Examining Columbus’ Master Agreement Part 2

Following the previous article in this set, I received an email from a reader expressing confusion over some of the provisions in the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO) master agreement which pertain to full time positions not provided for by name. In particular she wondered how a musician can have a full time position but not have that position protected by name in the master agreement. In short, the 22 CSO musicians who have full time contacts for positions which are not provided for by name are still afforded the same guaranteed employment status from one season to the next as are the full time positions for by name. Here’s how it works…

In most professional orchestras, each full time position is defined by name in the master agreement. For percussion and wind players, each position is defined by seat (2nd clarinet, principal trombone, etc.) as are fixed chair string players (principal viola, associate concertmaster, assistant principal bass, etc.). Beyond that, the master agreement will address full time section string musicians by the minimum number which must be employed (12 section violins, 5 violas, etc.).

In the CSO’s case 31 of their 53 full time musicians fit into that familiar model whereas the remaining 22 full time musicians are still guaranteed full time employment from one year to the next throughout the length of a master agreement. The only difference between those positions and the 31 positions listed by name is that whenever one of the 22 full time musicians leaves their position via attrition then the CSO is not obligated to hire a full time replacement musician. At the same time, the CSO cannot simply dismiss, demote, or eliminate any of the musicians in those positions simply because they wish to reduce expenditures.

When explaining this to the reader who was wondering how a musician could have a full time position not protected by name, her next question was “So how did those 22 musicians become full time musicians in the first place?” In order to find out the answer, I contacted, Douglas Fisher, long time CSO bassoonist and President of American Federation of Musicians, Local 103 (the union which represents the CSO musicians). According to Douglas, the full time positions were created by the CSO board via avocation from the music director in the early 1980s and specific contract language addressing how the positions would be maintained were solidified in negotiations thereafter.

I hope this clarifies the unique nature of the CSO’s master agreement when it comes to defining full time orchestra positions. We’ll explore specific provisions from the CSO’s proposed financial plan in upcoming articles.

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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