The recent successor master agreement reached between the Cincinnati Musicians Association, Local 1, American Federation of Musicians, and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra represents another step forward in an ever-increasing process of collaboration between the parties. There has been a considerable history of cordial relations among the musicians, union, Cincinnati Symphony Board of Trustees, and management for decades. The complete absence of grievances or work stoppages for over forty years, despite challenges that might have created problems in less co-operative environments, is strong evidence of the shared goals of institutional stability and success. Much of the groundwork for this atmosphere was laid by former Local 1 President Eugene V. Frey and former Cincinnati Symphony President Steven Monder, who both believed in the necessity for compromise over confrontation. Another key element has been the growing ties between musicians and symphony board members since the inception of musician board participation and the formation of joint fund raising committees following a financial shortfall in 1992.
Despite earlier efforts for a stable and invincible financial future for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, contract discussions in 2009 began against the backdrop of the recession of 2008. The eroded value of the endowment investments had diminished credit limits to levels insufficient to maintain cash flow, and the cessation of future recording projects by Telarc Corporation resulted in the temporary loss of Electronic Media Guarantee payments. The union and musician negotiators, along with newly appointed Cincinnati Symphony President and CEO Trey Devey, forged a concessionary agreement that would restore previous salary levels and include a small increase by September of 2013. Bridge funding provided by a group of board members helped ease cash problems, and the creation of the Louise Dieterle Nippert Musical Arts Fund in 2009 provided further stability.
Lurking behind the scene of all these cautious steps forward was another difficulty, namely, funding requirements for the private defined-benefit pension plan that had been frozen in 1994. In order to procure $10 million to fully fund this plan, the CBA was modified and extended until 2015, freezing salaries at the restored 2008 level and providing increases in the extra two years. The termination of the pension plan and subsequent sale to Massachusetts Mutual guaranteed continuing benefits to all participants of the plan, and the orchestra was freed from any future financial obligations to the pension plan. The symphony board was also charged with the adoption of a set of responsible business practices and with fully funding two extra weeks of work for the orchestra, despite the loss of two vacation weeks for the musicians.
Since 2009, monthly meetings have taken place that include the management, the Cincinnati Symphony Players Committee, the union president, the two musician board members, and the business agent for Local 5 of IATSE. This joint group is known as the Communications Committee, and the latest financial positions of the institution have been shared openly. The negotiating counselors, Barbara A. Jaccoma, who represents Local 1, and Mark Stepaniak, representing the Cincinnati Symphony, also receive this information. By early October of 2013, Trey Devey announced that he was hoping to raise an additional $15 million for the endowment before the commencement of contract negotiations in 2015. Devey announced a revised goal of $20 million to the musicians during one of his semi-annual “state of the orchestra” addresses in February of 2014.
The musicians had relentlessly stressed the importance of filling orchestra vacancies from the moment of Devey’s arrival in 2009. While the Cincinnati Symphony has never had a required minimum number in its master agreements, the orchestra had kept its roster at ninety-nine musicians for decades. By 2011, the orchestra complement had fallen to seventy-eight tenure-track players. At every board meeting and in statements to the audiences, Trey consistently articulated the need to restore these positions. The great challenge confronting both sides entering the latest negotiations was the creation of a balance to fill and sustain these positions while providing salary increases.
In a departure from established negotiating protocol, Players Committee Chair Ted Nelson and I (as Local President) received a pre-negotiation glimpse of the financial terms and proposal for a five-year agreement that included 1.5% salary increases and a non-salary cash payment to all current tenure-track players, as well as a roster of eighty-nine permanent musicians. Working condition “neutrality”, i.e., no major changes to non-economic subjects, was another component of the proposal. In the ensuing rounds of discussions, the amount and distribution of the cash supplement was a topic of careful consideration by the committee and the union. In the end, the payment was increased to $10,000, and it was offered to the players as either a single payment, a single contribution to a 403(b), or a combination of a payment and a 403(b) addition. Because the endowment campaign exceeded the goal and reached an astonishing $26 million in pledges, the number of tenure-track musicians to be hired was increased to ninety by the expiration of the agreement in 2020. The additional $6 million will enable a reduction in the endowment draw from 5% to 4.5%.
The response from the musicians in the ratification vote was overwhelmingly favorable, with thoughtful questions posed during the contract presentation. The long-term stability of a five-year agreement was appealing to the musicians. A positive surprise, particularly to two musicians who are retiring at the end of the 2014-15 season, was that the cash supplement is to be paid upon ratification.
The widespread support for the orchestra and the generosity of the Cincinnati philanthropic community cannot be underestimated, particularly among those who have stepped forward to increase the endowment so substantially within the past year. The challenges of increasing orchestra complement and growing salary were addressed responsibly and collaboratively by all. Each negotiation is another waypoint in a continuing journey, and this settlement reinforces the achievement of the musicians, board members, union and management as joint stakeholders in the future of Cincinnati’s revered orchestra.