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Home » Recent News » Contract Negotiation Surveys: Are You Getting the Information You Need?


Contract Negotiation Surveys: Are You Getting the Information You Need?

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by Nathan Kahn, Negotiator, AFM Symphonic Services Division

It has been a number of years since the International Musician has put forth articles on negotiation surveys, and therefore, it is timely to re-examine this important component of the negotiation process.

In preparation for collective bargaining, adequate and accurate surveying of the membership is one of the most critical tasks a local and a committee can do in order to effectively represent their members’ interests at the bargaining table. Absent such surveys and their results, committees are often left to guess, which can cause unexpected results at ratification.

Many negotiation committees do excellent surveys. These are often presented to the membership online (using applications like Survey Monkey, with appropriate security precautions in place) or in written in a user-friendly format with clear, concise questions.

Sometimes there are issues before the orchestra (such as moving from evening to daytime services) where extended comments and/or confidential individual interviews are appropriate and necessary. Almost every survey I have seen has, and should have, sufficient room for musician comments on any issue on their mind.

With regard to feedback on wage and other financial issues on surveys, recently I have seen a disturbing number of survey responses where members either gave no response, or hurriedly put down answers like “cost of living” or X%, leaving the committee to do more guess work than they should as to the musicians’ financial desires. If your local/committee is encountering such answers, here are some suggestions:

1) The local/committee should advise the orchestra that, notwithstanding any financial challenge, the orchestra may (or may not) be facing, it is important that members honestly assess and put forth their own financial needs/desires on the survey. Musician needs matter.

2) Educate the membership on your current salary/per service rates (many may not know!), current salary/per service rates in the region, as well as current peer orchestra salaries/per service rates.

If an orchestra is facing a bona fide financial challenge, inevitably the realities of the situation will be somewhat reflected in the survey results anyway.

3) How you ask the wage question matters. Don’t just ask musicians “how much” or “what % increase do you want,” rather: “what weekly salary/per service rate do you want to make in year one, year two, year three, year four, and year five? You should ask the financial questions over five years so that, in the event your negotiations evolve into four-year or five-year contract term discussions, you will have the necessary data available. Moreover, it will encourage your members to start thinking about where they would like their salary/per service rate to be in five years?

4) Calculate both the average and the median of your wage survey results. There will always be some who put down on their survey some extraordinary financial desire like $3,000 a week/$500 per service, or who may even say they want significant wage reductions. Maybe that is what they really want, but you don’t want such responses to skew your results for the group, which could happen if you solely relied on the average. Derive both medians and averages from your survey results. That will give the local/committee the best picture of what most of the members desire wage-wise.

5) Always ask the members to rate or prioritize each important survey item in relation to the others. Having this data available will be extremely valuable to the local/committee, particularly when it comes to decisions on where to hold on and where to let go, and what items could be traded, and what should not.

Committees and locals are well advised to meet and discuss the issues on their members’ minds well in advance of writing a survey. In such a meeting, the prioritized issues should be condensed into clear, user-friendly questions that ensure the resulting data can be accurately translated into proposals. The meeting also will give the local/committee guidance on the will of the membership.

This is a portion of an orchestra survey utilized in 2010 for the musicians of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra. It exemplifies the preceding principles.

On a scale of 10 to 1, 10 being a high priority, 1 a low priority, indicate how important the following issues are to you. When assessing your priorities, please rate these issues in relation to each other.

Increase per service compensation:
10       9      8        7      6      5      4       3       2      1

Increase mileage compensation:
10       9      8        7      6      5      4       3       2      1

Increase per diem:
10       9      8        7      6      5      4       3       2      1

Begin participation in the AFM-Employers pension fund:
10       9      8        7      6      5      4       3       2      1

Restore the number of guaranteed services to 2007 levels:
10       9      8        7      6      5      4       3       2      1

Maintain the current level of guaranteed services:
10       9      8        7      6      5      4       3       2      1

Keep the Attendance Bonus for those who play 69% of offered services:
10       9      8        7      6      5      4       3       2      1

No attendance minimums, unless all guaranteed services are restored:
10       9      8        7      6      5      4       3       2      1

Increase the amount of time the symphony is required to give musicians to cancel a service or to tell a musician they are not needed for a concert cycle:
10       9      8        7      6      5      4       3       2      1

Per service compensation

What pay scale are you currently receiving? (Circle one)

  1. A) Principals B) Asst. Principals + C) Section

The per service rates for 2009-2010 are:
A) Principal $98.50 B) $88 and C) Section $78
Concertmaster is double principal scale and associate concertmaster is $106.50.

What rate, in dollars and cents, would you like to be paid for the term of the contract?

First year (2010-2011)  $_____________ per service

Second year (2011-2012) $_____________ per service

Third year (2012-2013)  $_____________ per service

Fourth year                   $_____________ per service

Fifth year                      $_____________ per service

Mileage compensation

Are you getting mileage compensation? (Circle one)                                    YES  NO

Mileage for 2009-2010 is 23 cents per mile. The current IRS rate is 55 cents per mile. What rate, in cents per mile, would you like for mileage?

First year (2010-2011)     __________  cents per mile

Second year (2011-2012)  __________  cents per mile

Third year (2012-2013)  __________  cents per mile

Fourth year                     __________  cents per mile

Fifth year                        __________  cents per mile

Per diem

Per diem is $15.50 per day for out of town musicians who stay in South Bend for the entire concert cycle. What per diem rate would you like?

First year (2010-2011)        $ ____________  per day

Second year (2011-2012)   $ ____________  per day

Third year (2012-2013)       $ ____________  per day

Fourth year                         $ ____________  per day

Fifth year           $ ____________  per day







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