A Marathon Negotiation In Phoenix

How appealing does a 12 month long collective bargaining agreement negotiation sound? Probably not that appealing but that is precisely where the Arizona Opera Company and the Arizona Opera Orchestra Musicians’ Association are. The organization has been operating for the 2007/08 season without a contract and, until recently, was approaching a labor stoppage that threatened March performances of Mozart’s The Magic Flute

The main hurdle involved whether or not the organization would use
the musicians past this season. In shades reminiscent of the Pittsburgh
Ballet Theater labor situation
from 2005, the Musicians’ Association took action by launching a public
relations campaign to increase awareness of the negotiation concerns,
with the bulk of those efforts coming through what has to be one of the most
sophisticated Musicians’ Association websites developed to date. One result of those efforts took hold in an early side-agreement between the Opera Company
and the Musicians’ Association in the form of a five year agreement
that guarantees the musicians the right of first refusal, which
ostensibly means they will remain as the official opera orchestra.

However, even though one of the most pressing issues has been
addressed in the side agreement that does not mean negotiations are
complete. According to Nathan Mitchell, chair the musicians’
negotiating committee and a member of the orchestra’s horn section,
both parties are still involved in normal negotiations for details
surrounding a standard three year contract.

There are still a few issues to be resolved, most
importantly wage terms for the third year of the contract," said
Nathan. "[The musicians] have agreed to a wage freeze for the first two
years of the contract to allow the Opera to get its finances in order,
as it is carrying a significant accumulated deficit. The primary
negotiation issue yet to be resolved is assuring the musicians of some
guaranteed improvements in the [contract’s] third year.

Now that the both sides have reached a mutually
acceptable side-agreement with regard to the make-or-break issue of
right of first refusal there are several negotiation meetings scheduled
to take place through the month of March to address the outstanding
items. Both sides have expressed confidence that they will be able
to successfully come to terms as soon as possible.

UPDATE 3/7/2008: Since this article was published, the  Arizona Opera Company and the Arizona Opera Orchestra Musicians’ Association have reached an agreement on a wage increase for the final year of the three year contract and all that remains to be finalized before each side can conduct ratification meetings are a few miscellaneous work rule points.

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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