While Still Painful, Short-Term Concessionary Agreements Are The Best Option For Most Orchestras

The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra recently announced a 30 percent cut in musician wages for the rest of 2020 and the 11/2/2020 edition of the San Francisco Chronical published an article by Joshua Kosman that provides important content.

  • This is not a new deal, rather, a reopener, which is when both parties agree to amend terms in an existing agreement.
  • The agreement’s full term is through November 2022.
  • Given that the original agreement was ratified before the pandemic, the latter seasons include typical wage improvements.

While it may feel like “death by a thousand papercuts” to renegotiate subsequent short-term reopeners, it really is the best option.

Whatever grind both parties feel is offset by the commitment toward avoiding the pain that will come from making rash, long-term decisions that only build resentment if economic pressures aren’t long-lived. That commitment underscores trust that neither side is trying to use a crisis to their advantage and settling old bargaining scores. In turn, that trust helps reduce the time it takes to hammer out reopener terms.

San Francisco’s news serves as juxtaposition to other orchestra and opera employers that opted to use the pandemic to force through long-term, sizable concessions, such as the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Colorado Springs Philharmonic.

In both of those situations, the employer extracted themselves existing short-term agreement bargaining and began insisting on multi-year concessionary agreements. In the CSPhil’s case, they are going as far as attempting to cancel the entire collective bargaining agreement.

While anyone would be hard pressed to find a stakeholder who doesn’t understand the anxiety triggered by these sorts of economic pressures, organizations that realize the value of maintaining trust, cooperation, and shared sacrifice will be in a far better position to emerge faster and stronger than their peers.

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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