Resolving The Pay Disparity In Minnesota

Although specific details have yet to be released, media reports have confirmed the new master agreement ratified by the Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) and its musicians contains a provision to pay substitute musicians 90 percent of the contracted musicians’ base scale rate, thereby requiring subs to shoulder a disproportionately larger share of salary concessions than their contracted colleagues.

Adaptistration People 125There has been a great deal of conversation here and throughout social media channels on the subject; much of it focusing on potential motivations from both employer and employee perspectives and to date, neither stakeholder has addressed the issue in a public statement. Consequently, we do not have answers to the three fundamental questions surrounding the issue that would make much of the ongoing conjecture moot:

  1. Was the need for a pay disparity between contract and substitute musician base rates a deal-breaker for the MOA regardless of other terms?
  2. Did the musicians have a deal-breaker base salary minimum, even if it meant accepting a substitute musicians pay disparity?
  3. Once the final concessions were defined, did either stakeholder engage in zero sum bargaining in order to reach substitute and contract musician base scale parity?

Hopefully, the answers to those questions will appear at some point in the near future but what remains are final terms that require substitute musicians to accept less pay for work that requires equal artistic expectations with contract musicians.

And based on the conversations I’ve had with Minnesota Orchestra musicians and regular substitutes, this is about as far from a palatable outcome as either group desires. Perhaps unsurprisingly, everyone I’ve spoken with is reticent to express his/her views publicly; it is, for lack of a better description, a hot mess of balancing perceived intent, conflicted self interest, and overall institutional good.

Fortunately, there is a straightforward way to move forward that provides parity regardless of what happened during negotiations that produced the resulting pay discrepancy.

The Solution: A Disparity Mitigation Fund

Simply put, there is nothing preventing contracted musicians from contributing to a fund that will be used to mitigate the pay disparity until such time that is no longer exists.

  • Collections should be voluntary; this will account for any unusual situations of financial distress along with providing a way for those who may be opposed to the idea to decline participation. Only those who see value in the benefits resulting from shared risk need participate.
  • Fund payments can be distributed via a schedule that contributes to an efficient process related to collecting and processing necessary substitute/extra musician data and fund contributions from contracted musicians.
  • The data needed to figure out how much each contracted musician needs to contribute for any given concert set is straightforward and there is a trio of options regarding how the disparity mitigation funds can be distributed.

Data Source Option #1 – Via Employer

The MOA already maintains detailed records of how many substitute/extra musicians are used and how many services they are paid during a given payroll period. As such, the employer can provide this information to the musicians who can, in turn, use it to distribute funds via one of the two following options or even ask the employer to distribute it to the substitutes via the existing payroll architecture.

Data Source Option #2 – Via Local

Since Minnesota is not a right-to-work state most, if not all, substitute and extra musicians will need to be members of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). As such, the Local will have on file, or can easily obtain, contact information for each substitute/extra musician.

Necessary data on how much needs to be collected and distributed is obtainable from the employer if not already available in work dues reports that are part of the regular validation and payment information exchanged between the employer and the Local.

The Local should be capable of accepting mitigation fund contributions and all necessary work hours and communication needs should not exceed existing capacity.

Data Source Option #3 – Directly

In light of the decision to form their own nonprofit organization, the musicians have the already laid the necessary foundation for collecting and distributing funds. The trick will be working out a way to verify substitute/extra musician service counts but that shouldn’t be a showstopper.

Another critical requirement is one or more musicians will need to step up and assume a volunteer leadership position to shoulder the logistics and get the ball rolling.

A Little From Column A, And A Little From Column B…

It is entirely conceivable that a final process could include elements from all three options but the crucial point to remember here is there is no good reason why this can’t work from day one. The more everyone works together, the better it will be for the entire organization.

Final Thoughts And An Offer

In the end, there is no good reason why this idea shouldn’t come to pass.

Take a moment to let that sink in.

But even though there’s nothing standing in the way, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a choice and right now, the Minnesota Orchestra musicians, Local 30-73, and the respective substitute/extra musicians need to find a way to make these decisions and turn the Disparity Mitigation Fund into a reality.

Time is not a luxury at this point; sadly, a system such as this only becomes more difficult to develop after the season begins and in an ideal scenario, Local 30-73 (or a group of committed contracted musicians) will hold one or more meetings with involved parties in order to discuss options and determine the best way forward.

Certainly, it is one thing to tell other people what they should do with their time and money and quite another to put some skin in the game. As such, I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is and offer my professional services with related strategic planning, guidance, and infrastructure support over a sustained period of time free of charge to any involved party. I’ll also donate my expertise for the purpose of moderating any internal discussions and/or meetings.

From a broader perspective, this solution is available to any orchestra that currently maintains pay disparity between contract and substitute musicians and I genuinely hope all of them will consider this solution for their respective institution. But the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are in a unique position to be genuine leaders among their peers by emerging from what is arguably the most devastating work stoppage the field has witnessed and taking matters in their own hands by deciding whether or not they place their faith in the dynamic benefits of collective identity and shared sacrifice, regardless of what ended up in the final agreement.

All of the control and all of the power is at their fingertips. All they need to do is reach out and take it. Yes, it is just that simple.

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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29 thoughts on “Resolving The Pay Disparity In Minnesota”

  1. Drew, you have written a column about Pay Disparity “requiring subs to shoulder a disproportionately larger share of salary concessions than their contracted colleagues….What remains are final terms that require substitute musicians to accept less pay for work that requires equal artistic expectations with contract musicians.” You do allow, however, that “based on the conversations I’ve had with Minnesota Orchestra musicians and regular substitutes, this is about as far from a palatable outcome as either group desires.” After their being locked out for 488 days, is this really the most salient point in their new contract? While you refer to two groups, both of which are musicians, you have left out the management. Would it not be fair to also ask Michael Hensen what his motivation was for paying substitutes only 90% of what those who have earned permanent positions earn? As for pay disparity, what of his income and assorted bonuses, in one year more than five times the musicians’ base pay?

    You have said “the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are in a unique position to be genuine leaders among their peers.” With all due respect, Drew, you do not speak for their peers. These fabulous musicians are genuine leaders, even heroes, among their peers. They have endured unimaginable hardship in upholding their artistic ideals. All musicians owe them a debt of gratitude without a second thought. Not a second guess.

    • I’ve been reading your replies throughout this topic LarryW and simply have to chime in as you seem determined to make it seem as though the musicians are beyond examination. Do you not notice the multiple references to asking both musicians and management for information but they don’t reply?

      And how do you even infer that this post is speaking for professional musicians throughout the country? That’s simply absurd but tell me LarryW, who is speaking for the substitutes? I don’t see anyone standing up for them, least of all you.

      And what do you think about this plan, don’t you think it’s exactly what the musicians should do or should the subs be grateful for whatever their “heroes” managed to provide?

      • Janet, you take a giant leap when you go from my questioning the relative importance of a single point in a contract to my saying musicians are beyond examination. As you have pointed out, the management did not reply. We have not yet seen the contract, either, yet we hear of confidential conversations with the affected musicians. That is called hearsay. I find it unfair, then, to make assumptions as to the MO musicians’ negotiating committee’s motives, methods, or means. You, apparently, have no problem doing so.

        If you take the time to carefully reread my post, you may understand my point about Drew not speaking for professional musicians. Certainly, in this case, he does not speak for me. As for speaking for the substitutes, I have said not one word against them or their right to be paid on parity. It is absurd for you to say so. I can speak on the subject since I have served as both an orchestral musician (including Minnesota) and as a substitute musician. Ad hominem attacks such as “least of all you” have no place here. Since Drew has not moderated your comments, I will ask you to restrain yourself.

        I also have said nothing against Drew’s plan. I simply find the priorities in this discussion misplaced.

      • Sorry LarryW, you’re just wrapping your arguments in more self-righteous glorification. you also haven’t said if you think this is something the MN musicians should do.

        I want to hear exactly what you think about that since my guess is you don’t think they owe anyone anything, even all of those substitutes that sacrificed their spots (when they probably didn’t have a choice anyway) in other orchestras.

        so yes, you’ve not said anything against substitutes but you certainly have said anything for them either and that’s what makes me think you’re the type of holier-than-thou musician who feels all subs are inferior to contract musicians.

    • No one is second guessing the musicians, you’re being way too sensitive about this. And really, what’s wrong with an idea that asks the musicians to support their sub colleagues the same way they supported them? You’d do well to pull musicians off such an unrealistically high pedestal (and probably be much less angry).

      • MN Musician Fan, if you read Drew’s previous article, “One More Reason…”, you will see many people questioning the MO musicians’ motives when it comes to pay for substitutes. Referring to second-guessing is not my being way too sensitive, but continuing the discussion. Just so you know, I do not place any musician, including myself, on a pedestal. As for a display of anger, you may want to reread your post. Thanks for being a fan, though.

      • Your glib attitude only makes me question why I donate to orchestras and I doubt anyone with a modicum of reason would consider themselves a fan of your ideas. I weep for the future of classical music if it is to be dominated by people with ideas and attitudes such as yours.

  2. A very just and even idea. Of course, firstly, the contract MinnOrch players should be thanked for holding their ground as long as they did. But now it’s time to acknowledge and support some of the people who have helped make that orchestra the great orchestra it is, too. The substitute players are the silent partners who should also be thanked. Subs that stood firm and performed in the free concerts with contracted players should be treated equally here as well.

    I’m glad the orchestra is back, I just hope the very people who helped prop up the organization during the lockout aren’t stepped on as they are asked to fill in the vacated positions.

  3. If you need any convincing whatsoever about why MN musicians owe it to their substitutes to do something like this, go to a terrific article written by a MN Orchestra substitute and published at Emily Hogstad’s terrific blog:

    How anyone among the MN musicians, their managers, and their supporters could read this heartfelt article and not want to see the substitutes receive fair treatment is beyond me.

  4. This is a beautiful idea and a terrific way to let every board and manager out there who insist on paying subs less that it won’t be tolerated, no matter how much pressure they put on musicians during negotiations, lock them out, or denigrate them in the press. I cant wait to see what the MN musicians will do with this!

  5. Mr. McManus:
    Thank you for working to shed light on this subject. Sadly, I doubt that any ICSOM orchestra will seriously consider, let alone adopt, your plan or take you up on your magnanimous offer. I hope I am wrong, especially about Minnesota.

    • You’re welcome but I don’t know if you should be quite so pessimistic. Granted, time will tell but the field has endured enough ugliness, it’s high time for something like this to begin. It’s also worth pointing out that more than 75% of Canadian orchestras (which are also represented by the American Federation of Musicians) maintain substitute parity and when Detroit settled their contentious work stoppage, the agreement contained sub parity as well.

  6. Even when there is parity on base weekly pay or service pay, there remains disparity worth a whole lot more than 10% of base in the benefits package that full time musicians receive and substitutes do not. Too often, the optics of base weekly pay lead us to magnify it unduly compared to other, more substantive economic issues, particularly benefits and work rules.

    • No argument there but if nothing else, for the sake of obtaining as accurate of an equal pay for equal work comparison for contract vs. substitute musicians, the base pay is the best area to focus. Having said that, I’m always happy to look at other options, at the very least, it will never hurt to examine and see what can be uncovered.

      It is also worth pointing out the areas of a master agreement where if it weren’t for subs, certain work rules wouldn’t even be able to exist; such as vacation and personal leave, paid sick leave, series limitations, service relief, and more. In short, and outside of purely per service orchestras without service guarantees, most orchestras wouldn’t even be able to function without substitutes.

  7. Given all of the hurt feelings, stress, and frustration surrounding this terrible lockout, I do so hope that the MN musicians are going to be able to put aside any feelings of anger and reach out to their substitute colleagues and recognize their sacrifices and efforts regardless of what transpired during negotiations. Does anyone really care what happened, how hard people tried, or how difficult some were during negotiations?

    This is such a thoughtful and meaningful suggestion that it deserves more than the knee-jerk “how dare you!” attitude expressed by some of the reader comments. So please, please, pretty please MN musicians, everyone knows you stood up to and fought back against one of the worst abuses in decades. No one thinks less of you so don’t let some of these rabble-rousers interested more in musician class warfare harden your hearts to the point where you act like your CEO. I’m sure everyone just wants you to do what you can to help acknowledge your subs who stood next to you on the picket line, gave up their jobs in other orchestras, and volunteered their services for your concerts. And this is a great way to do that. you’ll only make your colleagues and supporters love you that much more. I know I would 🙂

      • Any word from ICSOM? Their leadership frequently talks the solidarity talk. Perhaps your proposed solution could broaden to include a fourth option, whereby ICSOM could establish and administer a fund to mitigate pay disparity.

      • I have yet to ask but I agree that adding the option of having the fund managed by ICSOM is worth examining. My hunch is they don’t have the internal resources to do something like this without expanding active participation by members or actually hiring a staffer but it’s certainly worth consideration. At the very least, I wonder if they would be as willing to issue a Call To Action for collecting funds for substitutes in the same way they currently do for contracted members.

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