million in bonds (acknowledged to the musicians only years after the fact). Currently the debt service paid by the Association on those bonds ranges from $4 million to $6 million per year, and the Association has no plans to retire these bonds. This is a sorry and all too familiar scenario in the orchestra world. Building takes precedence over music and musicians, and, as a consequence, mistakes or overreaching commitments by boards are paid for on the backs of their musicians.
In those two years before our negotiations began, every time the Association asked us to comment on, or react to a new retirement scheme, health plan, or major change in working conditions, we politely responded that, per the NLRA, mandatory subjects of bargaining must be discussed during a collective bargaining process when the current agreement expires. We are sure that this frustrated staff and trustee leadership, and they communicated that frustration to all concerned. We are very grateful for the wonderful support Gary Matts, president of the Chicago Federation of Musicians, and all of our union officials gave us at that time, and throughout this entire process.
So it was in this atmosphere that our negotiations commenced on July 13. At the first session, two Trustees spoke to us bout how much they admired the orchestra, loved music, had great respect, etc. Oh, and by the way, they want to know when they “write a check to the orchestra that effects their net worth, what are the musicians willing to do?” After they left the session, the Association negotiators, led by Marilyn Pearson, an attorney with experience representing managements of the airline industry in negotiations with airline unions, presented the union with 166 proposals that would have gutted the contract and left the Orchestra without key provisions and protections that had been in place for over 45 years. Not to mention a massive reduction in benefits.
As the negotiations continued it became apparent that, unlike the negotiations of the last 30 years, there would be issues of process. We were assigned a federal mediator. We felt that the Association had little respect for the process of negotiating. The Association engaged in a regressive style of bargaining. They failed to follow mediators’ requests. And most seriously, they unilaterally and improperly ended a press blackout. These problems in process were troublesome and tended to slow the negotiation to a snail’s pace.
When, on that Saturday afternoon, as we continued to negotiate in good faith to achieve a contract, and the Association once again backed off of an offer and forced a strike, it became apparent that they were prepared with press releases and strategies. When we went to picket the concert we were forced to explain our actions to patrons that should have been informed by the Association that the concert was cancelled. In the process, we were confronted by some angry people, but also by many concerned, knowledgeable patrons who were sympathetic. It was very heartwarming.
It is not impossible to figure out why this happened. The climate in the country among some members of these orchestra boards is very anti-musician and anti-employee. They see no connection between the musician and music. These same board members and staff recite the jargon that these cuts are necessary to save the institution—that structural deficits will kill orchestras. Our new board leadership, some of whom were involved in these negotiations, includes executives from United Airlines and the Tribune Company, both organizations that have used bankruptcies to void union contracts and benefits. The political proclivities of some board members and donors not to give money unless and until the unionized musicians are forced to give back hard-earned benefits and protections represent a failure of managements and board leadership alike. It is a recipe for ending the profession of musician, which will ultimately compromise the quality of the art we try to present.
We have had a good collaborative relationship with our management and a warm, respectful relationship with our trustees. On occasion we have thanked them for truly wonderful support. We feel that the current situation of the CSO, even with the issue of the bonds, is very strong and that the future should be bright. We were lucky; we did not face this time the same level of draconian cuts recently presented to our brother and sister musicians in many orchestras. But the basic attitude is the same, and it is deeply troubling. Moving forward will be difficult. The contract we ratified does not represent a net gain, and it will be a net loss after inflation. Our members are outraged, not just for us but also for all professional orchestral musicians who see their quality of life, their professionalism, and their art under attack. Our board leadership openly admits to talking to other orchestral board leadership. It is clear that these recent negotiations are the product of a coordinated strategy to lower the standard of living of musicians everywhere without regard for the effect this has on the art we are trying to preserve and cultivate. We are thankful for the incredible support our orchestra has received from colleagues everywhere and from our union. Our mutual support and our unity is our only real strength.
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
by Leslie Shank, ICSOM Delegate
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s contract expired on June 30, but there is a clause that kept it in place in case no agreement had been reached by then, until September 30. This is the first time that this clause has been utilized.
Our negotiations officially began in December 2011, and the musicians’ negotiating committee handed our first proposal to our management and board (the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Society) at that time. They had no proposal for us, other than to say that they needed to take out $1.5 million per year from the musicians’ contract (a total of $4.5 million over a three-year agreement) or the SPCO would begin a downward spiral of debt and lack of support due to this debt. We didn’t meet again until April, at which time they gave us their first concrete proposal. In summary, it would decrease our pay by 57% or 67%, depending on the instrument, and would essentially turn the orchestra into a freelance orchestra.
In June our board and management said they had heard our concerns and told us that they would go back to our top donors and attempt to raise more money for our contract. We offered to join them in this quest but were refused on the grounds that having musicians come along on these calls would put a “chill in the room,” and the donors would not be able to speak freely.
We met again in August to find out if their meetings with donors had produced any results, only to be presented with a second proposal, endorsed by these donors, that would provide a guarantee of 32 weeks of performances plus 4 vacation weeks, but would also provide a retirement incentive for anyone over the age of 55 (which includes 16 out of the 29 musicians who are left in the orchestra). We have since learned from our management that they went to their top donors with this idea, to help with a “transition to a new model.” Our complement is supposed to be 34, but we have a number of unfilled positions. The management has made it clear that the money for these retirement incentives would not be available for the operations of the orchestra, and they intend to reduce the size of the orchestra from 34 to 28, either by these retirements, attrition, or dismissal. They offered a $100,000 severance in those cases.
We have been disheartened by their clear intention to change the very structure of our contract, including taking away more of the musicians’ control over auditions, tenure and dismissal decisions, as well as changing the size of the orchestra on an ongoing basis. We had some meetings in September in which the musicians gave a third proposal, lowering the salary yet again, and offering grace periods to fill certain positions. We were flatly denied.
After the contract expired in September, we continued to meet. During those sessions, they said they had an idea to keep playing and talking. Their suggestion was to implement their last offer until February 3; if no agreement were ratified by that time, they would implement their agreement. We countered twice with lower salary numbers, keeping the current contract in place until November 19 in order to help them afford to play and talk. They turned down both offers.
This brings us to October 15, the start of a designated vacation week for the orchestra. We offered negotiation dates during the first week of November, but they told us that they wanted us to vote on their latest proposal by October 21, the end of that vacation week, or they would lock us out. We were unable to vote due to the fact that about half of our musicians were out of town due to the dark week. We were also waiting for requested information about the savings of their proposal in order to have all the facts needed for a vote.
At 6:00 p.m. on October 21, we were notified that we were locked out. On October 25, we received the requested information, and proceeded to organize a meeting to vote on October 31, when we knew more people would be in town. The musicians voted unanimously to reject their proposal based on our belief that it would be the destruction of our orchestra.
On November 1, Dobson West, interim president, announced the cancellation of concerts through December 31 “in consideration of the needs of our audience and guest artists to plan ahead.” Another meeting with management, assisted by federal mediator Jeanne Frank, was scheduled on November 8. At that meeting, the musicians proposed a new approach to the negotiations in an effort to preserve our ensemble’s artistic excellence and to improve its financial stability so that we could resume playing music for our community as soon as possible. Regrettably, the Society refused even to consider any reduction in overall musician compensation less than 33% and any reduction in the size of the orchestra that is not permanent and binding. The Society’s unwillingness to negotiate any of these terms has led to a complete breakdown in talks. We continue to hold out hope that there are voices within the Society that feel that there are other solutions to this crisis other than locking out the musicians and forcing us to accept these draconian proposals, and that these avenues can be explored in meaningful talks at the table.
Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra
by B. Stewart Williams, Local 72-147 Secretary-Treasurer
On September 25, the musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony voted to accept a new three-year collective bargaining agreement that includes modest wage increases in the second and third years and other improvements in pay and work rules. After a concessionary contract in 2010 resulted in the loss of contract weeks and a 13% reduction in yearly income, musicians were anxious to reach an agreement progressive enough to reflect a solid commitment from the FWSO management moving into the future. After several visits from progressive arts manager Michael Kaiser, and a fully guided strategic planning process by the DeVos Institute of Arts Management, the musicians were optimistic about the prospect of cutting a new deal with new FWSO president and CEO Amy Adkins.
Once the talks commenced last spring, the management made clear that they would not be offering much in the way of wage increases due to a deficit from the previous season and a grim forecast about the future. While the FWSO saw a deficit in the 2011–2012 season, it had ended the year before that with a surplus. Even so, the company put on the table a wage freeze to which they held tightly for many months. In the face of this, the union persistently maintained that a new beginning had to be made representing real progress in economics and working conditions for any agreement to be acceptable to the musicians.
As the summer months passed, orchestra members put together a number of organizing initiatives, solidifying efforts that had been made over the preceding two years. Drawing upon a “war chest” of funds established in 2010, plans were made to prepare for the worst in case a job action became necessary. By late August the FWSO still had failed to put a progressive wage deal on the table, sending a message to the orchestra that the hoped-for dramatic turnaround by the new administration was not likely. Facing this reality the orchestra moved forward with its plan.
On August 30 orchestra musicians presented a benefit concert at Fort Worth’s Arborlawn United Methodist Church raising money for meals for at-risk children. This put the FWSO musicians out into the public, raising awareness about themselves and providing a forum for speaking to the public, while serving a good cause. For circulation at this event and all other FWSO performances, a full-color musicians booklet was produced and printed by the musicians themselves. In addition, to reach out and further educate the surrounding community, a series of documentary videos profiling a number of FWSO players was produced by FWSO bassist Paul Unger and filmmaker Erik Clapp. The book and the videos, which were featured at the benefit concert, continue to be available at the musicians’ website.
Through these organizing efforts and a solid demonstration of the orchestra’s solidarity at the table, the management received the message, despite its own misgivings, that a progressive deal had to be offered to the orchestra. After one last grueling session shortly before midnight on September 17, the negotiation team reluctantly agreed to recommend a three-year agreement with a wage increase of 1.5% in year two and 2% in year three.
Despite no increase in weeks of employment and minimal wage increases, the deal included a significant list of improvements. For the first time in the orchestra’s history, seniority pay was instituted for full-time and part-time musicians. The transportation allowance for part-time musicians and travel per diem for all musicians was raised for the first time in 20 years. Numerous changes in work rules were negotiated to allow musicians more flexibility in managing their leave time, and pit services for Bass Hall’s Broadway Series will now be contracted outside of regular FWSO services. In addition, two incumbent part-time musicians are to be converted to existing full-time vacancies. Pressure from the negotiation team also induced the association to shop for reduced health insurance premiums, which was done successfully.
The musicians of the FWSO invested much time and energy into communicating their needs and demonstrating their conviction to achieving progress at the bargaining table. They are committed to furthering their efforts to maximize their strength at the table in future negotiations. “Our players assembly functions as a family. Each and every member has been forthcoming with ideas by sticking together and keeping symphonic music at the forefront of our community. The negotiating team is very proud of our assembly’s accomplishments, and seeing how well we collaborate makes me excited to go to work every day,” said negotiation committee member Lesley Cleary. The FWSO’s negotiation team consisted of orchestra members Sterling Procter (chair), Lesley Cleary, Ola Holowka, Paul Unger, and Peter Unterstein, along with Local 72-147 officers and counsel Yona Rozen.
National Symphony Orchestra
by Jennifer Mondie, Orchestra Committee Chairman
On September 3, 2012, the musicians of the National Symphony Orchestra were pleased to ratify a four-year agreement that runs through September 5, 2016. This fact, routine and unremarkable in most years, is actually quite remarkable in a year that has seen difficult orchestra negotiations in many major U.S. orchestras. That the National Symphony was able to reach an agreement, on time and with actual salary increases in each of the four years of its term, is testimony to the healthy artistic environment of the Kennedy Center and the good will that exists between NSO musicians, board and management.
There are so many people who work so hard to nurture that good will. The members of the orchestra committee were Bill Foster, Abigail Evans, Mark Evans, Ira Gold, and Jenny Mondie. We must thank Local 161-710, and in particular President Ed Malaga for all the support he gave both personally and in the resources he made available to us. We must also thank our legal counselors from Bredhoff and Kaiser, Jeff Freund, Anne Mayerson, and Jacob Karabell. They were our voice and they made us well spoken. Most unusually we would like to thank the NSO management. They were the kind of respectful sparring partners that make what could be a hideous and destructive process into a productive and civil one.
Chief among the orchestra committee’s concerns for this round of negotiations was to ensure stability in salary. During the terms of this agreement we agreed to 1.78%, 2%, 2%, and 2.35% yearly increases in both scale and seniority. To address pension concerns, especially for new members of the orchestra for whom the AFM-EPF is not a particularly viable benefit right now, in the last year of the contract the musicians as a collective may elect to divert some or all of that year’s salary increase to an employer-contribution 403(b). We agreed to reasonable restrictions on various insurances that our management provides. For example, a new cap on instrument insurance was set at $1.5 million per person and there were new limits set on the cost of health insurance to management in any given year, similar to the structure that has been in place for the last four years.
In non-economic areas, we agreed to allow a greater number of evening and weekend services, primarily to cultivate donor and audience support. We initiated an option for the orchestra to vote on any tour in its entirety in order to give management more flexibility in scheduling. There are also increases in per diem of 10% over the life of the contract.
Finally, there is a new procedure spelled out for auditions for titled positions if the first open national audition does not produce a winner. In exchange, the audition committee now must qualify candidates in audition finals before they can be considered by the music director. Before, the decision was the music director’s alone in the final round.
Of course, this is a truncated list and does not do justice to the extensive preparations and complex negotiations that made up this long process. A more comprehensive list of settlement details was sent via Orchestra-L in September. Regardless of the details, we are all very proud of what we have achieved together and hope that it sends the message that the arts and classical orchestral music are very much alive and thriving in Washington, DC.
by Louise Alexander, ICSOM Delegate
The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra players committee, which also serves as the musician’s negotiating committee, began negotiations with the Indiana Symphony Society at the beginning of June 2012, and first proposals were exchanged later that month. The Society’s initial proposal called for a reduction in weeks from 52 to 32, a reduction in wages from $78,000 to $33,600, paid vacation cut from 91⁄2 weeks to 5 days of personal time off, freezing the defined benefit pension and replacing it with a 403(b) plan offering to match up to 3% of scale, and, perhaps most ominously, a reduction in the size of the orchestra from 79 to 63 players. Additionally, substitute scale was to be reduced from 88% to 70% of scale, and our sub list was to be augmented by up to 4 string “fellows” (i.e., students) who would be paid 50% of scale.
The committee and our attorney, Mel Schwarzwald, were shocked by the extreme nature of this proposal, particularly as the information that had been presented by management to the committee and the orchestra during the previous nine months had been positive in many respects. While we were prepared to make some concessions, we certainly were not anticipating a proposal to completely restructure the institution. The initial response of the committee was to terminate our agreement to a media blackout and to state that the imposition of such a proposal would ruin the institution.
The ISO is facing a number of challenges that we believe led to this proposal. Our CEO resigned in February, and our CFO was named as interim CEO. We are also without development and marketing directors. A $100 million endowment drive, which had been linked to being able to continue as an orchestra with a $26 million budget, fell far short of the goal. With the failure of the endowment campaign and a draw of over $11 million from the $91 million endowment to pay operating costs of the 2011–2012 season, the board responded by proposing a drastic downsizing in order to achieve “sustainability.”
Two-and-a-half months after they made their initial proposal we learned how they wanted to achieve the reduction to 63 musicians. Musicians with the least number of years of service were to be let go first. It turned out that 14 of the musicians who would be terminated under that plan were string players. Half of the bass section and two members of the negotiating committee would have been marked for termination. The musicians they proposed to terminate have years of service ranging from 0 days to 32 years.
During two-and-a-half months of negotiating, the Society and the union had reached very few points of agreement. We were hopeful that the Society would agree to play-and-talk negotiations, which we proposed at a 16% reduction of pay. Unfortunately the Society chose to lock out the musicians on September 8, 2012.
We reached an “agreement in principle” in off-the-record talks held September 11 and 12. However, the following week, at a formal meeting, the Society insisted on the addition of a contract termination clause that, if triggered, would allow them to opt out of the final two years of the agreement. Since the last two years had important raises to somewhat recover from the large cuts of the initial years, the committee’s position was that we could not accept any proposal that had a contract termination clause.
During the fifth week of the lockout, the Society proposed another off-the-record meeting. At that meeting we reached a compromise that was subsequently ratified on October 15. The musicians have agreed to work under a “bridge agreement” that gets us back on stage and gives the Society three months to raise $5 million from new donors, those who have made no contributions to the annual or endowment funds during the past two years. If that goal is met, the bridge agreement automatically becomes part of the first year of the agreed upon five-year contract. If the goal is not met, the respective positions will revert to their state as of September 4.
The terms of this agreement represent a major concession by the ISO musicians. Salary in the first year drops to $53,000, with raises in each year of the contract ($53,000, $57,000, $60,000, $64,000 and $70,000). The season will have 38 weeks in the first year, rising to 42 in the last.
There are several positive notes to report. The first is the agreement by the Society to continue the defined benefit pension plan for all current members, with new members going into a 403(b) plan having Society contributions that reach 8% and do not require a musician match. Second, we have maintained our very good health insurance plan with no premium increases. Also, we have established an ISO audience association, which grew to over 1,000 names during the lockout.
During the lockout we presented two very successful concerts, one led by our conductor emeritus, Raymond Leppard, and the other featuring Andre Watts. Both concerts benefited a youth orchestra with which the musicians have an association. In addition, we presented daily lunch-hour concerts in front of our hall. We were led in these public relations efforts, as well as in frequent meetings with various media in the city, by our very capable and effective public relations advisor, Lara Beck.
Thank you to all of our ICSOM colleagues who responded to the Call to Action issued by the ICSOM Governing Board.
by the Minnesota Orchestra Negotiating Committee
When the Minnesota Orchestra’s contract expired on September 30, 2012, the Minnesota Orchestral Association wasted no time. Within just eight hours of the midnight expiration, they had already locked out their musicians and cancelled all concerts through November 25.
The musicians had received a draconian contract proposal from the Association in April at the first negotiating session. That proposal encompassed 30% to 50% percent cuts in wages and over 250 changes to working conditions. There have been no significant changes to the Association’s position during the past seven months.
At issue is the Association’s contention that, without severe cuts in musicians’ wages, the orchestra’s $150 million plus endowment would be completely depleted in five years. We have questioned the accuracy of that assertion and have asked for an independent financial analysis of the Association’s books. These requests have been repeatedly denied. The Association has not provided any audited financial information to the musicians more recent than August 2011. Despite multiple requests, the Association has failed to provide a copy of the approved 2012–2013 budget to the musicians.
In September, the Association touted that they had raised $97 million in the Building for the Future campaign. That amount includes $14 million in taxpayer funding for the $50 million lobby renovation project.
On September 30, in a last-ditch effort to stave off a lockout and continue performing for our audiences, the musicians offered to submit the entire contract to binding arbitration. That offer, as well as an offer to continue to play and talk under our current agreement, was quickly rebuffed. That evening, the musicians voted unanimously, in solidarity, to reject the final offer of the Association.
On December 15 and 16 the musicians will present two concerts at the University of Minnesota conducted by our former music director, Edo DeWaart. Both of these concerts were sold out within days of their announcement to the public. The program will include Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the Bach Double Violin Concerto performed by our former concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis and our current concertmaster, Erin Keefe. We are very grateful to Edo and Jorja for this show of support.
The musicians continue to work towards a solution that would enable us to retain our status as one of the nation’s premier orchestras.
Our negotiating committee (Burt Hara, Tony Ross, Catherine Schubilske, Doug Wright, and Tim Zavadil) would like to give special thanks to our attorney, Bruce Simon, and to President Brad Eggen and Secretary-Treasurer Tom Baskerville of the Twin Cities Musicians Union, Local 30-73.