Travel Pay: Front And Center

Hot on the heels of a post about the impact of increased gas prices, the 5/1/2008 edition of The Isthmus-Madison published an article by Tom Laskin which reports on the current collective bargaining agreement negotiations between the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO) and their musicians. One of the primary issues examined in the article is how the organization will address changes to travel pay…

The Isthmus-Madison article reports that musician spokesperson Todd Jelen told the paper that the players consider travel pay a “major concern.” Jelen, who drives just over 1,000 miles round trip from his home in Akron, OH to Madison, WI, along with other musicians who commute long distances to perform with the orchestra have experienced sharp decreases to their gross pay due to comparative increases in gas prices during the term of the current master agreement, which is set to expire after August 31, 2008.

In order to put some concrete figures on just how much impact the increase in gas prices have on gross pay, I created the Gig After Gas Online Calculator. Using figures from the WCO’s current master agreement and average gas prices, I used the Super Deluxe version of the calculator to calculate that players traveling as far as Jelen pay as much as 24 percent of their gross compensation toward gas, tolls, and parking expenses.

The ongoing WCO negotiations will be worth watching to see if the group is able to find any inspired solutions to this issue. Although the problem may seem like a conundrum (where does increased travel pay that keeps pace with rising gas prices come from?) there have been a few other situations in the past two seasons where managers and musicians have divined creative solutions to long standing negotiating hurdles (more on that later). If nothing else, these examples serve as a good sign that orchestras which rely on a substantial number of commuter musicians (regular and/or substitute) to perform with the ensemble in order to meet minimum artistic standards will be able to find mutually agreeable solutions. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.

One good place to perhaps begin looking for specialized funding is for managers to use the Gig After Gas Online Calculator to put a very real figure on how much rising gas prices have on musician pay. In some cases, providing this information to board members might be just the tool needed to help spur some additional funding, especially if any members work for or can influence increased giving from oil companies (are those higher profits translating into higher giving?).

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 “Travel Pay: Front And Center”

  1. Another aspect of the WCO negotiations is the rate that substitute players are paid with this group, which is currently less than half (!) the rate paid to regular members. I played with this group last summer knowing that I was making less than half of the per-service rate paid to members.

    I couldn’t help but think that if I’m only being paid half the rate, maybe I should only nail half the notes! That’s fair, right? 😉

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