Leafleting In Richmond (VA)

One of the latest additions to this season’s list of labor discontent is the Richmond (VA) Symphony Orchestra (RSO) where the previous collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expired on August 31, 2012. Since then, the group has been engaged in play-and-talk but the musicians went public on 9/20/2012 and issued a statement reassuring patrons they would not strike.

Musicians are performing tonight because we believe that Richmond deserves a great orchestra. We believe that staying on stage and performing without a job action and for our patrons will give incentive to our supporters in the community to insist on preserving and growing the best orchestra Richmond can afford.

The statement goes on to declare that the RSO presented its final offer to musicians on 9/7/2012 which includes an approximate 12 percent reduction in annual compensation for salaried musicians and “slashes nearly every benefit.” However, specifics regarding the latter were not provided and there is no mention of proposed cuts to [sws_css_tooltip position=”right” colorscheme=”rosewood” width=”450″ url=”javascript:void(0);” trigger=”per service” fontSize=”14″]The RSO functions with a dual salary/per service structure where some of the musicians are paid a weekly salary while the others are only paid for services performed. [/sws_css_tooltip] members.

At the time this article was published, there was no mention of the play-and-talk, musician leafleting, or a negotiation status update at the RSO website.

At least one Richmond area freelance culture writer has been following events, Angela Lehman-Rios , and she published a post on 9/24/2012 about the brewing labor dispute at her blog Fair Hearing and which recounts her encounter with a leafleting musician during a concert on 9/24/2012.

I commend the musicians who supported this leafleting and who created the independent websites for their willingness to take the time to communicate their perspective. (They could have gone on strike, as Chicago Symphony musicians did on Saturday. And I suppose there’s still time for an Atlanta-style lockout… but let’s not go there now.)

This situation is unusual in that it is an odd mix of labor action and very few details. Traditionally, musicians don’t engage in leafleting lightly and it is usually a precursor to escalating action. Consequently, they use this time to begin presenting their side of the story and in response, their employer will do the same by way of press statements, news outlet interviews, etc.

There is a bit of additional information at the musicians’ website, but it focuses more on programming trends than providing details about why they find the current offer unacceptable.

When combined with the silence from RSO management the entire scenario is a puzzler. Time will tell whether or not there’s any fire under the smoke and if the RSO will join the ranks of labor distress in Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

Resources:

Read the RSO Musician Press Statement

Richmond Symphony Musicians Continue To Perform – For Immediate Release

September 20, 2012

Musicians of the Richmond Symphony Orchestra will perform the season opening concert this Friday September 21, 2012 despite the fact that the musicians’ contract expired August 31, 2012. The Agreement between Richmond Musicians Association, Local 123 of the American Federation of Musicians and the Richmond Symphony Inc. has been under negotiation since January of this year.

During the last bargaining session on September 7, 2012, RSO Inc. issued the musicians representatives a “final offer”. According to negotiating committee chairman Richard Serpa “As soon as we receive a complete document we will send it to the rank and file for a vote”. Local 123 President George Tuckwiller says “The final offer is not a tentative agreement and demands regressive wages and conditions. Local 123 will not recommend acceptance of the offer to the musicians.”

Serpa adds, “We believe that the issues are not just the reduction of musicians’ wages and working conditions but major downsizing of one of Richmond’s premier cultural assets. Richmond not only deserves a first class symphony, it has committed to the development of the cultural district. We don’t believe that the city of Richmond and multiple investors spent millions of dollars in restoration and redevelopment in Richmond’s cultural district only to end up with a symphony that is not respected in the industry as a major player.

Tuckwiller adds, “The RSO’s “final offer” reduces a section musicians annual wage from $32,785 to $28,886 including a two week reduction in season length and slashes nearly every benefit the musicians receive. The musicians simply can’t afford this offer. The annual wage would enable a married musician with two children to be eligible for SNAP. We are not interested in handouts. We want to be able to afford our own food and put it on the table for our family.”

Musicians are performing tonight because we believe that Richmond deserves a great orchestra. We believe that staying on stage and performing without a job action and for our patrons will give incentive to our supporters in the community to insist on preserving and growing the best orchestra Richmond can afford”. It is incumbent to the future of the RSO that the Richmond community and all arts supporters stand up and convey their feelings and support for the continuation of the Richmond Symphony”, says Tuckwiller.

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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