Everything You Wanted To Know About Seattle (But Were Afraid To Ask) Part 2

Adaptistration People 131Part 1 from this series examined what the International Guild of Symphony, Opera, & Ballet Musicians (IGSOBM) is and how it is structured. In this installment, we’ll begin to explore how individual chapters within The Guild (simultaneously referred to as IGSOBM by its members) determine the best methods to function as medium for collective representation. To begin with, we’ll examine the largest chapter represented by The Guild, the Seattle Symphony and Opera Players’ Organization (SSOPO).

The internal structure for committee governance within the SSOPO is very similar to how many other ICSOM ensemble players’ associations are structured. The SSOPO provides for elected orchestra, negotiation, and artistic committees as well as a host of other standing, non-contractual committees.

The distinctions between the SSOPO and other AFM represented ensembles become more apparent when you compare how the SSOPO structures work dues and defines membership. According to the SSOPO by-laws, membership and dues between IGSOBM and the SSOPO are separate. As such, in many ways, the SSOPO functions not only like a typical AFM governed players’ association, but it also incorporates all of the duties normally associated with AFM Locals.

Another intriguing difference is that SSO musicians are not required to be members of the SSOPO nor IGSOBM upon winning a job; however, the organization must maintain at least 50% membership to remain in IGSOBM. If an orchestra musician elects to join IGSOBM, the SSOPO treasurer forwards $50.00 in annual IGSOBM membership dues for that member to the IGSOBM treasurer by October 15 of each year.

Although there is no financial obligation for members if they elect not to join The Guild, if they elect to decline membership in the SSOPO, they must still pay an agency fee. The agency fee is set by the orchestra committee, and can only include the non-member’s share of the costs to the SSOPO for negotiation and administration of the collective bargaining agreement.

An interesting caveat to IGSOBM membership is that within the first 30 days of each concert season, the SSOPO treasurer must distribute a form to every SSO member to ascertain whether they wish to continue or join IGSOBM. Members that elect to not join IGSOBM are classified as core members.

According to Scott Wilson, SSO French Horn and outgoing players’ committee chair, core members can attend SSOPO meetings and participate in discussions but they can not vote on the collective bargaining agreement or bring motions to the floor during SSOPO meetings.

There’s Paying Your Dues & Then There’s Paying Your Dues

Another distinction between the SSOPO and their AFM represented peers is the SSOPO dues are set by their members and are guaranteed not to exceed more than 2% of each member’s annual base wage. According to Randy Bauton, SSO principal percussionist and IGSOBM founder, this is half of what they were paying when the SSOPO decided to leave the AFM in 1985 when their dues amounted to a fixed 4% of their annual base salary.

In some cases, the precise percentage of SSOPO work dues is determined by the balance of the SSOPO Reserve Fund. Whenever the balance of the Reserve Fund contains $150,000 or more, the SSOPO members determine the precise work dues percentage by majority vote by the at their annual budget meeting. Whenever the Reserve Fund balance falls below $150,000 at the beginning of a fiscal year, the work dues are automatically set to the maximum rate of 2%. The membership can also adjust work dues in mid-season if the need arises.

Scott Wilson said that the typical dues percentage is around 1% and went on to say that, through diligence, the SSOPO Reserve Fund balance has always been very healthy.

“Our Reserve Fund balance has never dipped below the minimum requirement,” said Scott. “In fact, we’ve been comfortable enough with the balance that during the 2004-2005 season, the [SSOPO] members voted to donate $100,000 to the SSO endowment campaign. We wanted to show our support for the organization during some tight financial times and that was the best way we could think of doing so.”

Tim Hale, SSO violist and incoming player’s committee chair, said in addition to allowing the SSOPO membership to vote on the level of work dues, they also have the ability to vote on line-item expenditures. He also said that the player’s committee doesn’t discriminate on how they administer their collective bargaining agreement between non-member and member IGSOBM and SSOPO players. For example, he referred to a recent contractual situation related to the SSO’s former concertmaster, Ilkka Talvi.

“SSOPO represented Ilkka in his dispute with the employer, the Seattle Symphony Association, even though he was not a member,” said Tim. “The issues involved pertained to the enforcement of his individual contract and the collective bargaining agreement.”

Following The Money Trail

Another distinction between the SSOPO and other AFM represented players’ associations is control of dues money. Within IGSOBM, each chapter maintains direct control over their respective Reserve Funds, which they use to pay for any expenses the chapters meet in negotiating and administering collective bargaining agreements, including legal expenses as well as any other expenses that may be encountered or desired by the orchestra’s players’ association. Within an AFM represented players’ association, dues are collected and controlled by the respective Local and, to a lesser percentage, the National level. Those funds are used to pay for the types of expenses outlined above.

A natural consequence of increased control over dues money is that all IGSOBM chapters retain complete legal authority to bargain and administer contracts. Consequently, the SSOPO maintains full power to address the issues it determines are most important at any given time and allows them autonomy in how they decide to deal with respective issues. The result is that if there is an irresolvable disagreement on any of these issues between the leadership of the SSOPO and IGSOBM, the chapter’s judgment is overriding.

That increased level of control may be one of the reasons the players in Seattle believe they have a high level of internal participation among members with regard to governance.

“The players may have more motivation to participate because of the increased control we have over our dues and daily work environment,” said Tim Hale. “I think The Guild ensembles are more hands-on with regard to governance than other AFM orchestras. All of this allows our employer to know that we care and are willing to constantly stay on top of issues.”

Tim continued by saying that the increased level of participation among the musicians also leads to a heightened level of responsibility among musician leaders.

“I think our arrangement with The Guild works better for us than the arrangement other orchestras have with the AFM because we have greater control over our direct working environment and out lives,” said Tim. “The AFM controls all financial resources and where those resources are directed while our direct control over financial resources makes [the SSOPO] leadership more responsive to the needs of the players and to the organization as a whole.”

Now What?

IGSOBM recently witnessed its 20th birthday; as such, players like Tim Hale are the second generation of SSOPO musicians that actively participate in the administration of their local Guild chapter. Like all organizations that transition out of their founding, the long-term success of The Guild rests heavily on how well this new generation governs the organization and prepares the following generation of players to one day take their place.

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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