Binghamton Cancels Opening Concert. Reasons Unclear.

The latest labor dispute to cancel scheduled 2015-2016 concert event activity transpired this week at New York’s Binghamton Philharmonic. The orchestra’s board made the decision to cancel their opening concert after failing to reach a mediated agreement with musicians for a new collective bargaining agreement after the previous agreement expired on 5/21/15.

Adaptistration People 131The orchestra’s FY2012 990 lists $1.6 million in expenses and according to both sides, the crux of the dispute centers on the orchestra’s proposal to eliminate mileage for musicians living more than 10 miles from their primary venue, which would reportedly reduce expenses by $67,600.

Neither side in the dispute has offered information to ticket holders on whether the organization is so cash poor that it can’t afford to present the opening concert without securing new terms, but the decision to cancel the concert is a done deal nonetheless.

It’s worth noting that the employer erroneously asserted that the employees rejected their most recent offer when, in fact, that was not the case. Although the orchestra’s board chair, Maureen Wilson, acknowledged that mistake she simultaneously levied accusations that the musicians were failing to bargain in good faith by engaging in delaying tactics, however, she offered no additional information about how such a tactic would require the orchestra to cancel their opening concert.

In the meantime, the employer has been busy presenting their latest offer as a status quo proposal by claiming that their offer institutes an $85 per service pay freeze and does not reduce the 28 minimum guaranteed services, or $2,380 per year minimum wage.

But the status quo angle begins to crumble when that figure is examined from an overall compensation perspective. For the sake of comprehensive understanding on how much the mileage payments contribute to overall employee compensation, let’s assume that 100 percent of musicians receive an equal share of the mileage payments. According to American Federation of Musicians 2013-2014 data, that’s 71 musicians; and in this scenario, each musician would then receive approximately $952 in mileage payments. When combined with the $2,380 min annual wage, eliminating mileage is tantamount to eliminating 30 percent of overall compensation.

The musicians released their own statement claiming that their 8/12/15 proposal included $14,000 in expense reductions for the 2014/2015 season but was rejected by the employer.

And here’s where things take a sharp left turn.

In the very same 8/17/2015 statement, the musicians acknowledge that the employer’s latest offer did include language to “compensate some of the musicians a reduced amount for travel, [but] all prior BPO offers stipulated paying absolutely no mileage to any musician.” The musicians offered no additional details about mileage compensation in that offer and ironically enough, neither has the employer.

And speaking of irony, the musicians claim that one of their offers from June included reducing the season by one concert but the employer subsequently rejected the offer (it is unknown what other terms accompanied that proposal).

In the end, the irony is only a distraction and since it appears that there are no showstopper level work rule issues on the table, the crucial terms center squarely on compensation. As of now, the only thing standing in the way of a settlement and preventing additional cancelations is structuring a mutually agreeable deal that falls somewhere within an amount equal to four percent of the orchestra’s FY2012 expenses.

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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