ICSOM’s Conference Sidesteps Equal Pay For Equal Work And Substitute Parity

Toward the end of summer, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), a players’ conference within the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) that represents over 4,000 regularly employed orchestra musicians from 52 professional US orchestras, holds its annual conference and this year’s event is in Philadelphia from 8/26/15 through 8/29/15. Traditionally, ICSOM conferences are a way for representatives from each member orchestra to deliver internal reports, conduct a number of educational and training sessions/presentations, and ratify resolutions for internal governance and broader AFM related matters.

Adaptistration People 163According to the most recent conference agenda available, dated 8/2/15, there will be sessions on public relations, intellectual property rights, mental health, and media agreements but you won’t find any topics that address the duty of fair representation as it applies to substitute parity and equal work for equal pay.

Back in February, 2015 we learned that equal work for equal pay is a third-rail topic for ICSOM. At that time, ICSOM declined to discuss why an increasing number of its member orchestras have ratified agreements that contain substitute disparity terms nor were they willing to provide statements about whether or not their organization has ever addressed the topic in any past conferences or via an article in their quarterly newsletter, Senza Sordino.

And since the 2015 ICSOM conference agenda is labeled as a draft and subject to change, I contacted ICSOM chair Bruce Ridge to see if there were any plans or internal discussion on the potential for including a session on the duty of fair representation as it applies to substitute parity and equal work for equal pay by the time the conference begins on 8/26/2015.

Unfortunately, Ridge failed to respond or even acknowledge the questions.

Consequently, it appears that the inertia of substitute disparity will continue unabated by any formal effort within the ranks of the AFM’s oldest player conference to marginalize or reverse the trend.

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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6 thoughts on “ICSOM’s Conference Sidesteps Equal Pay For Equal Work And Substitute Parity

  1. I agree, there is a great deal to learn via a retrospective perspective and it could certainly be a fascinating conversation. Having said that, if this is the same PR professional I believe worked with a number of the player associations that went through work stoppages, I hope the related analysis and presentation are better than those corresponding communication efforts.

  2. Slightly off your main point, but the most scorching indictments of unfair or non-representative union officials (in teaching, not in music) has come from friends I know who have suffered at the hands of their union officials. They’ve made me highly suspicious (that’s as strongly as I want to put it) of unions these days. That doesn’t take away from what their predecessors accompolished in the 30s and earlier times.

    • All things being equal, I tend to recommend shying away from making comparisons between unions; case in point, with your example, you referenced the word officials but via the issue of Substitute Parity that doesn’t really apply since player associations elect their own representatives and ratify agreements directly. In this scenario, the officials are the actual members.

  3. Drew – As you’ve indeed discovered, this is a 3rd-rail issue leaving AFM locals and the AFM itself powerless to address. Having granted orchestra members not only the right of ratification, but also the right to negotiate using their own attorneys, AFM locals become rubber-stampers on the contracts. To do otherwise would not be politically feasible.

    It seems that a sense of fairness only goes so far when rostered musicians are under fire from management for horrific givebacks (see: Philadelphia, Minnesota, etc.).

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