Some Details Behind Louisville’s Settlement

Yesterday, the Louisville orchestra musicians voted to accept a five year contract which retains the current compliment of musicians while simultaneously implements large reductions in pay, vacation time, personal leave, benefits, and more at the onset of the contract…


The new five year agreement is, without a doubt, a back-loaded concessionary contract. Among the larger concessions are reductions in base pay and season length. By the end of the five year agreement the base musician pay will only be $113 more than the 2005-2006 concert season:Louisville chart.gif

Of course, the fate of the 2005-2006 season is still undecided and if the organization finds itself in a position to cancel scheduled concerts then the musicians may end up earning less than the minimum guarantees afforded in the current contract.

Another new aspect of the contract is the introduction of an item management was pushing for publicly since the dilemma began: the introduction of tiered system to determine sick and personal leave days.

Previously, musicians were allowed 11 sick days per season, but now their days are allocated based on tenure increments of five years:

  • 1-5 years of service will receive four sick days
  • 6-10 years of service will receive six sick days
  • 11+ years of service will receive eight sick days

  • In the end, even the musicians with the greatest amount of seniority will lose three days of sick leave.

    With regard to personal days, musicians were previously allowed to miss up to seven services per season, but now they are allocated based on the same five year increments as sick days:

  • 1-5 years of service will receive four personal days
  • 6-10 years of service will receive five personal days
  • 11-15 years of service will receive six personal days
  • 16+ years will receive seven personal days

  • Overall, the new contract contains another 1,357 words in changes to work rules, pay scale, and benefits. We’ll examine more of those changes and the reasoning behind them in future articles once the details solidify.

    Correction: In the original publication, I reported that by the end of the new five year agreement, the musicians’ annual base salary would be $743 less than the 2005-2006 season. However, those figures were based on information provided by an AFM source which did not include mid-term changes to that contract which lowered the musicians’ annual salary and season length to the figures now listed.

    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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    2 thoughts on “Some Details Behind Louisville’s Settlement

    1. Drew, please tell me there is more to this settlement? An average savings of $400K per year and the orchestra is “saved”????? This smells really bad. Are they trying to tell me that saving $400K per year is all that is needed to right this ship? How can an orchestra that size threaten Chapter 7 all in the name of $400K per year? Of course they have to do a good amount of fundraising, but let’s face it – something isn’t right here!!!

    2. Now that the pain and suffering of contract negotiations and threats of bankruptcy are over (for now), I hope the LO can get to the business of making music. All the talk lately has been of viable business models and standard corporate practice, dialogue not unfamiliar to non-profits facing tighter budgets. Let’s get to the business of music. I do not go to orchestra concerts to hear about restructuring and health benefits. The testament of a long-term, sustainable orchestra is its artistic product. I hope there is as much discussion over next season’s music as there was about its bottom line.

      A new music director with invigorating vision will create a season of music that entices new subscribers and would be ticket holders, not that caters to the stuffy, run-of-the-mill “classical” music this orchestra got by with last season. Any orchestra that is sustainable exhibits proper stewardship of funds and equally displays a willingness to rise above the musical status quo. Listeners desire to be challenged, not pandered to. It is my hope that the Louisville Orchestra becomes a visionary ensemble for this region, country and world, not just another “top-40” orchestra playing the same Mozart over and over again.

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