Everything You Wanted To Know About Seattle (But Were Afraid To Ask) Part 1

Adaptistration People 131This piece was originally intended for publication during the middle of 2005 but a variety of factors prevented its completion. Nevertheless, in light of recent events surrounding the contention resulting from Gerard Schwarz’s contract extension as the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s music director, there’s no time like the present.

From an organizational perspective the administration and board of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra (SSO) function much the same way as their peers. They belong to the American Symphony Orchestra League, follow the same 501(c)3 laws, and abide by a collective bargaining agreement that is negotiated between their musicians and the SSO board of directors. Since there isn’t enough material from that point of view to write a useful article, the focus for this series will shift toward the SSO musicians.

To begin with, don’t call the SSO musicians a “non-union” orchestra; by and large, that really bothers them. In fact, the SSO musicians are represented by an independent labor organization incorporated in Washington State. However, that labor organization is not the American Federation of Musicians; instead, the SSO musicians are a chapter of the International Guild of Symphony, Opera, & Ballet Musicians.

Throughout this series of articles, International Guild of Symphony, Opera, & Ballet Musicians representatives use the acronym “IGSOBM” and a local reference ,”The Guild”, interchangeably when referring to their organization.

Furthermore, it is important at this point to clarify that IGSOBM is not to be confused with ICSOM (the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians), a conference of the American Federation of Musicians.

What Exactly Is The Guild?

As described on the organization’s by-laws, The Guild is an independent labor union recognized by the United States Department of Labor and represents “instrumental musician-employees and music librarian-employees who perform services under the provisions of collective bargaining agreements for Not-For-Profit organizations that operate symphony, opera and/or ballet orchestras”.

Membership within The Guild consists of several chapters with each member retaining their own set of by-laws. The Guild currently consists of players’ associations from the Seattle Symphony and Opera, recently defunct Northwest Chamber Orchestra, and Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra. With the recent collapse of the Northwest Chamber Orchestra, IGSOBM plans to conduct an official vote which will determine the official status of that organization following the conclusions of the bankruptcy proceedings.

The Guild was officially formed in 1985 and won its first National Labor Relations Board supervised elections in 1988, allowing them to become the recognized union representing the musician employees of the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Northwest Chamber Orchestra.

To learn more about The Guild, I conducted a telephone interview on April, 17, 2005 with IGSOBM president and Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra principal percussionist, Matthew Kocmieroski. In order to ensure the accuracy of information from that interview, I conducted a follow-up interview via telephone and email with Matt on July 6th, 2006.

Drew McManus: What are some of the biggest differences between an IGSOBM represented orchestra and an AFM represented orchestra?
Matthew Kocmieroski: The biggest advantage of The Guild is self empowerment, I think there’s a lot of fear in many orchestras that they can not take care of all their business on their own, such as the duties of representation. However, most groups usually do these things already so it’s not as bad as they usually think. However, legal help is one of our larger expenses for The Guild as the chapters use legal expertise often.

Drew McManus: Is IGSOM structured differently than the AFM?
Matthew Kocmieroski: I can’t speak to how the AFM is organized but none of [The Guild] officers are paid nor do we have paid staff. Officers are reimbursed for expenses but there are no dedicated expense accounts. IGSOBM has four officers and the board consists of one member  each chapter, of which those individuals can overlap. Officers and board members serve for three years.

In order to reduce abuses of power, we stagger elections of chapter officers. This helps prevent negative aspects of political associations. Additionally, having an open shop helps keep the negative political nature down, but each chapter must maintain at least 50% membership as Guild members, renewed annually.

The Guild’s structure is designed to not be a strict, controlling overall body, for example, we can’t go into tell each chapter how to function. However, we do have an annual meeting where all the chapters come together to discuss the state of the organization and the orchestra business in general.

Drew McManus: Since The Guild didn’t have a historically founded operational infrastructure in place at the time it was formed, how do you indoctrinate new members?
Matthew Kocmieroski: In order to maintain an adequate level of participation and to insure a minimum level of experience among musician leaders we use something like an apprenticeship system. It’s always difficult to identify individuals to serve in these positions but we keep them involved and encourage them to learn.

To that end, we maintain an extensive library comprising several hundred volumes of outside labor law texts to help educate members. We’re always concerned about burn-out among the membership that would inadvertently leave [The Guild or any of its chapters] with a gap in leadership. We have found that when people get vested in their own future, the details of their own contracts, and the influence they wield in setting the course for their respective organization, they tend to become involved more than less.

When new players come into each respective chapter, the officers from that chapter usually have some informal meetings with them to tell about The Guild; what it will do for them, their rights, and how they can participate.

Drew McManus: Are member dues structured differently than AFM represented orchestra musicians?
Matthew Kocmieroski: Again, I can’t speak as to how the AFM operates but each local Guild chapter has payroll deductions for each member. Out of annual work dues only the first $50.00 goes into The Guild’s treasury. Of course, one of the most noticeable features of our chapters is that they determine their own work dues which fluctuate as they see fit. Additionally, there are no requirements among any of our chapters that substitute players must become a Guild member.

Drew McManus: How did Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra get into the mix and do you actively attempt to recruit other orchestras to join IGSOBM?
Matthew Kocmieroski:  We’re not out to actively recruit orchestras or local members. At the same time, it isn’t as though we have cut off all contact with other professional orchestras. Other orchestras, large and small, approach us with questions about how the Guild formed, etc. We tell them all the same thing: in order to make something like The Guild work, they will have to be willing to dedicate a large portion of their lives to the process. Regardless, the fact that we have gone through this process makes it easier for others to follow.

At the same time, the issue of representation and how the musicians within our chapters feel they are best served comes up regularly. For example, in [the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra] we had a second representation election about seven years ago because 10 players in the orchestra signed representation cards and sent them to the NLRB requesting an official vote for representation. At that point, we had to revisit all of the old issues and fears of the original representation vote when we separated from the AFM.

I’m glad to say that the second vote passed in favor of staying in The Guild and we recently signed a new contract with our board. The new [Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra] agreement, effective June 30, 2006, is a five year agreement with increases in wages, guaranteed number of services, as well as improvement in medical, dental and pension benefits.

It also reflects a continuing very good relationship with the ballet management, and is the result of what may be described as an interest based bargaining approach, with no lawyers at the table. I must say though, that I have great respect for our legal counsel and we spent much time with them away from the table during the process. It also reflects the successful transition to new artistic management from the retiring founders, a critical, do-or-die step in the life of any ballet company.

Now that we have a good understanding of what The Guild is and how it functions, Part 2 in this series will begin examining the individual chapters within IGSOBM and how those chapters determine the best methods to function as medium for collective representation. I invite you to return tomorrow where we’ll begin that process by examining the largest IGSOBM chapter, the Seattle Symphony and Opera Players’ Organization.

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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