Grand Rapids Ratifies Five Year Agreement, Here Are The Details You Need To Know

After an official ratification process, the Grand Rapids Symphony’s (GRS) tentative five season long collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is now a done deal. The GRS and musicians issued statements on 4/5/2016 announcing the new five-year deal, which be implemented retroactively for the current 2015/16 season. Among the numerous details, one in particular worth pointing out is the establishment of substitute musician parity.

Adaptistration People 019But before we jump into that item, let’s take a look at the overall highlights.


In order to establish a correct frame of reference, it is important to understand that the GRS employs musicians via a dual salary/per-service structure across four employment tiers (A, B, C, and D). A Contract musicians are engaged as salaried employees while the remaining tiers of musicians are provided minimum numbers of services (i.e. a rehearsal or performance) at a fixed per-service rate.

Minimum Number Of A Contract Musicians

  • 2015/16: 50
  • 2016/17: 50
  • 2017/18: 50
  • 2018/19: 51
  • 2019/20: 52

In each season, up to three positions may remain open and the overall number of musicians employed is 80.

Season Length

This is perhaps the most straightforward item in that the 40-week long season remains unchanged from the previous agreement and applies to each year of the new CBA.


The agreement contains improvements each season with identical percent increases between each employment tier.

A Contract Weekly Base Musician Rate

(season, amount, percent increase/decrease from previous season)

  • 2015/16: $962.57, +1.0%
  • 2016/17: $976.96, +1.5%
  • 2017/18: $991.60, +1.5%
  • 2018/19: $1,016.40, +2.5%
  • 2019/20: $1,046.88, +3.0%

B, C, D, and Substitute Per Service Rate

(season, amount, percent increase/decrease from previous season)

  • 2015/16: $120.32+1.0%
  • 2016/17: $122.13, +1.5%
  • 2017/18: $123.95, +1.5%
  • 2018/19: $127.05, +2.5%
  • 2019/20: $130.86, +3.0%

Worth noting is the first season’s one percent wage increase will be applied retroactively through September 1, 2015 for all musician tiers.

Retirement Contributions

Among the more contentious items during bargaining was retirement contributions. In the previous agreement, employer contributions were suspended but the new CBA provides for guaranteed employer matching fund contributions capped at two percent. These contributions begin at the onset of the 2016/17 season at a rate of two percent and remain at that schedule for the remainder of the CBA.

New Items

Seniority Pay

Prior to this CBA, the GRS was one of only two orchestras within the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM, a players’ conference of the American Federation of Musicians) that did not incorporate a seniority pay system.

Typically, seniority pay is calculated using a formula based on the number of years a musician employee has been with an ensemble following their first year of tenured status. The big question for any orchestra initiating a seniority pay benefit from scratch is how to treat the time existing musicians already have with the ensemble.

In the GRS’ case, seniority pay benefits are being calculated across all tiers incorporating all existing tenured years of service, starting at year six.

  • A Contract musicians receive $0.80 per week multiplied by the number of years of service in the orchestra. For example, a musician with 12 years of service would receive $224 in seniority pay (.8 x 40 x 7).
  • B, C, and D-Contract musicians receive $0.10 per service for each of the services they are offered in the season or their service guarantee, whichever is greater, multiplied by the number of years of service in the orchestra.

Substitute Parity

Another bright point in the GRS agreement is the introduction of substitute parity, which means musicians hired to replace rostered personnel are paid at the same per-service rate (additional details).

During a negotiation where financial terms were at the core of the most contentious bargaining, it is heartening to see a group of musicians opt for standing firm on such a crucial issue when so many others among their peers have failed to maintain or implement those standards.

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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