A Busy Weekend of Rejections and Unemployment

(Updated 10/1/2012 11:45pm CT) It was a busy weekend in the crisis coral: the musicians at the Minnesota Orchestra (MO) and Richmond (VA) Symphony Orchestra (RSO) officially rejected final offers from their respective employers while the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (ISO) musicians began filing for unemployment.

Minnesota Orchestra

piggy bankOn Saturday 9/29/2012 the MO musicians conducted a ratification meeting to review and vote on management’s last offer. After officially rejecting the offer, the musicians and management conducted last ditch negotiations on Sunday where, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Graydon Royce, the musicians proposed two offers: binding arbitration or play and talk under terms from the now expired contract.

Management rejected both options and confirmed that as of midnight that evening, the musicians would be locked out; meaning their pay and benefits would be cut off. An earlier article from Royce published on Saturday, 9/29/12 provides additional context.

Update 10/1/2012 11:45pm CT

The Minnesota Orchestra has officially cancelled all concert activity through November 25, 2012. Ticket refund and exchange information is available at the orchestra’s website.

The musicians posted the following promotional video at YouTube to provide additional insight into their positions.


Lastly, conductor and Minneapolis resident Bill Eddins published a point-blank response to the work stoppage at his blog, Sticks and Drones.

Richmond Symphony Orchestra

The RSO musicians issued a press statement on 9/30/12 to announce that they had officially rejected their management’s final offer. The statement provided a bit more detail than the vague bits of information previously available (details). Apparently, the Richmond Times Dispatch published something about the event the same day the musicians rejected the offer, but at the time this article was published, the online version link produced a 404 Error result.

According to the musicians’ statement, the RSO management is pursuing reductions in both base compensation and length of the season for salaried musicians and equal reductions for per service musicians vis-a-vis cuts to guaranteed minimum services. However, the musicians’ statement seems to indicate that the musicians will continue to perform even if management attempts to implement the offer musicians’ recently rejected.

Read the RSO Musicians' Statement.

The Musicians of the Richmond Symphony Orchestra have rejected managements “Final” offer. “The vote was nearly unanimous” says musicians’ negotiating committee spokeswoman Molly Sharp. The offer included a 7% weekly wage reduction and reduced the season length from 38 to 36 weeks for full time musicians. Per-service musicians would see a 7% reduction in per-service rates and a 7% reduction in annual service guarantee’s. Annual full time wages would be reduced from $32,785 to $28,886. Additionally, nearly every benefit to musicians will suffer severe cuts. Between wage cuts, furlough weeks and a reduced season, musicians will lose 12-15% of their annual income. These loses do not include a 5% wage restoration that was promised to be re-paid on August 31, 2012.

This 5% wage restoration was part of an agreement intended to resolve a complaint issued by the National Labor Relation Board against the Richmond Symphony Orchestra for refusing to pay a contractually mandated wage increase at the beginning of the 2010-2011 season. The musicians agreed to modify their contract with a 5% cut in wages for the 2010-11 & 2011-2012 seasons and withdrew the unfair labor practice charge in exchange for the 5% wage cut to be restored on the last day of August 2012; the day the current contract expired. Several weeks ago the musicians agreed to temporarily suspend this restoration and perform under the terms of the old agreement, a decision designed to allow the season to begin without interruption. RSO contracts 36 full-time musicians and 32 per-service musicians. Per-service musicians are paid by performance.

A musician who is married with two children will be eligible for SNAP. “A musician who wins a competitive job in the Richmond Symphony could arrive having spent $250,000.00 on a music degree and the purchase of an instrument. There is little incentive left to come to Richmond to perform with the RSO” says Sharp. “We are not looking for handouts; we want to put our own food on the table.” “This offer does not benefit the RSO musicians or the city of Richmond” says George Tuckwiller, President of Local 123 American Federation of Musicians and former RSO trumpeter. “The City of Richmond and real estate developers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to renovate the downtown cultural area. How can you justify downsizing the RSO to an ensemble that is less than a major player in the industry?” says Tuckwiller.

“We are not going to play into the hand of a labor dispute or a national phenomenon” says Christopher Durham, the RSO musicians’ labor negotiator from the national office of the American Federations of Musicians. The employer has advised that they will implement this offer. Upon such implementation the musicians have the choice of working under the terms of the implemented final offer or striking. The musicians have every intention of performing upcoming services. This is a revenue problem, there is no more to cut and still maintain a viable musical ensemble. The musicians have been very generous over the past five years. We have accepted cuts every year since 2009. The budget has not balanced for 8 of the past ten years.” Durham adds. “The Board of Directors and community have been generous with their time and resources. We do not want to seem ungrateful, but let’s face it, musicians simply cannot afford to accept this offer, nor can Richmond afford to lose the RSO. The RSO belongs to the community”

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

The 9/28/2012 edition of the Indianapolis Star published an article by Julie Sickel that reports the ongoing lockout has progressed to the point where upcoming concerts on October 5, and 6, 2012 have been cancelled and that musicians have begun the process of filing for unemployment benefits. Although regulations vary from one state to the next, it is not uncommon for employees to qualify for unemployment benefits during a work stoppage if they are being locked out by their employer.

As of now, stakeholders appear to remain at an impasse and musicians plan to hold a public concert on 10/7/2012.

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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