Negotiation Update: Philly Enters Limited Play & Talk, Chicago Lyric Settles, And More

Following up on our 9/14/2015 list of orchestras with expired agreements, here’s an overview of what’s been going on.

Philadelphia Orchestra

Play and TalkThe employer and musicians initially announced a limited play and talk agreement that will take them through Monday, 9/28/2015, which should come as no surprise that the date falls just after the orchestra is scheduled to perform for Pope Francis. Since then, both sides have agreed to continue the arrangement without a specific end date.

Peter Dobrin authored a detailed report for the 9/21/2015 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer that covers the major sticking points; in short, the employer wants a new agreement that keeps musician wages flat along with maintaining the post-bankruptcy substitute disparity and decimated number of rostered musicians. If successful, this would put the orchestra’s base musician salary far enough behind traditional peers that they would no longer be a reasonable competitor in the area of overall compensation for that talent pool.

Chicago Symphony

To date, there’s no shortage of speculation and rumors and all signs point to increasing tensions. The musicians have been leafleting performances and at the core of the conflict are rumored large cuts to the musicians’ pension, currently a defined benefit plan, which has been a common target among larger budget orchestras. For example, when Philadelphia filed for bankruptcy, the musician’s defined benefit pension plan was the employer’s primary target.

Chicago Lyric Opera

The organization and musicians reportedly reached a three-year agreement on 9/19/2015; details are as of yet unknown until officially ratified by the board and musicians but inside sources indicate musician concessions outweigh gains.

Columbus Symphony

The musicians ratified a three year agreement that maintains zero improvements in the existing $40,000 base annual salary, which may not sound imposing on the surface but this is after a decade long series of concessionary agreements. For perspective, the orchestra’s minimum annual salary in the 2000/01 season was $46,000.

Grand Rapids Symphony

This is one of the more intriguing scenarios in that the orchestra’s musicians have been expanding long running, self-produced community engagement efforts in order to strengthen their potential support base if the orchestra enters a work stoppage. One recent effort included a free, hour long concert with the theme “paying tribute to how symphony musicians in Grand Rapids have served the community since 1930.” Sources close to negotiations indicate that the employer has been pushing hard for large cuts in the form of a truncated season that would amount to a 15 percent reduction in musician annual salary.

Here’s an updated version of fourteen large budget orchestra and opera organizations with a collective bargaining agreement that expired within the last three months. Groups marked with an asterisk have reached a new agreement.

  1. Chicago Lyric Opera 6/30/2015*
  2. Chicago Symphony 9/13/2015
  3. Cincinnati Symphony 9/13/2015*
  4. Cleveland Orchestra 8/30/2015
  5. Columbus Symphony 8/31/2015*
  6. Dallas Symphony 8/31/2015
  7. Florida Orchestra 8/31/2015
  8. Fort Worth Symphony 7/31/2015
  9. Grand Rapids Symphony 8/31/2015
  10. Milwaukee Symphony 8/31/2015
  11. New Jersey Symphony 8/31/2015
  12. Philadelphia Orchestra 9/13/2015
  13. San Antonio Symphony 8/31/2015*
  14. Utah Symphony 8/31/2015*

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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9 thoughts on “Negotiation Update: Philly Enters Limited Play & Talk, Chicago Lyric Settles, And More”

  1. Here’s hoping that all the musicians involved in these negotiations reach a speedy and satisfactory resolution.
    In spite of the seriousness of the situation for all the players affected, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the inelegance of the wording of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s free concert theme- “paying tribute to how symphony musicians in Grand Rapids have served the community since 1930.” I guess this is what it looks like operating an orchestra without help from any professional support staff. Perhaps after this has all worked itself out, a “tribute to the unseen contributions of the marketing department” might be nice.

  2. The actual title of the Grand Rapids Symphony Musicians Association concert was “Ensemble: A Legacy of Playing Together”, and it was a celebration of the years that the players have made music together (in various configurations, from small ensembles to full orchestra). It felt (from an audience member standpoint) like a love-fest: I could sense the high regard in which the players held each other, and I also knew how much they appreciated ME. I know I wasn’t alone in this sentiment, as I overheard other audience members talking about what a special evening it was. With Grand Rapids being the third fastest growing economy (behind Denver and Houston), as well the Symphony’s $40 million endowment campaign coming to a close, I fully expect that the community will continue to support this cornerstone of the vibrant local arts scene. I’m hoping that the Symphony board will look toward the future with the same confidence and enthusiasm that the players and other community members have. (And I’m sure, after doing all the marketing themselves, that the players have a deeper appreciation for that segment of the management team!)

    • Ron, I’m glad you liked the ACTUAL name! I guess no one came up with “paying tribute to how symphony musicians in Grand Rapids have served the community since 1930” because it had more words than most musicians can count (we only need to be able to count up to 12, right?!)

  3. I don’t know if GDP of metropolitan area is anything to go from, but Philly should try to be at least 8th highest in terms of base salary (they’re not far away), and as a “top 10” they should try to get back to the full compliment. Clearly they need to try even harder in that city to grow audience and raise money.

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