For MN Substitute Pay Disparity, No News Isn’t Good News

Following up on the One Year Later, Minnesota Orchestra Pay Disparity Continues To Elicit Strong Opinions article from 1/5/2015, I contacted both representatives from the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra (MOMA) along with Local 30-73, American Federation of Musicians (AFM), the regional office that represents the MN Orchestra musicians, to inquire whether or not there have been any efforts from either group to help alleviate or marginalize the impact of the disparity, such as a Disparity Mitigation Fund, presented here on 1/23/2014.

Adaptistration People 133At the time this article was written, Local 30-73 acknowledged the request but they have yet to respond; likewise, MOMA acknowledged receipt of the request with what appears to be an auto-reply message:

Greetings,

Thank you for your message. This inbox is checked only sporadically, so we apologize if your email is not handled in a timely manner. If you are trying to reach a specific musician, please contact them directly.

All the best!

Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra
contact@minnesotaorchestramusicians.org

Unfortunately, no other contact information exists nor do they provide any individual musician committee contact form.

The lack of engagement continues the trend from 2014 where both the MOMA representatives and Local 30-73 rebuffed attempts to discuss the pay disparity.

However, I did manage to connect with three MN Orchestra substitute musicians that have performed with the ensemble during the 2014/15 season and they did confirm that to the best of their knowledge, no efforts have been made to initiate any sort of Disparity Mitigation Fund. Each substitute agreed to speak on the condition that they remain anonymous.

It Doesn’t Need To Be This Way

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is a very sensitive issue for musicians and one that elicits strong opinions from them and their supporters, but in the course of examining the MN substitute pay disparity, I did run across a similar situation at another professional orchestra, The Florida Orchestra (TFO), but that orchestra’s musicians and Local opted for a different course of action.

I spoke with Harold Van Schaik, Florida Orchestra Bass Trombonist and Executive Board member Local 427-721 AFM, who described a situation in his orchestra when negotiating their 2010/11 agreement where the musicians felt as though they had no other alternative but to accept a pay disparity during a recent collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiation.

“We were faced with many difficult choices and had the possibility of imminent institutional failure as a very real possibility if CBA concessions were not part of an overall expense cutting deal,” said Van Schaik. “The full time players took an approximately 15 percent annual salary cut (primarily in work weeks). To keep the full time musician salary from being cut even more we did lower the sub/extra pay to below 1/8th of the full time musician weekly salary.* It was a difficult decision and came about only after a LOT of internal debate on the orchestra committee.”

In many ways, this parallels much of the sentiment expressed by MOMA supporters in describing a potential scenario where the musicians had no choice but to accept the disparity. Van Schaik went on to describe how the Florida Orchestra musicians and their Local decided to address the disproportionate sacrifice.

“After the ratification, the Local (at the suggestion of Secretary Treasurer Richard Sparrow, also a TFO member) waived work dues assessment on all TFO subs/extras,” said Van Schaik. “We continued to forward the AFM’s share of those dues to [the national offices in New York City] out of the ‘Local’s pocket.’** In the four years since that concessionary agreement, the full time musicians have recovered to beyond the conceded annual salary level and the per-service rate parity returns in the last two weeks of the current season.

Van Schaik, who was serving as Orchestra Committee chair during that period of time, acknowledged that while the work dues waiver did not fully mitigate the disparity in a dollar to dollar measure, it was what he defined as a gesture to acknowledge the reality and help as much as they could with a solution outside of the CBA.

Solving The Problem

One of the key elements from what Van Schaik described is that the musicians and their Local took active measures to design and implement a solution outside the auspices of the CBA and ultimately, they crafted a solution, together.

When asked if they ever considered something like the Disparity Mitigation Fund proposed here, Van Schaik confirmed that the idea did not emerge during their exploration process. Fortunately, MOMA and Local 30-73 do have that solution as an option and I want to take a moment to confirm that my original proposition to offer my professional services in conjunction with any element related to strategic planning, guidance, and infrastructure support over a sustained period of time free of charge to any involved party stands.

When originally proposing the Disparity Mitigation Fund I wrote “the more everyone works together, the better it will be for the entire organization” and from a positive perspective, that is just as accurate today as it was one year ago.

In fact, the structural development undertaken by MOMA during their lockout provides a far better operational infrastructure to design and implement something like the Disparity Mitigation Fund. The presence of ongoing and organized patron support groups and what is defined on their website as pending tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) status provides a great deal of capacity; not the least of which are benefit concerts along the lines of what they organized during their lockout.

In the end, now is the time for MOMA and/or Local 30-73 to rise to the occasion but the longer they take to implement a solution, the less likely it will come to pass.

There is no longer time to shy away from action or adopt ‘if only’ or ‘we can’t’ pretexts and firmly focus on ‘how.’

The solutions are identified. The time is now.

*The 1/8th figure reference is part of a typical formula used by professional orchestras to determine an actual per service rate for otherwise salaried musicians. In this instance, the typical maximum number of services (a rehearsal or performance) that can be scheduled over the course of one week is eight. Consequently, the per-service base rate is determined by taking the weekly base minimum salary and dividing by eight.
**The AFM currently tasks Local offices with collecting dues and in turn, forward a portion of those revenues to the National office. What Van Schaik is describing here is a scenario where the National received revenues in full as though the disparity mitigation measures were not in place and that shortfall was taken out of Local 427-721’s bottom line. According to Van Schaik, “it cost them nothing as we paid them what they would have been sent had the assessments been made from the Local’s funds [plus we] figured it would be easier to get forgiveness than permission.”

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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11 thoughts on “For MN Substitute Pay Disparity, No News Isn’t Good News

  1. It is sad, and should be pointed out, that as the Minnesota players were locked out, many of them traveled to other cities where subs lost work in order for them play in those orchestras. Yes, it is a common practice that orchestras help one another out during strikes and lockouts, but it is still an old boys network if you will. And when other orchestras were locked out Minnesota took them in as well, pushing aside regular subs when necessary. Life is not fair, but doubly so for a sub player.

    Two things I wonder about: 1. as a ticket payer I’m paying full price for concerts that are full of subs getting less cash than their colleagues. Where’s my discount for not getting 100% of what I pay for?

    2. Are the MinnOrch players who find this uncomfortable not see the writing on the wall? If you are accepting this just for the sake of getting back to work, don’t you see that in the next negotiation you are even that much more up against that wall? You’re going to see your board asking “why not reduce even more, obviously everyone’s saving money this way anyway” or “tell me now, why do we need a full time harp player, why a full time tuba. I hardly see them on stage half the time anyway.” At this point, they know you’ll take paying subs less even though you don’t like it and begin chipping away at your core numbers; just like what we saw happen in Atlanta.

  2. Hi, Drew, I appreciate you bringing up the sub pay disparity issue, but surely Minnesota Is not the only orchestra in the country who has this disparity? Also, what, specifically, is the disparity you’re so concerned about? While I agree that any disparity is an issue, I believe a 50% or 60% disparity warrants more urgent attention than perhaps a 5% or 10%. Also, I understand that you were not a party to the contract negotiations in Minnesota and therefore cannot know everything that was discussed, considered, and agonized over. Neither do I. But I did ask MOMO last year at the time that you raised this issue, and the response that I received acknowledged the pay disparity issue, but the musicians had more urgent issues to insure the future of the ensemble. They did not elaborate, but I suspect those urgent issues concerned management, governance, and if Osmo Vanska would be returning or not.

    I would like to make clear, though, that I personally object to you singling out Minnesota regarding this issue when I understand other orchestras in the country are struggling with the same issue. You have good ideas, Drew, but you don’t help your business by focusing only on Minnesota when they are not alone and I’m sure other orchestras would benefit from your concern.

    By the way, the musicians have been on vacation last week and this week, so the lack of response may be due to that fact.

    Thanks!
    Cinda

  3. Hi Cinda, thanks for your note, those are very thoughtful questions and I’m happy to provide some clarity.

    I’m glad you asked about the degree of disparity which exists at other groups. I’ve seen where people are trying to classify degrees of severity or conditions that might create some sort of sliding chart for good or bad types of disparity. Although it isn’t surprising to see that sort of rationalization unfold, it doesn’t have any practical value since the concept of equal pay for equal work is a yes/no topic. Should a company that pays women $0.90 for every $1.00 it pays men for the same work be proud because one of their competitors pays women $0.82/$1.00?

    Minnesota becomes the ideal reference point on the issue of pay disparity due to a combination of factors, not the least of which is the amount of national attention their lockout received and the degree to which the musicians suffered under needless pressures and demands that contributed no appreciable institutional benefit (something we examined in great detail in numerous articles, such as these).

    These conditions helped create an ideal environment for an organization with a long history of a collegial work environment to become an example for just how important equitable treatment is, especially when applied to colleagues that rely on full time members to protect their interests as much as their own.

    So yes, even if we assume the best and the MOA rebuffed any musician counter-proposals to lower full time base wages in order to achieve parity and there were absolutely no other options other than to accept the disparity, the musicians could have used this position to lead by example and say “Fine, we only accept this because you leave no other choice but we’re not going to pass your buck and instead, implement measures to bring about parity on our own to demonstrate how important this issue is by way of our actions.”

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, some might claim that it’s not the full time musicians’ responsibility to pay for a problem created by their employer out of fear that they will become targets again for future leadership driven mistakes; let’s call it give a mouse some cheese anxiety disorder. Granted, this might be a more appropriate concern for items related to full time wages, benefits, and working conditions but in this instance, they opted to pass the buck along to their colleagues who do not receive a vote and who trust them to protect their interests as though they were their own.

    Instead, the lesson they’ve taught their employer is regardless of how hard their beat their chests, they are ultimately willing to let substitute musicians pay for management’s mistakes…just so long as full time musician wages don’t dip below their threshold for remaining in the Top 10 highest paid orchestra musicians in the country.

    Fortunately, there’s still time to stop being afraid of fear and send a real message through actions.

    If you don’t mind me posing a question to you (and by extension to anyone reading this thread) do you honestly think that their employer would look at an act of justice and solidarity born out of prolonged victimization as an invitation to go back to that well for another drink?

    Hardly. Any manager, good or bad, would be shaken to his/her core at such resolve and realize there is no value in attempting to use parity as an inflated bargaining chip. Attempts otherwise are bound to end as a PR nightmare. So rest assured, you can put any such ‘give a mouse some cheese anxiety disorder’ to bed.

    Lastly, and with regard to the bigger picture, having Minnesota take a stand for equal pay/equal work in the wake of what they endured will accomplish far more toward correcting the trend at other institutions. Leading from the front dispels fears that paralyze necessary action and legitimizes positive change. But to acquire that legitimacy, you must stand for something rooted in principles, ideas, and the needs of others who rely on your strength and ability to avoid the lure of self-interest.

    Lastly, thank you for letting me know how you feel along with your objections; I appreciate that you took the time express them in a comment and I hope you understand and trust that I know where you’re coming from. I also hope the clarity above will illuminate the broader view and why it is imperative for the field’s health and vitality that this unique opportunity to restore parity is not lost.

  4. Now that the MOA’s announced the resumption of recording its Sibelius Symphony cycle this spring, I wonder how this will compare to its Grammy-nominated recordings done when it had its full complement of musicians, now reduced considerably. Undoubtedly, subs will be in the mix.

  5. That’s an excellent question Mike and I wonder if the new CBA language dealing with EMG is the same for full time and subs or if there are differences. I’ve requested (again) a copy of the current CBA from the employer but have yet to get a response and will hopefully obtain a copy by week’s end it looks like for now, they are refusing to release the document. We’ll examine this more in an upcoming article.

  6. Drew, I would assume that pay for the actual recordings comes under the AFM’s IMA – just renegotiated. However, the recordings may be made from live concerts which of necessity will be using subs. I was also musing about quality…..

  7. HI, Drew,
    Thanks for all the clarification regarding your thinking on the pay disparity issue and why you feel so strongly about Minnesota. Robert Levine over at Polyphonic.org brought up some other points regarding who is ultimately responsible for the pay disparity issue, and I have to say that I agree with him — it is management. While keeping this issue out there and in discussion, it’s possible that you could be putting some pressure on orchestra managements around the country to prepare for their musician employees to want to eliminate the pay disparity.

    Unfortunately, neither of us can know what occurred in private during the negotiations in Minnesota a year ago, or if the pay disparity issue was tabled until after the settlement in order to get everyone back to work and save the organization (which truly was on the brink, including the possibility of losing Orchestra Hall). A year after the settlement, some of the things I’ve been hearing from my position as a community member is that it’s never really gone away, that negotiations are already underway in preparation for the next contract, and there is in general a much more positive and collaborative environment. Could it be, perhaps, that the musicians know what they’re doing? (smile)

    I think it’s time to make the pay disparity issue a NATIONAL issue, and not only a Minnesota issue. As women continue to fight for equal pay for equal work (you’d think American society would finally realize that it was time for this 20 years ago!), I believe the musicians will continue to fight for their colleagues’ equal pay. In their own way. And perhaps by working with management rather than taking an adversarial stance as management did toward them in Minnesota 3 years ago.

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I understand that you chose Minnesota as your example and your choice for a leadership position. I also understand that you would like to have a more active role in Minnesota as a consultant. In my humble opinion, I think you need to address your concerns and help to the MOA management and offer your services to them….(smile)

    Cinda

  8. I certainly agree that equal pay for equal work is a national issue and in the wake of their agreement, examining what has transpired in Minnesota is a crucial element in that broader effort. Likewise, I doubt anyone feels that the former MOA leadership wasn’t the root of disparity; nonetheless, that doesn’t preclude the musicians from taking a genuine leadership role by restoring parity now then working it back into the CBA in the subsequent negotiation.

    I’m not entirely certain what you are inferring regarding your remarks about my consulting work but allow me to replace your misrepresentations with information I would have been happy to provide per request. In the future, please feel free to simply ask, verifying information in advance is not only a responsible act but it should help you avoid drawing inaccurate conclusions such as these.

    I allocate a fixed percentage of my time each year to pro bono activity via my traditional consulting work. This time is awarded to individuals and/or organizations based on a number of variables and a cause such as equal pay for equal work, especially when it helps give a voice to the voiceless, is certainly worthwhile. Conversely, allocating my pro bono time to any organization which engages in what may perhaps be best defined as malice driven governance is not something you can expect any time in the foreseeable future.

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