And Then There’s That Pension Thing…

It is hard to believe it has been more than two years since the topic of pensions has been discussed here at Adaptistration, nevertheless, recent events in Seattle have brought the “P” word front and center…


In this particular situation there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is the Seattle Symphony brought in some sizeable 11th hour funding to help avoid an expected shortfall. The bad news is that the musicians have claimed that the organization has shortchanged pension contributions without their consent.

If you ever want to get an executive manager or board member from a major professional orchestra out of room, just start talking about pensions. Even though it is that unpleasant of a topic, it is not something that can be avoided for very long.

The last big pension brouhaha that made national headlines was in Philadelphia during the labor unrest from 2004. To understand more about pensions, take a moment to read two articles from that time which cover everything you need to know about the types of pension plans orchestras utilize and how they function. By the end, you’ll have a solid base for understanding why the musicians in Seattle are not letting this issue fade away:

Pension Plans And Negotiations Part 1
Pension Plans And Negotiations Part 2

Furthermore, this article from June, 2005 will help you understand the severity of pension funding in the orchestra business and why under funded pension plans could turn out to be an orchestra’s Achilles Heel.

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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1 thought on “And Then There’s That Pension Thing…

  1. It’s great to see this topic return. Many believe it is a time bomb ticking for both public and private sector. Much of the corporate world has moved away from the defined benefits variety, and most people believe that the goverments will seek to make that change with their employees, including teachers, and other sorts of civil servants. It’s only a matter of time before this happens in the few pockets of the not-for-profit arena that still provide such plans. Get ready for 403 b and 401 k plans for everyone!

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