Montreal Symphony Musicians Heading Back To Work

A news release from Canadian Press late yesterday reports that the musicians and board of the Montreal Symphony have reached an agreement that the musicians accepted by a vote of 96% in favor of accepting the proposed contract…

Of course, this news report is an early release and only contains sketchy information. Further details about the new contract will undoubtedly follow and it will be interesting to see what’s transpired. In the meantime, here’s a complete copy of the Canadian Press report:

Canadian Press
October 17, 2005

MONTREAL (CP) – Musicians at the Montreal Symphony Orchestra have overwhelmingly accepted a contract agreement that ends their five-month strike.

The musicians, who had been without a contract since Aug. 31, 2003, voted 96 per cent Monday in favour of the seven-year deal, which is retroactive and expires in 2010. They said they received a salary increase of 18.23 per cent over the seven years as well as improved premiums and pension benefits.

The two sides reached the agreement Sunday.

“We’re thrilled because we think there’s a lot to look forward to in the new relationship with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Mr. (Kent) Nagano,” said Marc Beliveau, president of the musicians union, referring to the orchestra’s new star director, due to take over next year.

The 90-odd musicians went on strike in May to seek improved salaries and better working conditions.

“We’re looking at this ratification as the beginning of something new and really wonderful,” said Beliveau.

The musicians however did not achieve wage parity with the orchestra at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, something they were seeking.

The deal sees wage increases of 2.5 per cent annually over the life of the contract. But with additional benefits tied to recording contracts and live concerts, that number could reach as high as 4.5 per cent yearly.

The orchestra, which has a $3.4-million deficit, previously said the musicians’ average annual salary was $75,000 for 46 weeks and that their workweek was 20 hours.

But the musicians disputed the numbers, claiming the workweek was 38 hours and the base salary was $61,000, $15,000 of which they said went to the upkeep and insurance of their instruments.

The orchestra’s board of directors is headed by former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard.

The symphony’s musicians are scheduled to return to work Tuesday, practising for a concert in Montreal Sunday with Nagano.

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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