Tag Archives: covid

Minnesota Orchestra Extends Contract with COVID-19 Terms

Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have extended their current contract for two years, while also agreeing to a 25% pay cut via a side letter. The extension maintains existing medical and dental benefits. The side letter, with terms to address COVID-19, went into effect October 1 and continues through August 2022. However, if audiences are able to return to the concert hall by fall 2021, without limits to audience capacity, the pay cut will be reversed a year early.  Overall, the organization is reducing costs by $5 million for fiscal year 2021. Music Director Osmo Vänskä is taking a 35% salary cut for the current fiscal year.

Musicians had earlier agreed in June to decrease their salary by 20%. Negotiations for the contract extension and side letter were productive and respectful. Minnesota Orchestra musicians are represented by Local 30-73 (St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN).

Over $100K Raised for Early Music Musician Relief

Early Music America, an advocacy organization that supports the performance and study of early music, has raised more than $100,000 and distributed more than 300 grants to early musicians struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds were raised by 348 donors through the EMA Relief Fund, which the organization established in March of this year and promoted with the assistance of Gotham Early Music Scene.

“The pandemic has had a devastating effect on all of the arts. Early music performers, rarely at the high end of the economic scale even during the best of times, have been hit particularly hard,” said Mark Kroll, harpsichordist, professor emeritus at Boston University, and member of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA), who helped found EMA more than 40 years ago. “Several of my younger colleagues are even having trouble paying the rent or putting food on the table. What makes matters worse is that there aren’t many places they can turn to for help. They usually don’t belong to a large musical ensemble, like a major symphony orchestra, that might be able to continue the salary of its players, even with a pay cut. Few are full-time faculty members who can depend on a university’s support.” 

The EMA Relief Fund offers mini grants to its members to help relieve financial losses resulting from concert cancellations. “We can’t make up for a couple of months of loss of performance income, but we can do something, and, in doing so, set an example of community spirit and provide some hope in this time of unprecedented challenge to livelihoods, artistic expression and security,” according to the EMA website.

Detroit Symphony Orchestra Agrees to One-Year Modification

At the end of January, ahead of schedule and pre-COVID-19, musicians and management of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) had agreed on terms for a three-year contract, to go into effect September 7, 2020. The two sides have now agreed to a modification of the first year of that contract, with salary reduced to approximately 80%. Other language has been instituted to address the challenges of COVID-19—for example, musicians at higher risk for COVID-19 will not be required to perform in group settings, but will be required to perform alternative services.

Terms of the three-year contract include changes to health insurance premiums, with a set cost-sharing amount established for any premium increases; changes to audition rules, including setting a standard audition committee size of seven to nine members or 11 for the concertmaster position (auditions are postponed until they can be held safely); and changes to work rules, including a dress code that allows musicians to self-identify with regard to gender.

DSO musicians are members of Local 5 (Detroit, MI).

Second Round of Performing Arts Aerosol Study Produces Encouraging Preliminary Results

An aerosol study commissioned by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA), and a coalition of more than 125 performing arts organizations has generated a second set of preliminary results that provides further optimism for mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on performing arts activities.

Preceded by initial results released July 13 that centered on aerosol pathways from a soprano singer and subjects playing four different musical instruments, the second phase of experimentation investigated aerosol from additional singers and instruments, as well as theatre performers. A final report, which will incorporate more testing on the aforementioned areas along with speech and debate activities and an aerobic simulation, is expected with the completion of the study in December.

“The goal of this study from the beginning was to identify the issues of aerosol production in performing arts activities, and to find a way forward so these activities will survive the pandemic,” said study Co-chair Dr. Mark Spede, CBDNA president and Clemson University director of bands. “We are identifying ways performing arts participants can meet in person with the lowest risk possible.”

Powered by research teams at the University of Colorado and the University of Maryland, the study’s second round of findings is highlighted by five principal takeaways related to masks, distance, time, air flow, and hygiene, with the goal of creating the safest possible environment for bringing performing arts back into classrooms, band rooms, rehearsal spaces, performance halls, and on athletic fields.

The most recent findings for performing arts participants in music, band, choir, speech, and theatre reinforced the masking measures from the original study results. Those results found that affixing masks to participants and applying bell cover “masks” to musical instruments significantly reduced the range of aerosol particle emissions. Personal masks should be well-fitting, multi-layered, washable or disposable, and surgical in style. Ideally, bell covers should be made of non-stretchy material that has a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) of 13—a rating known to protect against cough and sneeze, bacteria, and virus particles. However, any type of covering is better than nothing.

Although the study does not yet appear to have reached a conclusion on the efficacy of specific distancing measures, the preliminary results include a reminder that long-established social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (6 feet by 6 feet) should be applied at all times, with additional space (9 feet by 6 feet) allocated to accommodate trombone players. Masks can be optional but are strongly recommended while performing or rehearsing outdoors; instrument bell covers, however, should be used in all settings.

Study statistics indicate limiting rehearsal times to 30 minutes or less significantly reduces the quantity and spread of aerosol among the individuals involved. Following an indoor rehearsal, activities leaders should wait until at least one HVAC air change has occurred prior to using the same room again although three air changes is the goal. Outdoors, playing should stop for approximately five minutes after each 30-minute segment to allow the aerosol to disperse.

As can be expected, optimal air flow is achieved during outdoor rehearsals. For programs looking to use tents as a means of sheltering performers outdoors, open-air tents—those with high rooftops and without walls—should be employed. HEPA filters are strongly recommended to increase the amount of clean air and the number of air changes per hour for indoor rehearsals. Additional guidance can be found on the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) website at www.ashrae.org.

Finally, the second round of results places a strong emphasis on hygiene. In addition to basic hygienic measures like keeping common areas sanitized and encouraging frequent handwashing, it is recommended that instrument spit valves be emptied onto absorbent sheets such as puppy pads rather than directly onto the floor.

While several months of research remain ahead for the aerosol study, Co-Chair Dr. James Weaver, NFHS director of Performing Arts and Sports, believes the preliminary findings and subsequent recommendations have already made a great impact on the feasibility of conducting performing arts activities in the near future.

“We know there are elevated aerosol productions that exist in performing arts activities,” Weaver said. “We feel strongly that the performing arts field is committed to the safety and well-being of all students, with a clear desire to understand what happens when instruments are played, or people engage in singing, theatre or other expressive artistic experiences. We are beginning to understand what steps can be taken to mitigate concerns and allow students to engage in the many life-affirming experiences that are central to the arts.”

To learn more about the researchers and contributors, view past preliminary results, and browse additional resources related to the aerosol study, visit the NFHS website at www.nfhs.org.

(Note: The AFM does not endorse any of the medical suggestions or conclusions listed above. Please contact your personal physician for health and safety advice.)

San Diego Symphony Agrees to New Contract

In a CBA modified to address the financial challenges of COVID-19, musicians of the San Diego Symphony—represented by Local 325 (San Diego, CA)—have accepted a pay cut of approximately 33% for the 2020/21 season, with a reduction in working weeks from 42 to 24. Musicians will not receive cartage, seniority, or move up pay; and vacant positions in the orchestra will be left unfilled.

Musicians may opt to take unpaid leave without utilizing sabbatical leave. In addition, absences related to COVID-19 illness will be paid without utilizing sick leave. While they are not covered in the new contract, substitute musicians who were under contract in May 2020 will continue to receive full health benefits through June 2021.

Salary levels and other contract provisions that had originally been planned for the 2020-21 season will be shifted to 2021-22.

Utah Symphony Ratifies Modified One-Year Waiver

On August 16, the musicians of the Utah Symphony—members of Local 104 (Salt Lake City, UT)—ratified a COVID-19 Waiver Agreement modification to their four-year agreement that runs through August 31, 2022; the waiver agreement runs from August 31, 2020 through May 29, 2021.

Utah musicians have been furloughed since the end of May and will now return to work on August 30, 2020. Musicians agreed to a 23% reduction in base salary for the 2020-2021 winter season, along with various changes to working conditions. Crucially, the symphony agreed not to invoke force majeure or to furlough the musicians for the period of the waiver agreement, and further agreed to allow musicians at increased risk for severe COVID-19 illness to opt out of live performances.

Jacksonville Symphony Ratifies Four-Year Agreement

On August 15, the musicians of the Jacksonville Symphony ratified a new four-year agreement that begins September 21, 2020; the current contract has been extended for an additional two years through September 3, 2024. The musicians and staff of the Jacksonville Symphony have agreed to 10% salary reductions in an effort to mitigate the damage COVID-19 has caused by limiting ticket sales, and to help cover the cost of new safety measures.

Under the agreement, absences due to COVID-19-related issues will be paid without the use of sick or personal leave, while musicians who fall under the definition of “People at Increased Risk for Severe Illness” as defined by the CDC, or who share a household with someone that fits that definition, will not be required to perform live with other musicians but may be required to provide mutually agreed alternative services.

The orchestra’s musicians are members of Local 444 (Jacksonville, FL).

LA Phil Returns to Stage Under COVID-19 Side Letter to IMA

On August 1, around 30 musicians from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, members of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), returned to the outdoor stage of the Hollywood Bowl for the first time since the pandemic’s shutdowns, to rehearse for the capture of product to be released under the new COVID-19 side letter to the IMA. Even though the Hollywood Bowl remains closed, the services were able to take place under the Reopening Protocol for Music, Television and Film Production Agreement: Appendix J issued by the Los Angeles County Public Health Department.

According to a report in Senza Sordino, the ICSOM newsletter, the string players were masked and sitting at least six feet apart, while the wind players were 12 feet apart and surrounded by plexiglass. Under these rather unusual conditions, the orchestra performed a program that included Beethoven Symphony No. 7, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting.

Health and Safety of Musicians is Paramount for Return to Work

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the greatest disruption to the livelihood of performing artists in modern history. As arts organizations plan for a 2020-21 season unlike anything that could have been anticipated, of paramount importance to the AFM is the health and safety of musicians as they prepare for some semblance of a return to work. Though studies are now underway evaluating the spread of the virus via aerosols and air flows, much of the data is preliminary and it will be some time before their completion.

While an understanding of the risks of virus spread in musical performance settings remains incomplete, discussions with employers about performances scheduled for this season have begun in earnest. It is critically important that we engage with employers on this bedrock principle of unionism—workplace safety. The responsibility to negotiate these conditions lies with AFM locals and orchestra committees, but it is an issue which will affect all of us who perform and is therefore deserving of our individual attention and consideration.

AFM Theatre/Touring/Booking Division Director Tino Gagliardi provided a list of questions for pit musicians to consider in the previous issue of the IM, many of which hold up well when translated to other musical settings. The recent International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) Player Conferences have included in-depth presentations by medical experts on this subject, and I highly recommend those for review. As cautious exploration of the resumption of live performance is being considered, musicians must assess their appetite for the amount of risk involved, and ways to best reduce that risk.

In this time when the pandemic has forced performing arts organizations to throw their playbook out of the window, it is important to recognize that this situation also represents a unique opportunity to completely reimagine how artists will connect with their audiences. To do so will require creativity, vision, innovation, and flexibility as arts organizations seek to maintain a presence in their communities and fulfill their artistic missions while complying with safety standards for both performers and audiences.

It is my hope that these organizations will access their greatest resource, their artists, as they address these challenges because it is those very qualities that I mentioned that I know our musicians possess in abundance.

Legislation to Fix Unemployment Benefits for ‘Mixed Earners’ Introduced

AFM applauded the introduction of legislation in late July that would fix issues that musicians and other entertainment workers have had with unemployment benefits. The Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act, introduced by U.S. Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Judy Chu (D-CA), would help ensure that workers who earn a mix of traditional (W-2) and independent (e.g. 1099) income are able to fully access the unemployment assistance provided in the CARES Act.

“Most musicians are facing unprecedented job loss with no end in sight. It is vital that musicians and others who have both W-2 and 1099 income are able to receive full unemployment benefits,” said AFM International President Ray Hair. “We thank representatives Schiff and Chu for listening to musicians and introducing this critical legislation.”

The CARES Act created the Pandemic Unemployment Insurance (PUA) program to provide unemployment benefits to freelancers, contractors, and other gig workers who would not normally qualify for traditional unemployment benefits. Under existing rules, musicians and other entertainment workers who earn a combination of traditional (W-2) and self-employment (e.g. 1099) income are automatically excluded from the PUA program. This means that workers who earn exclusively W-2 or exclusively 1099 income receive benefits based on their total earnings, but mixed earners only receive benefits based on their W-2 employment. This caused many entertainment workers to have their income significantly under-measured and resulted in disproportionately low benefits.

The Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act will allow people who earn a combination of traditional (W-2) and independent (e.g. 1099) income to opt into receiving PUA benefits in lieu of regular state unemployment compensation. Because PUA benefits are calculated using states’ existing formulas, but use a worker’s full earnings record, they are guaranteed to be at least as much as regular state benefits and will take into account mixed earner’s true earnings history from both traditional and self-employment.

In May, the AFM sent a letter with other entertainment unions and music industry organizations to highlight the ways that the CARES Act had fallen short in assisting musicians and other entertainment workers.