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Use of the Comparative Analysis Feature of the AFM’s Online Wage Charts to Prepare for Negotiations

by Laurence Hofmann, AFM Symphonic Services Division Contract Administrator, Communications & Data Coordinator

Gathering facts and understanding the desires of each member of the bargaining unit are two essential components of preparation for collective bargaining negotiations. Negotiators may wish to integrate a variety of data from the AFM’s wagechart.afm.org website.

The AFM’s dynamic and interactive database is designed to filter the huge amount of data collected in the wage charts of player conference orchestras. In the July 2016 International Musician, I wrote an article that detailed the features and capabilities of the database hosted at wagechart.afm.org. The wage chart, specifically the “Comparative Analysis” section of the website, is a useful tool to organize schematic and graphic reports about an orchestra’s historical data, as well as orchestra status among peer orchestras. This article will illustrate how effectively the wage chart website and its sections can be utilized in negotiations.

The data contained on the website is complex and not always uniform across player conferences. Data is collected from collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), as well as furnished by the union and the employer. When management refuses to deliver financial information, it may be drawn from the nonprofit employer’s tax returns (IRS Form 990), which are public records. Finally, this data needs to be complemented by analysis of the socio-economic and cultural environment for bargaining.

The “Historical Review” feature of the comparative analysis may be used to visualize the historical growth of the orchestra and to highlight peaks (and valleys). Events that provoked those changes should be investigated by the negotiators: the resuming of an orchestra’s stature after a strike/lockout, a new management, renewed abilities to engage funding and to apply for grants, or successful ticket and subscription sales due to talented musicians or effective marketing. Other questions of interest about the socio-economic and cultural impact on the orchestra’s growth might concern the citizens’ consumption of culture, their preference for outdoor activities, their general level of education, the main industry in the region, and more.

By comparing an orchestra with its peers, negotiators can both identify and bolster realistic bargaining positions. Peer orchestras can be found by using the “Filter by Criteria” feature and applying one or more of the five filter criteria (season length, musicians currently employed, orchestra budget, minimum annual salary, minimum weekly salary) and by indicating a range of desired values for each filter. To extend comparisons among Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), and even Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) orchestras, some allowances may need to be made to allow for differing structures (e.g., season length determined by number of services vs. number of weeks).

Given all these premises, the historical review search should be followed first by a comparative one using a combination of three criteria: “orchestra size in terms of employed musicians,” “season length in terms of services guaranteed per season,” and “orchestra budget.” Then, to narrow the search further, it is best to use the five criteria all together. The scheme resulting from the search is enriched by additional items like: CBA expiration date (to understand if other orchestras may be negotiating as well), employer contribution to health care, pension fund, endowments, funds (city, state, regional, and federal funds and the proportion between public and private funds and investments), percentage of expenses dedicated to the musicians’ salary and benefits, and pertinent costs (to consider the impact of wage increases in the orchestra overall budget). The data about last season’s gains/deficits could be added to this scheme by consulting the wage charts for each individual orchestra in the “orchestras” section of the website.

A proposal that not only reflects the aspirations of the bargaining unit but is also supported by data available on the wagechart.afm.org website will have a greater likelihood of success. We all work together towards a successful negotiation. The “Comparative Analysis” is a go-to instrument to better understand the symphonic world. It will be continuously adjusted to the needs of users. This is why your suggestions, personal experiences, and comments are always welcome.

I conclude with a note from Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) President Pat Hollenbeck:

There is a Benjamin Disraeli quote apropos to this subject: “As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information.” Harvard Professor William Eisen has a mantra that he repeats over and over to his students: “You can never have enough information.” The vast information collated [at wagechart.afm.org] gives us all the tools we need to enter orchestra negotiations with a deep understanding of the marketplace. The filter tools and the historical review permit us to drill down into very specific details tailored to fit every negotiation. It would be impossible for us to collect all the data that we have at our fingertips, instantly, 24-7, and it has proven to be an invaluable resource. We would be lost without it.