The Negotiation Process: How It Works

The first step at better understanding how your local orchestra functions as an organization is to understand the basic principles behind the document that deals with nearly every facet of its operations: the CBA, or Collective Bargaining Agreement. Every major orchestra in America, regardless of union affiliation, has some form of a contract that exists as a result of collective bargaining. This contract governs all issues related to musician compensation, benefits, work conditions, and dismissal issues.

The negotiation process is straightforward in that two parties get together and figure out how their working relationship will function.  Although each orchestra conducts this process in their own unique way, the following chart outlines the basic, traditional negotiating process:

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

Many of the orchestras that are currently involved in negotiations are somewhere between the second and third yellow box.  But all of them have deadlines to reach an agreement on a new contract by the beginning of their 2004-2005 concert season, which is typically in the middle of September.

It’s difficult to ask a manager or musician or board member about contract negotiations without eliciting some sort of distinct emotional response.  Negotiations have served the industry as a beautifully double edged sword: it is both a source of great anxiety and frustration among stakeholders while at the same time serving as the great motivating force that fuels artistic and financial expansion and of the organization.

In upcoming articles, we’ll begin to examine how this template has evolved over time and where it’s heading.  We’ll also look at alternatives to this process and how attitudes among individuals in this business have helped drive the evolutionary process.

We’ll hear from veteran musicians, infamous managers, and notorious negotiators that have “been there and done that” in this industry.   Additionally, we’ll hear from some orchestras that have developed unique variations on the basic template.

It’s sure to be exciting, revealing, and (most importantly) productive. So stay tuned

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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