MN Patron Group Mute On Substitute Equal Pay For Equal Work Topic

Last week’s pair of articles (part 1 and part 2) examining the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) musicians’ decision to go public with concerns over artistic integrity in the wake of extended austerity measures produced an intriguing byproduct related to the topic of equal pay for equal work.

On one hand, BSO president and CEO, Paul Meecham, proclaimed that the orchestra has managed to “attract high quality substitute players without any difficulty” despite paying those musicians 21.27 percent pay less per service than full time musicians. The BSO musicians objected and asserted that maintaining artistic integrity is rapidly becoming untenable.

At the same time, several of the actual current and former substitute musicians described a much darker work environment along with degraded artistic quality resulting in many assigning the orchestra a lower position on their respective freelance options. Some of the musicians assigned fault to both the employer and the regularly employed musicians for succumbing to a series of decisions motivated more by self-interest than long term institutional concerns.

However, the one remaining stakeholder yet to be included in this discussion is patrons.

The Rise Of Patron Support Groups

No TalkingEver since the onset of the economic downturn, the field has witnessed a sharp uptick in the number of organized patron support groups. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they have taken root in the fertile ground of intense labor disputes; arguably, one group with a refined degree of internal organization is Save Our Symphony Minnesota (SOSMN).

During the extended Minnesota Orchestra lockout, which ultimately produced a ten percent substitute pay disparity, they conducted their own financial analysis of the Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA), hosted public meetings, organized political action activity, and implemented systematic public relations efforts via social media. All of these activities required a heightened degree of administrative competence.

According to their strategic vision statement, key priorities include:

  • Attracting the nation’s most talented musicians to complete the orchestra’s complement
  • Driving needed changes in governance, transparency and institutional culture
  • Empowering orchestra devotees to be effective advocates  for the organization’s future

Throughout the dispute, they demonstrated a degree of resourcefulness thanks in part to leveraging the professional skill sets of key members.

In light of the MN Orchestra’s substitute pay disparity, I reached out to their organization to see if the issue of equal pay for equal work among substitutes rose to the level of their attention and/or involvement along with any willingness to allocate any internal resources toward facilitating measures to alleviate the disparity in advance of the next collective bargaining agreement negotiation.

Since the latest agreement was reached and the lockout ended, I’ve been writing about the substitute musician pay disparity and in the course of those articles proposed a solution that would mitigate, if not eliminate, the disparity (details) until such time it is restored via the collective bargaining agreement.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the solution would require a certain degree of administration in order to function and to that end, would SOSMN be willing and/or capable of providing this type of assistance if asked by the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and/or Twin Cities Musicians Union Local 30-73 AFM?

Thank you in advance for your response and any additional thoughts your organization would like to share on this topic.

Unfortunately, the organization failed to reply.

Granted, it isn’t difficult to see where a patron support group would be uncomfortable discussing an issue that addresses points which intersect sensitive issues such as self-interests; at the same time, recent events at the BSO may serve to reinforce the need to move past this level of reticence in order to prevent falling victim to larger concerns.

We’ll continue to examine the MN Orchestra substitute disparity along with the broader equal pay for equal work topic in future articles. In the meantime, any replies from SOSMN will be published as soon as possible after they arrive.

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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7 thoughts on “MN Patron Group Mute On Substitute Equal Pay For Equal Work Topic

  1. Although I am usually a strong supporter and grateful for the strong activism in your blog Drew, this feels different. SOSMN was a uniquely vital force in the lockout. We need to never forget how this grass roots organization rallied around their embattled artists and ultimately succeeded in getting them back on stage. The entire industry owes them a debt of gratitude not only for their support of the MSO musicians, but for creating a model for similar groups around the nation. This headline feels like an attempt to shame them into action. That is not fair.

    Although I find substitute pay disparity to be far less than ideal, the deals reached at a negotiating table represent compromises made by the team in light of Spock’s words “the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few”. The musicians at the table have a responsibility first and foremost to those who rely solely on the collective bargaining agreement. Allowing substitute pay disparity is something which would be conceded only in the most dire circumstances and after serious consideration. We saw similar attempts in Boston quickly squashed by BSO players and I have no doubt that if the MSO players felt they had any leverage whatsoever, they would have done so as well. My sense from talking to MSO players is that they made the best deal that they could under the incredible duress of a year without work.

    The Baltimore situation is different. I have performed there many times in the past decade and can speak to the vastly different circumstances in the intervening years. They have seen draconian cuts from salaries closing in on the top 5 under Temirkanov to furlow weeks and base wages now about half of that peer group they were hoping to join. It is indeed alarming that substitute players in this amazing orchestra make less than regional orchestras up and down the east coast. Luckily, my academic job gives me the freedom to play there on artistic merit only. I thank you for supporting the Baltimore musicians as THEY reach out on this issue.

    The Minnesota Orchestra musicians and community have earned a respite from conflict. When they recover, I have no doubt that they will address this issue. At that time, I am sure that SOSMN will rally around the cause and they will again welcome the assistance your blog is able to offer.

    Thanks as always for applying your significant talents to our industry.

  2. Hi Eric, many thanks for your thoughts. I think the headline accurately represents they key element of the article and what transpired in that the organization elected to not engage questions about providing support as well as sharing any thoughts on the broader topic. It does not draw conclusions nor suggest any angle. It was written to be as neutral as possible and allow readers to infer whatever they thought was appropriate.

    I’m glad to see that you referenced the responsibilities of musicians; the issues related to The Duty Of Fair Representation within a bargaining environment controlled by a heightened degree of employee self determination is very much at the heart of the issue. For readers unaware, we examined this issue in greater detail in a post from 2/16/2015 titled Equal Work For Equal Pay: An Orchestra Musician Third Rail Topic. It’s a fundamental issue within the larger spectrum of unionized work environments and one that has yet to be adequately addressed within the AFM; moreover, as a principle, it rises above any individual circumstances (including those you’ve referenced) and is exempt from respite.

    Thank you for your kind words re the BSO articles, it is always gratifying to hear that readers find the content here useful. Having said that, those articles are in no way presented to support any stakeholder position. In particular, Part 2 was presented in response to an assertion from the BSO’s president and CEO and the relevant quotes were drawn exclusively from substitute musicians, none of which have any influence or voice in the negotiation process and subsequent ratification. Consequently, I appreciate you bringing up that perspective in order for me to provide that additional clarification.

  3. “It is indeed alarming that substitute players in this amazing orchestra make less than regional orchestras up and down the east coast. Luckily, my academic job gives me the freedom to play there on artistic merit only”

    I applaud you for continuing to perform with them, but I do think that can become part of the problem when a management finds that a job as a substitute can be transformed; thereby leaving behind people who count on it as meaningful employment so long as others are available whose circumstances are different. Over time it just becomes another kind of subsidy or a new baseline for future negotiations.

  4. Mr Oboe – Your response is understandable and I agree in principle. Being the first time in several years that I have been back, my most recent engagement was to help out an overworked section (which has been skeletonized during the past decade) at their request, not to help management (who had other costs associated). I would have a more difficult time justifying it for any other reason.

  5. One of ICSOM’s achievements was securing the right to vote on contract ratification for its members. In light of the growing trend to concede the principle of equal pay for equal work within ICSOM and the organization’s failure to correct (or even address) the subject, perhaps the time has come for the AFM to extend contract ratification voting rights to all of its members who work under symphonic contracts.

  6. Forgive me if I don’t leave a trail of nickel-and-dime poetry, but it seems to me the lack of a response from SOSMN is simple. SOSMN formed as an action group for the wants of the musicians during the lockout/strike in an effort to create social leverage. But this is a Minnesota organization, meaning those involved were compelled to turn a labor – finance issue into a David and Goliath story. It’s common practice in Minnesota to establish an underdog in these types of situations and then side with them – regardless of any information, facts, or just plain old common sense. And if they don’t see an underdog, they create one. Near as I can tell, this mentality is born from the curious gene – to do things for no other reason than to “see what happens.” Although indelicate this may sound, you should remember these are the same people who put a wrestler in the governor’s mansion and a comedy writer in the senate.

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