Impending Health Care Coverage Cancellation In Jacksonville

In a letter from the Jacksonville Symphony Association (JSA) to the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra (JSO) musicians, the JSA will cancel musician health care coverage after December 31, 2007 unless an agreement between the two parties is reached beforehand…

The JSO musicians have been locked out since November 12 and although both sides met over last weekend for mediated negotiating sessions, those sessions did not produce an agreement. Immediately following those negotiation sessions, JSO Executive Director, Alan Hopper, sent an email to all JSO musicians with a five-page letter attached. The final paragraph of that letter informed the musicians that their health care benefits would not be continued past December 31, 2007 unless an agreement is reached by December 15, 2007.

As we mentioned in this letter, we cannot sustain the costs of the current agreement. Because the Association was hopeful that we could reach a timely agreement, we chose to continue your health care coverage through December 31. Now we are faced with uncertainty regarding a new agreement and must control our expenses. Accordingly, we will not continue health care coverage for Musicians after December 31 if we fail to reach an agreement by December 15.

You will have the opportunity to continue your current health care coverage with Blue Cross/Blue Shield at the COBRA rate which includes both the Association and Musician cost plus 2%.

We truly regret this decision but we must preserve the financial integrity of the JSA.

Email requests sent to Alan Hopper late Tuesday afternoon for clarification and additional details behind the decision to cancel health care coverage have not yet been returned.

Historically, canceling employee health care coverage (regardless if the employees are musicians or laid-off staffers) during a work stoppage has produced disastrous results in the orchestra business. One of the most recent instances was the 2005 work stoppage at the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO). In that instance, the SLSO board eventually reversed their decision, in part, after a wave of negative media highlighted musicians being denied heath care coverage for their sick children. One member of the orchestra was in the hospital recovering from open heart surgery days before the health insurance was scheduled to be terminated. The musician later authored a dramatization of the work stoppage and his hospital ordeal in the June, 2005 edition of Senza Sordino, the official publication of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (pdf download).

If an agreement is not reached by the December 15th deadline and the JSA follows through with canceling employee health care coverage at the end of a holiday season that espouses the adage “good will toward men”, it could prompt an unfavorable public backlash similar to the one experienced by the SLSO leadership in 2005.

Furthermore, the JSA has publicly announced that the December 7, 8 and 9 performances of the Nutcracker, presented by First Coast Nutcracker, Inc., will use recorded music. The musicians have indicated that they will picket each of those performances if they use recorded music. Calls to the First Coast Nutcracker, Inc. inquiring whether or not ticket holders will be granted refunds if they are displeased with the use of recorded music have not been returned. 

UPDATE: The JSO musicians have established a Heath and Welfare Fund. Donations are tax deductible and checks can addressed to “Jacksonville Symphony Players Association” and mailed to:

JSPA c/o AFM Local 444
2030 Schumacher Ave.
Jacksonville, FL 32207

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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4 thoughts on “Impending Health Care Coverage Cancellation In Jacksonville

  1. Hopper seems determined to be a bad-ass. He is succeeding. He is bad. And he is an ass. Good luck to the JSO musicians. I hope they will have a management soon, though with Van Vleck heading the board, it seems unlikely.

  2. I wonder if you are aware that Leon Fleischer, pianist of great reknown and integrity, has volunteered to conduct and play a double Mozart Concerto (with his wife as partner) at a Benefit concert later this month, with the Jacksonville Symphony Players, to be held at The University of North Florida. Due to Fleischer’s tremendous prestige, I would expect that the Board may suffer some serious public relations backlash from sympathetic symphony subscribers who are increasingly sympathetic towards the musician’s plight. Checks have been pouring in to the fund set up for the musicians.

    Shameful power-mongering on the part of management and Board. Shame, Shame!

  3. It is disappointing that the JSO is adopting the union-busting tactic of cancelling health insurance when a collective agreement is not in place. That tactic may work in the business world, but things are different with non-profit organizations, where public perception is all-important in the quest for public and private donors, and the musicians of the orchestra cannot be replaced by a non-union group of anywhere near the same quality.

  4. We went through something similar in Alabama ten years or so ago. We were locked out and the season canceled right after the Christmas break. Bah humbug to all you b*****ds. Union-busting is serious business in America. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they won’t play hardball – they will. Be mentally, emotionally, and financially prepared to go all the way.
    I also suggest that the long term solution is to remove health care from bargaining tables nationwide by voting for Dennis Kucinich in 2008. He’s the only candidate advocating universal healthcare in the USA. The rest of the civilized world has taken it for granted for lo, these many years now.
    Hang tough, and vote Democrat.
    I’ve been where you are now – it ain’t fun. You have my best wishes for a successful conclusion to the negotiations.

    Yours in solidarity,
    Julie S.

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