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Home » Symphonic Services Division » Moving Forward in a Post-Pandemic World

Moving Forward in a Post-Pandemic World

  -  AFM Symphonic Services Division Director

Over the past 28 months, I have gauged the progress of the pandemic by the kinds of questions arriving in my inbox. I will never forget the palpable panic in the very first round of questions I received from local officers, committees, and musicians back in March 2020. Questions about things like musicians’ rights to refuse to go to work because of fear of contracting COVID; how to keep musicians paid, if they did not go to work or there simply was no work; and how to deal with employer electronic media requests, some of which were unlike anything we’d seen before (remember the Brady Bunch recordings?). The questions were as novel as the virus we faced.

As orchestras took the first tentative steps toward resuming performance, questions arrived about optimal spacing, masks, ventilation, puppy pads, plexiglass, using only part of the orchestra but keeping everyone paid, and still more electronic media questions, like, is it a concert if there is no audience?

Then came vaccines, and a flood of questions concerning vaccine policies, exemptions, and accommodations and how to balance the rights of individuals with protections for the entire bargaining unit. As we cycled through variants, some of the same questions surfaced again but I also saw local officers and committees gain confidence. Having dealt with some of these issues already, they knew the roadmap for resolving them when they cropped up again.

And now we have arrived at the point in the pandemic when our orchestras have pretty much seen it all, pandemic-wise, and they are finally turning their attention (and therefore mine) back to the kinds of questions that have always been the bread and butter of the AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD). Things like: how to file a grievance because the employer hired out of order or failed to pay overtime or suspended a musician; how to support our colleague enduring an artistic dismissal process; what to do when our employer tries to bargain electronic media with our local and committee rather than the Federation; and how to prepare for bargaining our next collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

Much of the symphonic content in this issue is forward-looking, focused on that last concern: bargaining in a kinda, sorta post-pandemic world. There is lots of good advice in the SSD staff columns that will serve orchestra musicians well as they embark on bargaining.

AFM Negotiator Jane Owen writes about healing divides within our bargaining unit, which will be necessary to the kind of unity we will need if we are to effectively advocate for ourselves. Negotiator Todd Jelen provokes discussion about just how critical that unity is and why we can’t afford to lapse into somnolence in the post-COVID era. Negotiator Adam DeSorgo provides a comprehensive look at burnout—a problem that has plagued union leaders forever but only increased during COVID—and how to prevent and treat it.

AFM Director of Symphonic Electronic Media Debbie Newmark draws our attention to the dangers of electronic media guarantees, which are popping up like prairie dogs in the post-COVID bargaining landscape. Contract Administrator/Communications & Data Coordinator Laurence Hofmann reminds us of the myriad resources available to support bargaining in the SSD Resource Center.

In this issue, we also hear from Carol Jantsch, who became the first woman tuba player in a major symphony orchestra when she earned her position in the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2006, at age 20. Now, 16 years into her tenure, she embraces her status as a role model. Through her teaching and podcasting, she lifts up the next generation of brass players who don’t always look like those who came before them.

I am deeply proud of the work we’ve done together as symphonic musicians and advocates over the past 28 months. We’ve kept each other safe, protected income streams, and found ways to be enormously creative amid terrible collective trauma. As we arrive at the threshold of a 2022-2023 concert season that looks poised to be the most ordinary one since 2019, I look forward to receiving and responding to more of the old familiar questions and fewer of the novel ones.

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