Columbus Symphony Musicians Unanimously Reject Contract Offer

After several negotiation sessions, the musicians of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO) issued a press release early this morning detailing yesterday’s ratification meeting…


April 25, 2008

Columbus Symphony Musicians Unanimously Vote to Reject Board’s “Final Offer”

Last night, the members of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra unanimously voted by secret ballot to reject the CSO Board’s “final offer” for a new contract which would take effect next season.  The offer called for a 40% annual salary cut from all 53 Full-Time Musicians with no restoration in additional years.  The current minimum annual salary is $55,200.  Under the Board’s proposal it would be slashed to $33,000.  The Board’s offer would also require Musicians to pay 30% of their monthly health insurance premiums, up to $480 per month for Musicians with family coverage.  In addition, the wages per rehearsal and concert for part time Musicians would be reduced from $150 to $100.  The value of these cuts from the Musician’s pockets would be approximately $1.4 million for next season.

Previously the Board rejected the Musician’s proposal to accept a 6.5% annual salary cut, to reduce monthly health insurance payments in return, but to share in future premium increases, and to leave vacant any non-principal chair during long term leaves of absence throughout the contract.  Depending on the final number of vacancies, this would result in savings next season of approximately $500,000.  Three years ago, the Musicians agreed to an 11% annual salary cut which resulted in total savings over the past two and a half years of $1.3 million.

Early in the negotiation process, the Musicians proposed that a third party consultant who specializes in orchestra management be selected by mutual agreement and brought in to evaluate the situation and to make recommendations to both the Board and the Musicians.  The Board immediately rejected that proposal insisting that no assistance was needed to resolve matters.  They later offered to accept the assistance of a consultant, but only in the future after a new contract is reached.

The Board has told the Musicians that there may not be enough money to continue operations beyond the end of this month without agreement on a new contract for next season.  Because the Board’s proposal was presented as a “final offer”, they will not consider any further proposals from the Musicians.

Douglas Fisher, President of the Central Ohio Federation of Musicians, Local 103 AFM, the union which represents the CSO Musicians stated, “We are disappointed that the Board has rejected immediate assistance from an orchestra management consultant to advise both them and the Musicians.  The longer this crisis continues the more Musicians we will lose.  So far we have lost four high-profile Musicians to other full time jobs next season and that number will likely increase.  It has taken decades for this small group of Musicians to develop into the high quality ensemble that it is today.  Because there are only 53 full time Musicians, losing even a small number of them has a profound effect on the orchestra’s quality.”

Jim Akins, Chair of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra Committee and Principal Tuba said, “Key economic data even in today’s economy proves that central Ohio has the means to support this orchestra at an even higher level and that our region is as strong economically as the four major cities which surround it.  Yet the orchestra’s annual budget is two to three times smaller than the orchestras in those cities.  Central Ohio deserves an orchestra of high quality and I hope that those who care will step up and refuse to let it die”.

For further information please visit, the official website of the CSO Musicians for detailed financial information on the CSO and how it compares to surrounding cities.

An official response from the CSO board has yet to be issued.

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 “Columbus Symphony Musicians Unanimously Reject Contract Offer”

  1. Drew, the press release was a little unclear to me. The musicians offer states they were willing to take a 6.5% paycut, but did not state the percentage of their heath premiums they wanted management to then absorb. Do you know what this percentage was? On the surface, it looks as if the deal was a wash. There was no real savings. In trying to stay neutral on this, it sure looks as if the counter offer by the musicians was a no-brainer for management unless there are issues that we were not privy too.

    On the other side of the coin, management’s statement of no more offers from the musicians will be considered. All I can say is Tony, you and your Board better rethink this position. The musicians may not be bringing much to the table in your mind, but I am not seeing much from your side either. Let’s hope we aren’t seeing everything that has been on the table from both sides.

    I don’t have any other details on the heath insurance benefits issue and from experience I can say that any agreement on this component is complex. In order to understand the musician’s offer it is likely that you’ll have to know how insurance works in the state of Ohio and details of their existing plan.

    At the same time, most contracts in recent years have treated heath insurance as a separate issue outside of traditional wage and compensation issues. In a few cases, contracts have been ratified with mutual agreement that some heath benefit issues will continue to be negotiated over the upcoming season. I think that is testament to just how complicated of an issue it is for so many groups. ~ Drew McManus

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