New Deal In Indy? If so, It’s News To The Musicians

The work stoppage at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (ISO) took an unusual turn on 10/1/2012 when the orchestra’s board turned verbal provisions into a written offer with a deadline for musician acceptance of Saturday, 10/6/12 at 6:00pm ET. At first glance, it appears that the offer provided substantial increases over the previous offer by providing sizeable backloaded improvements.

For example, the ISO website provides the following comparison to the current offer and the previous offer from 8/30/12:

Year 1
Year 2
Year 3
Year 4
Year 5
Conditional Offer
8/30/2012 Offer

question markHowever, the deal-breaker in this case is a contingency clause that allows either side to opt out of the agreement and re-enter bargaining at the end of the second year.

In essence, this means the agreement is really two years and everything thereafter is contingent on both parties agreeing to move forward. Without seeing the actual escape clause language, any additional details are, at best, speculative.

An additional change from previous offers include offering new hires a defined contribution pension plan while current members continue to receive the existing defined benefit plan.

Moreover, the offer contains a somewhat confusing element in that management asserts it will actually increase the orchestra size by two positions, up to 74; however, the expired agreement required 87 musicians although a clause provided flexibility by temporarily lowering that number to 79 through the end of agreement’s term. Consequently, a discrepancy of anywhere from seven to fifteen musicians exists.

ISO musician spokesperson and ISO Assistant Principal/Utility Horn Richard Graef was excerpted in the 10/2/2012 edition of the Indianapolis Business Journal in an article by Dan Human stating that the musicians have already rejected the offer in principle due to the termination clause, which they declined in previous bargaining sessions.

“The ‘contract termination clause’ makes it impossible for us to agree to the Society’s ‘we win-you lose’ proposal,” said Graef in a prepared statement. “It establishes a situation in which [management] has no incentive to raise the funds, and every incentive not to do so and then pay the musicians less.”

However, in an effort to perhaps sweeten the deal, the ISO included a retroactive clause that would pay musicians at the Year 1 rate for the time they have been locked out.

The ISO is expected to announce additional concert cancellations if the musicians reject the offer by the prescribed deadline. Additionally, the ISO continues to claim that the musicians have been unwilling to schedule bargaining sessions in a timely manner, and that failure to accommodate was the impetus for the latest official offer.

Update: the Indianapolis Star has additional information via an article by Jay Harvey.

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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4 thoughts on “New Deal In Indy? If so, It’s News To The Musicians”

  1. This termination clause in this contract weighs heavily on the fact that the administration has to raise an additional 5 million by the end of March 2013 (according to the ISO press release). If that is achieved then the early termination clause will be removed. I feel that management has put this in the contract as an exit strategy if they cannot raise money for the orchestra. It seems like they have little faith in the ability of their board and administration to achieve this goal.
    There are additional statements in the press release that seem alarming; “this offer requires ISO administration, board, and musicians to work together to raise 50%-100% more financially every year.”

    If they cannot do this now, with the same administrative leadership in place do they really think they can raise an additional 5 million by the end of March 2013?

  2. The termination clause surely does seem like a deal breaker, unless there can be pretty strong contingency measures that make it very hard to execute the escape clause. Otherwise, it means the $60K plus numbers are basically fiction.

    However, to call it an incentive NOT to raise funds… That presupposes that the end goal is to pay the musicians less, and only in the heat of battle would anybody actually believe that is the end goal. The end goal for the administrators is to maintain the organization into the future, with achievements along the way that burnish their resumes.

    Any Development office certainly wouldn’t have an incentive to avoid raising money (that pesky resume issue again). Any of us who have worked with Development professionals know that the idea is absurd. Maybe some Board members would feel that way, since they’re writing the checks, but the Staff is always going to want to try to raise as much money as they can.

    If they don’t believe that they can do it, like Josh is suggesting, it may be because they can’t. Do you want to try to raise $5M in Indianapolis today, for anything that isn’t sports related? I wouldn’t want to be in that position.

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