Broadening The Perspective On Equal Pay For Equal Work

When we started examining the topic of equal pay for equal work as applied to substitute orchestra musicians, otherwise known as parity, we compared the parity rate at US and Canadian orchestras in an article from 2/26/2014. At that time, just over two thirds of Canadian symphonic orchestras maintained parity, which was twice the rate of US ensembles. Unfortunately, I left out one important variable in that examination, the only professional unionized US orchestra that isn’t part of the AFM: the Seattle Symphony Orchestra (SSO).

As an aside, in case you aren’t already familiar with the International Guild of Symphony, Opera, & Ballet Musicians (IGSOBM), the union which represents the SSO musicians, you can catch up on that history in a pair of articles along with a follow-up post from the days before reader comments (yes, there was such a thing) via Adaptistration’s archives.

Adaptistration People 062In order to find out where IGSOBM falls on the issue of substitute parity, I contacted SSO violist and Seattle Symphony and Opera Players’ Organization (SSOPO) Chiar Timothy Hale. From a comparative sense, IGSOBM is very much like Canadian orchestras in that it does maintain parity for substitute musicians, which the SSO classifies as “extra musicians.” Hale also described an option available to SSO extra musicians that balances what might be best described as a more accurate figure by incorporating economic elements beyond base wages, not unlike what Robert Levine proposed during our moderated discussion on the subject with SoundNotion.TV.

“Extra musicians receive the same base pay as musicians under contract, the weekly rate divided by eight is the per-service rate,” described Hale. “For services performed for the Symphony and Opera, there is an additional six percent retirement benefit which can be invested in a 403(b) plan or taken as wages.”

It is worth noting here that the Seattle Symphony & Opera Players’ Organization maintains mutually exclusive collective bargaining agreements with the SSO and the Seattle Opera. On a related item, sick leave, Hale went on to describe how the organizations managed to incorporate local employment ordinances into the master agreements.

“Also, due to the recent Seattle city ordinance, we offer sick leave to extra musicians, said Hale. “We actually waived the ordinance, which unions are allowed to do through collective bargaining, but only to bypass the city’s administrative requirements. We use a similar formula as the city ordinance, but applied it to services rather than hours and days, and made the accounting much simpler. Extra musicians accrue one service of sick leave for every 50 services performed, applied to the following season. The Ballet orchestra pays the same per-service rate to extras, but has retirement and sick leave only for their musicians under contract. In that group, musicians under contract are paid on a per-service basis, not a salary.”

From a historical perspective, Hale mentioned that SSOPO has always maintained the position that extra musicians should be paid no less than musicians under contract. Likewise, it isn’t a term their major employer, the SSO, seeks during bargaining.

“Management has tried to negotiate a separate wage for extras in the past, but never seemed to hold to the proposal very dearly,” Hale described. “We have always insisted on parity and they have gone along eventually…It wasn’t a subject of bargaining in the last negotiations or the extension which starts next season.”

According to Hale, given the nature of dividing the orchestra services between their employers, they rely heavily on what he described as a very good pool of extras.

“We need to know that the [extra musicians] we want will make themselves available to us when we need them,” said Hale.

In the end, we can list the SSO alongside other 36 percent of ICSOM orchestras that pay substitutes an equal wage for equal work.

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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