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Home » Symphonic Services Division » Conferencing in the Time of Pandemic: 2020 ROPA Conference Report

Conferencing in the Time of Pandemic: 2020 ROPA Conference Report


Earlier this year, when it became apparent that “The COVID” would present challenges to getting dozens of Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) delegates and guests from across the country on airplanes to fly to Orange County, CA (ROPA’s 2020 Conference site), the ROPA board decided a video conference would be the best way to proceed.

Conference dates remained the same, July 27-30, but the times were restructured and the board quickly became Zoom-savvy. Aware that many attendees had spent numerous hours communicating virtually over the past several months, decisions were made to minimize the amount of daily screen time by spreading the conference sessions over four days, for just a few hours each day. Content to be covered was narrowed down to some of the more pressing “hot topics.” The valuable member-at-large group meetings took place virtually outside of the conference schedule, as did the new delegate orientation. Also, at a “normal” conference, attendance is usually around 100 people. However, an online conference allowed for a wider range of orchestra members and local leadership to participate, and the conference opened with over 300 people registered.

ROPA virtual screenshot
This year’s ROPA conference was fully digital, which increased participation from the normal 100-120 participants to 300. “We were able to have more of our orchestra members, local officers, and guests attend sessions, which allowed them to see what goes on at a ROPA Conference and hear and see the guests and AFM staff that made presentations—ROPA and the AFM at work for them!” said ROPA President John Michael Smith. There were also digital happy hours, such as the one pictured above, that were enjoyed by all.

On Monday, July 27, ROPA President and Local 30-73 (St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN) member Mike Smith welcomed all to the virtual conference. His opening remarks described challenges faced since our industry came to a crashing halt back in March. He discussed the role of media in keeping our orchestras vital to the community, and shared the ROPA board statement supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, which also described how ROPA will address diversity and inclusion in our orchestras.

AFM International President Ray Hair addressed the attendees on the terrible impact of COVID-19 on the performing arts and small businesses, even while many corporations are successful and strengthening their power. President Hair stressed that unions are working to protect wages and working conditions. Attendees then heard from Alfonso Pollard, AFM Diversity, Legislative, and Political director, who highlighted the important legislative work being done in Washington.

Monday’s session introduced the newly-organized Boise Philharmonic and AFM Local 423 (Boise, ID). Local President Carmen Izzo and former Boise Philharmonic OC Chair Allison Emerick laid out the journey to achieving a strong union contract, with the help of SSD Organizer Todd Jelen and the Eugene, OR Local 689.

Tuesday’s session featured Rocky Jones(Minnesota Opera’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Director) and Levi Weinhagen (Team Dynamics strategy firm), who presented the path toward the creation of the Minnesota Opera’s Diversity Charter when, during the fall of 2015, opera leadership identified the need to bring together stakeholders of different colors, ages, and socioeconomic groups.

Wednesday began with nominations for open board positions. President Mike Smith, and four members-at-large: Casey Bozell, Lisa Davis, Christian Green, and Steve Wade were re-elected by acclamation. Matthew Oshida was elected treasurer by acclamation.

AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) Director Rochelle Skolnick followed with a summary of SSD’s challenges since the COVID-19 shutdown. She touched on things to be aware of as the new season approaches, such as a reimagined symphonic season and working with safety protocols. She spoke of new fault lines forming between musicians regarding comfort levels with technology and returning to work in the COVID era.

AFM SSD Contract Negotiator Jane Owen covered COVID-19 safety protocols for orchestras. She stated that until a vaccine is developed or instantaneous testing is available, there will always be risk coming to work, and that the employer is responsible for providing a safe workplace. Owen stressed that safe “return-to-work” conditions should be negotiated and ratified by musicians, with assurances that individual musicians be allowed to choose to remain safely at home without penalty, possibly doing alternative kinds of work.

SSD Negotiator Todd Jelen detailed items to consider when approached by management for concessions, such as: Are concessions COVID-related or a power grab, or will you get back later what you temporarily give up now? Skolnick advised us to not reopen a contract, as that puts the entire agreement at risk.

On Thursday, AFM Diversity Committee Chair Lovie Smith-Wright shared the AFM Diversity Committee’s Statement on Race and Social Justice. AFM Director of Symphonic Electronic Media Deborah Newmark, along with Rochelle Skolnick, covered the history of the Integrated Media Agreement with the Employers’ Electronic Media Association since the March shutdown. Despite successful negotiations for the use of archival material and volunteer promo work to finish the 2019-20 season, they said negotiating the 2020-21 season has presented challenges.

Kevin Case, ICSOM legal counsel, provided valuable legal insights as he fielded questions from delegates and guests. Case stressed that when negotiating temporary terms and conditions, be sure to negotiate to something resembling normalcy by the end of the contract.

Interspersed through the conference we heard from representatives from our fellow player conferences: Meredith Snow (International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians), Tony D’Amico (Theater Musicians Association), Marc Sazer (Recording Musicians Association) and Robert Fraser (Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians).

Following the election of officers, the 2020-21 ROPA Executive Board will include :President Mike Smith (Minnesota Opera Orchestra), Vice President Amanda Swain (Houston Ballet and Grand Opera Orchestras), Secretary Karen Sandene (Omaha and Lincoln Symphonies), Treasurer Matthew Oshida (Huntsville Symphony Orchestra), Delegate-at-Large to the AFM Convention Naomi Bensdorf Frisch (Illinois Philharmonic), and Members-at-Large Casey Bozell (Portland Opera Orchestra), Lisa Davis (Mississippi Symphony), Christian Green (Ann Arbor Symphony), Kendra Hawley (Palm Beach Opera), Beverly Setzer (Symphony Tacoma), Katie Shields (Arizona Opera Orchestra), Cory Tiffin (Las Vegas Philharmonic), and Steve Wade (Hartford Symphony). We thank outgoing Treasurer Sean Diller (Southwest Michigan Symphony) for his service to ROPA.

We look forward to seeing everyone—in-person hopefully!—in 2021, in Orange County, CA.

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