A GRS Negotiation Update
The musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony (all members of the AFM Local 56, Grand Rapids) have been negotiating for a new contract since April 27th with the Grand Rapids Symphony Society. The four-year agreement between the musicians and the Society expired August 31, 2015. Since September 1st, the musicians have been working without a successor contract in a “work and talk” situation.
While negotiation sessions over the summer had been productive in terms of many non-financial issues, there remains distance between both sides regarding the financial aspects of the proposals. The musicians want the GRS to grow along with the city that currently is experiencing a boom like never before, while the management wants to turn back the clock, decreasing pay and benefits to its musicians.
The summer of 2015 included three important visits to GRS Musicians from leaders in our industry: Bruce Ridge, Nathan Kahn, and Randy Whatley.
ICSOM Chair Bruce Ridge flew to Grand Rapids for a three-day site visit to ICSOM’s newest orchestra. During his time in our city, Bruce had meetings with the musicians and several committees, as well as board, management, and Local leadership. He also attended a GRS concert in DeVos Performance Hall and discovered why Grand Rapids has recently been the third fastest growing economy in the country.
AFM Negotiator Nathan Kahn, who is our negotiator now for the fourth time, had the opportunity to address the musicians while in town for our bargaining sessions. His words of wisdom and support affirmed the solidarity that the musicians have had throughout this process. We will miss Nathan after he heads to retirement and know that we are quite fortunate to have had his advice over the years.
Randy Whatley of Cypress Media Group met with musicians and AFM Local 56 Officers, which resulted in his retention as our Public Relations Consultant. The involvement with Randy led to the creation of seven PR committees, which include current and former GRS musicians. In addition, thanks to Randy’s guidance, there have been the following important developments and events:
Over the summer, the musicians changed the name of their organization from Professional Orchestra Musicians Association of Grand Rapids (POMA-GR) to Grand Rapids Symphony Musicians Association (GRSMA). A new logo for GRSMA was created and featured on yard signs, T-shirts, and postcards. By Thanksgiving, GRSMA had created five e-newsletters, all available at www.GRSMusiciansAssociation.com. The updated online presence of the musicians also can be found on Facebook (GRSMusiciansAssoc) and Twitter (@GRSMusicians).
In August, local supporters—patrons, subscribers, donors, and community members who cannot imagine west Michigan without the GRS musicians that are the region’s artistic ambassadors—created the Friends of the GR Symphony Musicians, a community-driven advocacy group. Its mission is to promote the Grand Rapids Symphony and to ensure the orchestra’s vitality and relevance as it advances to the 100th anniversary of its founding in 2030.
On September 8th, the musicians produced and performed a free concert at the Grand Rapids Public Museum to a standing-room-only audience. The program, entitled “Ensemble”, traced the 80-year history of symphonic music in our city.
During opening night concerts of the Grand Rapids Symphony in September, GRSMA greeted audience members in front of DeVos Performance Hall. They also distributed postcards that asked audience members to support the GRSMA by visiting the musicians’ site to sign up for e-newsletters, by picking up a free yard sign, or by purchasing a GRSMA T-shirt.
October and November GRS concerts included the distribution of an updated GRSMA brochure and a leaflet providing an update on the negotiations, with both documents viewable on the GRSMA website. As a sign of solidarity the musicians wore GRSMA T-shirts to all dress rehearsals and blue ribbons for concerts.
A letter writing campaign started in October, at first to the local newspaper and then directly to GRS Board leadership. The written support from our community was a true boost to the musicians (and especially to the negotiation committee that has been working tirelessly).
A fifteen-minute radio interview with Bruce Ridge—about the current condition of arts philanthropy and the status of negotiations in American orchestras—aired in November on Michigan Public Radio, with the Grand Rapids and Detroit Symphonies serving as examples. Bruce asserted, “The truth about Grand Rapids is the city is growing. This is a time for tremendous investment…the greater the investment for these orchestras and for these musicians, the greater the return for the community.”
As of the writing of this article, we are scheduling dates in December to meet with management to continue discussions about the financial components of our proposals. The GRS Musicians thank our ICSOM family members who have reached out to us in a variety of ways, ranging from social media posts to letters of support. We hope to have a positive news story to share with you soon.