Although Play and Talk is a useful treatment for bargaining deadline ills, it is important to remember that it isn’t a cure and as time marches on amid the current bargaining cycle, we’re beginning to see the early signs of those arrangements wearing thin among some of the remaining orchestras from our list of mid to large budget orchestras with expired collective bargaining agreements. Specifically, the ongoing negotiations at the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO) have attracted increased attention from local traditional news outlets due to the lack of progress combined with an increase in stakeholder frustration.
The 10/28/15 edition of the Fort Worth Weekly published an article by Edward Brown that reports on growing tensions between the FWSO and its musicians and by those accounts, it seems that both sides are negotiating across a wide gulf in the form of their respective proposals.
Currently, the FWSO is proposing cuts to their season length, compensation, and paid vacation weeks and although the employer did not offer a comment to Brown’s article, the musicians assert these cuts amount to a 23 percent reduction in wages and benefits.
This would be over and above what the 13.5 percent cuts in wages and benefits absorbed via the recently expired agreement, which covered the 2011/12 through 2014/15 seasons. In that same agreement, the musicians also agreed to a temporary freeze in filling orchestra member vacancies, which could bring the orchestra size down from 72 to as low as 67.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this growing dispute is defined by what may be best described as mixed messages. On one hand, the FWSO’s President and CEO, Amy Adkins, purports a six percent uptick in fundraising and additional gains in ticket sales but she described those developments as going “a little slower than I would like” to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Barry Shlachter for an article that was published on 10/21/2015.
“Last season, we succeeded in raising $5.2 million from generous individuals, companies and foundations. This was $300,000 more than the previous season. The results speak for themselves, and I am proud of what we have accomplished.”
As it turns out, some of the FWSO patrons aren’t entirely impressed with what those results. The FWSO musicians published a letter via their Facebook page from one of their patron supporters asserting that regardless of Adkins’ statements, the organization has been recently underperforming compared to other nonprofits in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
During the North Texas Giving Day fundraiser, the Plano and Richardson Symphonies raised more money than the FWSO. Incredibly, the Feral Cat society and The Bat World Sanctuary raised more.
According to the FWWeekly report, the musicians echoed that sentiment, citing the same fundraising event and juxtaposing the FWSO’s accomplishments alongside those of nearby Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
[FWSO violist and musician spokesperson Scott] Jessup claims that in one day, North Texas Giving Day (September 17), the Dallas Symphony Orchestra raised about $135,000. By contrast, the FWSO raised $34,315.
Moreover, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), which represents the FWSO musicians, is weighing in on the dispute as well.
“The symphony management said they can’t raise the funds,” [Local 72-147 AFM president Ken] Kraus told the Weekly. “Fort Worth is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, so why is [the orchestra management] shrinking the budget?”
Although Kraus’ comment focuses on present conditions, there should be genuine concern among the orchestra’s current board leadership that the orchestra will become increasingly marginalized among the high profile local donor community. Historically, the more a group falls behind the fundraising curve during periods of local economic growth, the more likely they are to drop in status and attract necessary board talent. The longer this trend continues, the more difficult it becomes to implement corrective measures.
As for now, the group is set to begin negotiations again this week so time will tell.
Until then, here’s a reminder on where we are on the list of fourteen mid to large budget orchestra and opera organizations with a collective bargaining agreement that expired within the last four months:
- Chicago Lyric Opera 6/30/2015
- Chicago Symphony 9/13/2015
- Cincinnati Symphony 9/13/2015
- Cleveland Orchestra 8/30/2015
- Columbus Symphony 8/31/2015
- Dallas Symphony 8/31/2015
- Florida Orchestra 8/31/2015
- Fort Worth Symphony 7/31/2015
- Grand Rapids Symphony 8/31/2015
- Milwaukee Symphony 8/31/2015
- New Jersey Symphony 8/31/2015
- Philadelphia Orchestra 9/13/2015
- San Antonio Symphony 8/31/2015
- Utah Symphony 8/31/2015