A Done Deal In Dallas

Although the members of the “Big 5” are in the midst of wrapping up their talks, the musicians and managers at Dallas finished their contract negotiations just over two months ago. 

I learned about how the Dallas talks went from the DSO negotiation chairman, tubist Matt Good.  He said that the players and management came to a tentative agreement back on July 26th as both parties were interested in getting a contract ratified early before details from some of the other contentious orchestra negotiations went public.  Matt said,

“I will say management never came to us with a cut in pay or work weeks; we still remain at 52 weeks.  Our biggest issue by far, was health care. Health care had gone up 127% from 1998-2003. We are going put our current plan through some design changes and maybe install some higher co-pays and deductibles.”

According to the ICSOM settlement bulletin filled by the DSO negotiation committee, the details regarding possible changes in health care coverage are as follows:

There will be a committee/panel of musicians who will meet with management on a quarterly basis to look at all aspects concerning health care and the health care plan.  This committee will make all decisions regarding any carrier changes, plan design changes or any cost saving measures needed to stay within the financial parameters agreed to during negotiations.

The settlement bulletin goes on to state that by the final year of the contract in 08-09, DSO base pay is expected to reach $90,000.

Given the amount of press connected with proposed pay cuts and reduction in the number of full time players at other orchestras this settlement was good news.  I was especially intrigued by Matt’s comment that their management never proposed a cut in salary or a reduction in pay.

To find out more behind that point I called Fred Bronstein, DSO president, he said that in 2002 the DSO was feeling much of the shakiness most other orchestras were.  Fred said,

“When I arrived in 2002 there was an $850,000 deficit, so in 2003 we implemented about $1 million in cost reductions (out of $7 million in non-fixed expenses).  We also initiated several fund raising campaigns; as a result our annual fund went up by 9% over two years and our endowment went up $16 million.

By the time negotiations began we were seeing the increased revenues from these efforts, had a rise in ticket sales, and had a $50,000 surplus. 

Although we never proposed any cuts to the musician’s salary, the compound annual compensation increase for this five year contract is 2.5% as compared to the 4.3% from the last five year contract. 

Our biggest concern was in controlling health care costs, which have increased nearly 130% from 1998-2003.  The health care issues were tough but the talks were productive and I feel that we have a contract that will give both sides what they want.”

I spoke to Fred about a number of other issues happening at Dallas, including some intriguing changes in the DSO contract language regarding the definition of “family”.  But those issues will have to wait until another time.

In the end it seems as though Dallas was able to avoid much of the consternation at other orchestras due to cost cutting measures in operational expenses and a sizeable increase in revenues resulting from fundraising campaigns.

I can’t count how many orchestras I’ve seen over the past four years state they were planning to embark on major fundraising campaigns just to end up doing nothing.  It seems Dallas took those initiatives seriously and as a result of those efforts they are enjoying a better financial situation than many of their peer orchestras.

I’ll be interested in reading about the details from the upcoming developments in Chicago, Cleveland, and Philadelphia and see how they stack up to Dallas.

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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