The Minneapolis Star Tribune published an article on 9/7/2012 by Graydon Royce that reports details from a revised St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) proposal. Although it appears that both sides seem to sauntering toward some middle ground, one aspect of the latest SPCO proposal jumps out in that they want to create a two tier pay system for musicians: $62.5k/yr for existing members and $50k/yr for incoming musicians.
Creating a caste system within employment tiers is a sure fire way to increase inter-office conflict, reduce efficiency, and bring morale down to all time lows. And to be clear here, it’s a bad idea for all employees, not just musicians.
Musicians, especially younger professionals, should be paying very close attention to this negotiation and whether or not the SPCO musicians accept that part of the proposal. Ask yourself this: would you want to have the same set of responsibilities and expectations as someone sitting next to you but earn 20 percent less? So much for solidarity.
In case you’re thinking compensation caste systems don’t already exist inside musician collective bargaining agreements, think again.
The most common occurrence is pay scales for substitute musicians; in some orchestras, they earn less per service than rostered musicians although once again, they are held to the same artistic expectations. Keep in mind, that’s merely a dollar for dollar comparison and doesn’t take into consideration benefits received by the latter.
Another segment were compensation caste systems are beginning to take root between contracted musicians in the same ensemble is in retirement benefits. A handful of groups amid pension plan migrations (usually away from a defined benefit to a defined contribution) approved by musicians and management via the master agreement are grandfathering existing members to the previous plan while incoming members must adopt the latter, which provides a much smaller retirement benefit.
I’m just beginning to encounter this scenario via the individual overscale negotiation counsel that is part of my consulting work. It’s been routinely sticky work but preparing clients on how to negotiate overscale terms that address this discrepancy and level the compensation playing field is paying off. In a perfect world, this will become unnecessary by way of attrition but the world is far from perfect and in the meantime, we deal with what exists.
In the end, it would be better for all stakeholders if the entire field rejected the notion of compensation caste systems (meaning different pay for identical duties, responsibilities, expectations, and accountability) and one of the first steps toward achieving that goal is to get it out of closed door discussions and begin talking about it in the open. So what do you think?