The Trouble With Talking About Pensions

Although I don’t usually publish back to back articles linking out to posts elsewhere, there is another terrific contribution at Sticks And Drones you really need to read. But this one is from the blog’s co-author, conductor Ron Spigelman. His article addresses the enormously sensitive issue of pensions and ethical obligations.

In tough economic climates like the one we’re in, it can become all too easy to begin talking about huge financial obligations such as pensions in very dispassionate terms. In its own way, talking about responsibility within the confines of dollars and cents instead of people and commitment is a powerful temptation.

But numbers don’t lie and although you can argue about what they mean, it doesn’t come close to the sort of soul scraping conversations that address the fundamental ideology behind why pensions exist in the first place.

If you’re a board member during these sorts of periods, there’s no avoiding the fact that it can be a disheartening time; it’s the luck of the draw and you got the short straw. No one relishes getting stuck with the difficult conversations and related decisions but that’s the way it is; and these burdens need to be addressed. But on the other side of the coin is an enormous opportunity to help shape the very soul of performing arts organizations as it applies to governance. How often does that opportunity arise?

Spigelman’s piece focuses on these issues and it will really get you thinking. Among all of the financial oriented discussions going on within the business right now, the ethical obligations related to pensions is one which should be front and center (but seems to have missed its cue).

Whether we, as a field, choose to ignore the fact that these issues have far greater reaching impact on institutions than the bottom line is a luxury we don’t have (or, frankly, deserve).

[sws_button class=”” size=”sws_btn_large” align=”” href=”” target=”_self” label=” Read Spigelman’s The CON in Conscience” template=”sws_btn_lightblue” textcolor=”” bgcolor=”” bgcolorhover=”” glow=”sws_btn_glow”] [/sws_button]

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.

Related Posts

0 thoughts on “The Trouble With Talking About Pensions”

  1. Appreciate this link. Although Spigleman doesn’t say so directly, cutting pensions hits people when they are down. A 70-year old retired musician has no way to go back to work and/or save more to make up for a reduced pension. The collective conscience applies to musicians as well as boards.

  2. this is a great article and very timely..

    One other issue-

    Many orchestras over the past 20 years have switched from privately managed defined benefit plans to the AFM- EP fund. Often this was done to help alleviate some of the burdens that managements incurred from administering a private fund. With the reduction in the AFM- EP fund’s multiplier over the past several years, newer players joining an orchestra contributing to the fund may have only a fraction of the pension of their colleagues who joined earlier. Thankfully there has been turnover of trustees on both the management and union side and there is hope for a recovery. Despite this fact, some managements(most notably Philadelphia), refuse to continue to contribute to the AFM fund, even though they are willing to contribute the same amount to a 403b plan. This is a philosophical opposition to the idea of a pension, since the dollar amount contributed is the same. It also ties into the political views of many board members that all retirement plans should be

    While there may be some reasons to take a hard look at the state of privately funded pensions, the attempt on the part of some orchestras to move away from the AFM-EP fund is another example of the erosion of contractual benefits we have fought for over the years.

Leave a Comment