Tag Archives: PPP

Emerging from the Pandemic

I can hear the ice beginning to break apart on our frozen pandemic year. As the Biden administration streamlines vaccine distribution and our economy slowly begins to thaw under the economic stimulus of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), we will start to see the re-opening of our orchestras and a loosening of audience restrictions. Safety is still paramount, but spring is here and, beneath the evanescing frost, our industry is returning to life.

Following many years of AFM lobbying for legislative reform regarding multiemployer pension plans, the Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021 has finally passed through Congress and been signed into law by President Biden as part of the ARPA. Under the guiding strategy of AFM Legislative Director Alfonso Pollard, and with the indispensable legwork of Michael Manley (director of organizing and education), Alex Tindal Wiesendanger (lead organizer), Antoinette Follett (director of communications), and the Player Conferences Council (myself, Marc Sazer of the Recording Musicians Association, John Michael Smith of the Regional Orchestra Players Association, and Anthony D’Amico of the Theater Musicians Association, but without Robert Fraser of the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians, as Canada has its own pension) we created a three-point plan of action to make certain our voices were heard on Capitol Hill.

In the belief that Republicans would not vote in favor of the American Rescue Plan, we concentrated our efforts on stiffening the spines of Democrats in Congress to make certain they voted in line with their razor-thin majority. AFM members generated thousands of email letters, local officers and musicians of every genre held legislative Zoom meetings in key districts, and over 100 volunteer musicians made thousands of calls to AFM members who then made thousands of targeted calls to Democratic legislators. In addition, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians’ (ICSOM) Phone2Action email campaign generated several thousand emails nationwide. Every musician who contacted Congress helped to move this campaign closer to success, demonstrating our union solidarity and the power of collective action. Thank you for your activism!

After a years-long fight, we have achieved multiemployer pension reform.

In other legislative news, orchestras are still unpacking the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was passed in December 2020. This $900 billion in additional COVID-19 relief funding includes $15 billion to the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program and more than $280 billion in new Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds. Both programs are overseen by the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Many of our ICSOM orchestras (not all were eligible) participated in the first round of PPP, which played a vital role in keeping our musicians afloat. The application process got off to a rocky start as the SBA figured out how to coordinate the program, which is a forgivable loan and not a grant. Many orchestras’ loans have already been forgiven, while others await a decision. But thus far we are aware of no orchestra that has been denied forgiveness.

The SVOG program provides for grants of up to $10 million to orchestras, theaters, and other arts organizations. Previously, organizations could not apply for both a PPP loan and an SVOG. But now they can, and if they obtain both, then the value of the PPP2 loan—which is capped at $2 million—is deducted from the (presumably larger) SVOG. This could result in significant additional funds for our orchestras.

The majority of our orchestras have been able to take advantage of these federal relief programs, and most have negotiated temporary compromises on wages and benefits in order to stay solvent. We have been incredibly fortunate throughout this crisis to receive the continued support of our patrons and donors and are truly grateful for their unwavering generosity to our orchestral institutions. For the handful of ICSOM orchestras who have suffered unnecessary and destructive furloughs, I hope the ability to resume concerts will bring greater pressure to bear on those institutions that failed their responsibility to maintain their orchestras, and just as critically, the individual musicians who comprise them.

As we embark on the return to live performance, we face uncertain waters ahead. How will we be affected by the currents of change we have witnessed throughout this pandemic year? Will our audiences return? To what degree will the now omnipresent audio/visual streaming of performances change our working landscape? How will we address the issues of social justice and equity that have become so starkly apparent? The way we choose to navigate these questions will have far reaching consequences for our orchestras and our country. We are ready to meet the challenge and eager to set sail.

Colorado Springs Philharmonic Enters into Arbitration

Musicians and management of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic are in arbitration after meetings with a federal mediator failed to produce a resolution to a six-month labor dispute.

In September 2020, management canceled the orchestra’s 2020-21 season and backed out of the musicians’ contract, invoking force majeure. The next day, management offered the musicians an alternate series of concerts, like so many orchestras around the country, only without the benefit of the CBA. The five-year contract that was dissolved had been signed in April 2020—after the COVID-19 pandemic had already caused widespread closure and concert cancellations. That contract brought musicians’ annual salaries to $13,000, an increase of about 20%.

Musicians were paid in full under the terms of their new contract through July 2020, thanks to Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding and a robust surplus from their 2019-20 season. The Philharmonic then set aside $150,000 for health subsidy payments and for an assistance fund to help musicians in need, and talks turned to negotiating a side letter for the 2020-21 season; however, an agreement could not be reached. In mid-September, musicians turned down a final offer on the basis that it would have left the door open for future changes to the CBA, including setting the precedent that guaranteed services not utilized by management would be unpaid and also that the entire CBA could still be canceled by force majeure at management’s sole discretion. After rejecting their offer, despite the board-designated funds to do so and in the midst of a global pandemic, the Philharmonic stopped paying even the musicians’ health subsidy.

Due to the unilateral cancellation of the musicians’ contract, Local 154 (Colorado Springs, CO) requested the Colorado Springs Philharmonic be placed on the International Unfair List. Musicians allege that the Philharmonic’s management team has used the pandemic as an excuse for its financial shortcomings, rather than seeking creative new ways to bring music to people. Prior to the pandemic, the Philharmonic already faced financial difficulties. Its predecessor organization, the Colorado Springs Symphony, filed for bankruptcy in 2003. At that time, the musicians spearheaded a quick reorganization, including accepting a decrease of 30% in their service guarantee. The current CBA would have finally brought musician compensation back to pre-bankruptcy levels, 20 years later in 2024. Since the reorganization, the Philharmonic has enjoyed enthusiastic support by the community including a doubling of total annual revenue and the establishment of a foundation to benefit the organization.