The 11/4/2016 edition of The Los Angeles Times published an article by Michael Hiltzik that examines the growing labor dispute at the Pacific Symphony. Currently, both sides appear to be approaching a work stoppage and the musicians have warned that if they are unable to reach a new agreement, they could declare a strike as soon as this week. But what makes this dispute different than others is just how unique of an operating environment the Pacific Symphony maintains.
Hiltzik’s article does one of the best jobs I’ve come across in some time at introducing and examining the complex nature of per service and salaried employment structure and where it does and does not intersect with traditional part and full time designations.
Moreover, he touches on one of the most curious aspects of this organization: it averages $20mm per season in total expenses while engaging musicians as strictly per service employees without any minimum service guarantee.
Let’s put that into perspective using the most recent available figures for all professional orchestras (2013/14 season) and look at the six closest peers on either side of Pacific Symphony by way of annual total expenditures.
|North Carolina Symphony||$13.2mm total expenditures||65 salaried musicians|
|Oregon Symphony||$13.7mm total expenditures||76 salaried musicians|
|Milwaukee Symphony||$17.7mm total expenditures||79 salaried musicians|
|Pacific Symphony||$19.6mm total expenditures||100% per service, no min complement, no service guarantee|
|Utah Symphony & Opera||$19.8mm total expenditures||87 salaried musicians|
|San Diego Symphony||$20.9mm total expenditures||82 salaried musicians|
|Indianapolis Symphony||$22.9mm total expenditures||76 salaried musicians|
What’s more, all of the peers listed above are members of International Conference Of Symphony And Opera Musicians (ICSOM), a players’ conference of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM).
One of the defining characteristics of ICSOM orchestras is its membership is comprised almost entirely of ensembles that engage musicians as salaried employees.
For reference, the smallest total expenditure among ICSOM members is the Virginia Symphony, which listed $5.6mm for the 2013/14 season, or 28 percent of Pacific Symphony’s figure from the same period. Virginia is also an uncommon ICSOM member in that they use a hybrid salary/per service (48 salaried/29 per service) structure to employee musicians. On the other end of that scale is the LA Philharmonic which engages all 106 musicians as salaried employees.
ICSOM’s US based peer within the AFM is the Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA), of which Pacific Symphony’s musicians are members. The bulk of ROPA’s member groups engage musicians on a per service basis with the majority receiving a minimum service guarantee.
The AFM player conferences are useful when making comparisons between orchestras when taking into consideration the fundamental difference between per service and salary employment. This structural labor expense difference is one of the primary factors that defines operational environment and drives annual total expenditures.
Consequently, it becomes easier to see why the Pacific Symphony emerges as a one-of-a-kind outlier within the larger field of US professional orchestras.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a fascinating history behind how this organization evolved and how their existing expense structure compares to their peers. We’ll take a closer look but for now, let’s give the organization the time it needs to help avoid the work stoppage then move forward accordingly.