Tag Archives: Rochelle Skolnick

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Update from the SSD Director

Reflection, Resilience, and Rededication:
Symphonic Musicians Emerge from the COVID Period

by Rochelle Skolnick, AFM Symphonic Services Division Director

In the week I write this column, the State of California has lifted almost all COVID-19 restrictions, following most other US jurisdictions in “officially reopening.” Canada, with vaccination rates unfortunately trailing those in the US, lags behind in reopening. It appears that all US AFM jurisdictions will soon be open for performances without much in the way of COVID-related restrictions, barring resurgence of the disease driven by uncontrolled variants. We hope that Canada soon reaches the same milestone.

With many musicians returning to live performance more or less as usual, this pivotal moment affords the opportunity to reflect on the work we’ve done and consider what lies ahead. There is much to be proud of in the way we’ve collectively managed the truly unprecedented challenges of the past 15 months.

As Symphonic Services Division (SSD) Director of Symphonic Electronic Media Debbie Newmark writes, we have seen tremendous success with the framework we developed to allow streaming of content in exchange for continued compensation of musicians, even when ordinary live performance was rendered impossible due to the pandemic. That model, coupled with musicians’ great tenacity and creativity and fueled by government funds and dollars from committed donors, provided some level of compensation to most symphony, opera, and ballet musicians during a very dark period. It also spurred their institutions to cultivate new connections with audiences.

The detailed safety protocols bargained by our locals and orchestra committees were another success. As employers began to talk about bringing musicians into concert halls in small groups to record concerts for streaming, SSD issued guidance in June 2020, equipping musicians and their advocates with the tools to bargain effectively over this life-or-death situation. We urged caution, thoroughness, and reliance on the best available science. Perhaps most importantly, we stressed the importance of bringing all musicians into the conversation about making our workplaces safe from this new threat. The lengthy safety plans that grew out of these efforts worked exceedingly well: to my knowledge there has been no instance of workplace spread of COVID-19 in a symphony, opera, or ballet workplace.

We also successfully strategized about how to protect the most vulnerable among our orchestra populations while still allowing creativity to flourish. The result was one of the most stunning examples of collectivism I have ever seen. String players and percussionists who could work fully masked and distanced sometimes carried a greater share of the work—but not the compensation. This allowed wind and brass players and the immunocompromised, whose presence in the workplace was far riskier, to remain safely at home and still receive compensation. Those who stayed home engaged in alternate work, sometimes calling donors to thank them personally for their support or engaging with students remotely. Through these collective efforts, in which each musician contributed and each benefited, the creative and economic lifeblood of our institutions continued to pump.

Not all has been a success, however. There have been outliers. “Leaders” of those institutions saw fit to exploit the pandemic as an opportunity to extract concessions from musicians, rather than as a challenge to be overcome. Those employers starved out musicians with unilaterally imposed “furloughs” that look an awful lot like lockouts when coupled with bargaining demands for long-term cuts in wages and benefits. These tactics fool no one; managers and boards who sow these seeds of division ensure that their institutions will reap a toxic harvest in future bargaining cycles and for years to come.

Some of these conflicts have resolved because musicians linked arms and refused to allow their orchestras to be decimated. Other musicians remain engaged in a terrible fight with the support and empathy of their colleagues throughout the AFM and around the world.

There were also many, mostly smaller, institutions that went largely dormant during the 2020-2021 season—not because of ill intent on the part of institutional leadership but rather due to those leaders’ lack of creative vision. The musicians of these institutions, whose generally freelance livelihoods were most tenuous even before COVID, have perhaps suffered the most during the pandemic. As others have observed, COVID exposed certain vulnerabilities that already existed in our industry. Where musicians had no minimum service guarantees they were far less likely to receive any compensation when ordinary performances ceased. Such guarantees will certainly be a top priority in upcoming rounds of bargaining.

As impossible as it once seemed, from today’s perspective, we can see there will be some positive things we take with us from these past 15 months of incalculable devastation. We musicians are a resourceful, resilient bunch and many of us used the forced pause of the pandemic as an opportunity for growth. We tried out new hobbies (sourdough, anyone?), welcomed new babies and new puppies, began fitness regimens and mindfulness practices, healed overuse injuries, and (for those privileged enough not to have already lived it every day of our lives) came face-to-face in ways we never have before with the suffocating oppression of systemic racism. For some who have never known themselves as anything other than too-busy working musicians, the pandemic provided a singular opportunity to reimagine what life could be—for ourselves, for our orchestras, and for society.

Forced into isolation, we also came to appreciate with new acuity the value of collective experience and the power of collective action. Without the strength that comes from unity and the numerous protections we have achieved through collective bargaining, we would not have weathered the storm of the past 15 months with as much grace as we have. As we launch ourselves back into the regular current of our work lives, we will surely be mindful of what we carry with us and what we leave behind from the pandemic pause. Collectivism, both on stage and in our union halls and orchestra meetings, will be among the most valuable of the ideals we carry forward.

Update from the SSD Director

Staff Additions

by Rochelle Skolnick, AFM Symphonic Services Division Director

The past month has brought a flurry of activity for US and Canadian symphony, opera, and ballet orchestras.

Unfortunately, none of it has to do with the musicians of those orchestras reaching new heights of music-making on stages or in orchestra pits—and all of it has to do with each institution’s response to the sudden and complete cessation of live performance work for the near and foreseeable future. Together, the musicians, managers, and boards of our institutions are writing a chapter of symphonic history none of us could have anticipated nor ever hoped to write.

As in any saga, there are those who emerge heroic, those who stumble before finding their footing, and those who act destructively, showing themselves ill-suited to the leadership roles they occupy. In many cases, the managers of our symphonic institutions have risen to the current challenge by continuing compensation for musicians and assuring they will have access to health care, a right that has never been more essential than it is now. Some have done so with the assistance of institutional loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, created by the CARES Act (which went into effect on March 27) or the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (which went into effect on March 15). Others have provided only token compensation or left musicians to fend for themselves. These are among the darkest spots in a dark time.

Musicians are inherently creative. “Driving-for-dollars” orchestra musicians, in particular, are accustomed to cobbling together a living from many different income sources. But the current circumstances—in which many musicians are left to weave their own safety nets from rounds of Zoom lessons while waiting for unemployment claims to process and federal subsidies to arrive—try even the most resourceful souls. Those of you who are struggling—we see you.

International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) Chair Meredith Snow’s account in this section outlines where things stand for the musicians of many ICSOM orchestras as of press time. Like their ICSOM peers, the leaders of many Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) and Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) orchestras have chosen to do the right thing by continuing compensation for at least the remainder of the 2019-2020 season.

Among ROPA orchestras, the musicians of the Austin Symphony, Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Harrisburg Symphony, Houston Ballet, Los Angeles Opera, Lincoln Symphony, Madison Symphony, Memphis Symphony, Minnesota Opera, Omaha Symphony, Pacific Symphony, Reading Symphony, Rhode Island Philharmonic, and Richmond Symphony will receive full or nearly full compensation through the end of the 2019-2020 season. Many other ROPA orchestras have paid musicians for at least the first few weeks of canceled concerts or will provide partial pay through the end of the season, including orchestras in Akron, Arizona Opera, Chattanooga, Delaware, Duluth, Hartford, Kalamazoo, and Sarasota.

All six Canadian full-time orchestras that treat musicians as employees—Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Kitchener-Waterloo, Québec, and Nova Scotia—are eligible for assistance through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). CEWS pays 75% of weekly salaries up to $847; these orchestras will pay musicians an amount at least equal to the wage subsidy to the end of their regularly scheduled seasons. For Canadian orchestra musicians who have self-employed status, the picture is more complex. As of press time, it was not clear whether these orchestras would qualify for CEWS, but for now, every OCSM orchestra whose musicians have a guarantee of weeks or services is paying its musicians at least a partial amount. This includes a number of orchestras, such as the Windsor Symphony Orchestra and the National Arts Centre Orchestra, that have committed to paying their musicians their minimum annual commitment, despite the fact that they may not be eligible for the wage subsidy. Fortunately, self-employed Canadian musicians who lose work due to COVID-19 are eligible to receive the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) of $2,000 per month.

In a few cases, it has been a challenge to persuade managers to commit to paying musicians—even in orchestras that don’t have force majeure language in their agreements and do qualify for wage subsidies through Canadian or US governmental programs. The hard work, creativity, and commitment of our orchestra committees is always one of our greatest assets, and this has been especially true as we work to persuade orchestras to do the right thing.

AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) staff in the US and Canada work long hours every week with dozens of orchestra institutions, local unions, and orchestra committees to help finalize compensation packages and to craft media solutions that will allow those institutions to stay visible and remain connected with their patrons, donors, and community during this time when live performance in the concert hall is impossible. We check in each Monday at noon with the leadership of ICSOM, OCSM, and ROPA, sharing challenges and accomplishments. In these interactions, we have been moved, impressed, and encouraged by the dedication our musician representatives at every level have shown to their fellow musicians, their audiences, and their art. It goes without saying that we confront today challenges unlike any we’ve known before, but we do so unified in purpose and energized by the tasks at hand.

If you are a symphonic musician and you are struggling, please reach out to your orchestra committee, your local union, or directly to SSD. We will do our best to help in any way we can. Together, we will get through this.

Amid Sexual Harassment Allegations, Unions Maintain Collective Bargaining Protections for All Workers

Staff Additions

by Rochelle Skolnick, AFM Special Counsel and Symphonic Services Division Director

A union files a grievance challenging the termination of an orchestra musician alleged to have inappropriately touched a coworker, demanding reinstatement of the alleged harasser. A musician is suspended from work (although the employer signals it intends to terminate) for unspecified misconduct “pending investigation by the union.” A symphonic employer comments in the press that its sexual harassment policy was not implemented “because the union objected.” At a moment when our awareness of sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace is greater and our tolerance for those behaviors is lower than ever, why does it sometimes seem the union is standing in the way?

The answer lies in three principles that are fundamental to the collective bargaining relationship among employers, unions, and the employees they represent: the duty to bargain, the duty of fair representation, and the requirement of just cause for discipline. It is easy to understand why a union might advocate on behalf of a musician who has suffered harassment in the workplace. Some of the other roles a union takes on in relation to this issue are more nuanced and less understood.

Sexual Harassment Legal Landscape

Federal law prohibits discrimination and harassment in the workplace based on sex and other protected characteristics (like race, age, disability, religion, national origin, and union activity). Federal law prohibits neither bullying nor harassment unrelated to a protected characteristic, but some state laws and municipal codes provide additional protections. It may seem obvious, but not all objectionable workplace conduct rises to the level of unlawful harassment. Even when the objectionable conduct is based on a protected characteristic, it will only be unlawful when it is so severe or pervasive that it unreasonably interferes with work performance, creating a hostile work environment.

It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure the workplace is free of unlawful harassment. When an employer receives a complaint concerning harassment, it must conduct an investigation and, if it determines harassment has occurred, it must take steps to end the harassment and make the victim(s) whole for any damages suffered. An employer may escape liability for unlawful harassment if it can demonstrate that it took reasonable steps to prevent the harassment (including the existence of a policy prohibiting harassment) and the victim unreasonably failed to avail himself or herself of the employer’s preventive mechanisms, including avenues for reporting the harassment.

Duty to Bargain Harassment Policies

In the unionized workplace, an employer wishing to implement a sexual harassment policy may not do so without first engaging the union in bargaining concerning the policy. Sexual harassment policies, and the discipline that may result from violating them, are both mandatory subjects of bargaining. Federal law prohibits an employer from making unilateral changes in any mandatory subject until it has given notice and bargained with the union and the parties have reached either agreement or impasse.

Although employers today seem to be more aware of their obligation to bargain harassment policies, some still attempt to unilaterally implement them. When a union objects and demands to bargain over the contents of the policy, it does so not to be obstructionist but rather to ensure that the policy is reasonable, understandable, and not in conflict with the parties’ CBA, among other things. A union’s actions in this regard are part of maintaining a healthy relationship between the union and employer, which in turn benefits all employees.

Union’s Duty of Fair Representation

A union that is the exclusive bargaining representative of a unit of employees (e.g., the musicians of a symphony orchestra) has a duty to represent the members of that unit in a way that is reasonable, fair, and in good faith. This is known as the “duty of fair representation.” That duty applies with equal force, whether the union is acting on behalf of the bargaining unit as a whole or on behalf of one individual musician. In fact, unions often must balance the interests of an individual employee with those of the entire group and are given wide latitude to make judgments about the best course of action, so long as those judgments are not arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith.

When a musician has been disciplined for alleged sexual harassment or any other infraction and asks the union for assistance, the union must at least investigate the matter to determine whether the discipline violated the parties’ CBA. The nature of the investigation will depend on a number of factors, but such investigations are almost never straightforward and often will require the union to invest substantial time and resources. Meanwhile, there may be some in the bargaining unit—including the musician who complained of the harassment—who are convinced of the alleged harasser’s guilt and question why the union would not immediately acquiesce to the discipline. These musicians should remember that the union’s conducting of an investigation fulfills an important duty—one it would discharge similarly for any member of the bargaining unit seeking the union’s assistance.

Discipline for Just Cause: Due Process and Progressive Discipline

When a union investigates the discipline of any musician, it is generally trying to determine whether the discipline was for “just cause.” Just cause is the standard commonly applied by labor arbitrators to determine the propriety of a disciplinary action in the collective bargaining context. The right to discipline only for just cause is one of the greatest benefits of working under a collective bargaining agreement. Most American workers can be terminated at any time, for any reason (known as “at will” employment). Traditionally, the test for just cause consists of seven questions, all of which must be answered affirmatively or the discipline fails the test. Among the considerations are whether both the rule and consequences for violating it were communicated clearly to the employee, whether the employer conducted a fair and objective investigation before imposing discipline, whether the degree of discipline was reasonable in light of the employee’s proven offense, the employee’s record of service, and the employer’s handling of similar conduct by other employees.

At the heart of the “just cause” inquiry are concepts of due process and progressive discipline. Due process, in this context, means that the musician has been made aware of the employer’s expectations for conduct and given an opportunity to satisfy them. Progressive discipline means that, when the musician fails to satisfy those expectations, the employer imposes only the degree of discipline necessary to correct the behavior, applying successively harsher penalties, if less severe penalties fail to have the desired result.

Generally speaking, discipline “progresses” from verbal warnings to written warnings to suspensions of increasing length to termination. Particularly egregious misconduct may warrant skipping over steps of progressive discipline and going straight to termination, but that is the exception rather than the norm.

In many cases, an employer’s obligation to ensure a workplace free of unlawful harassment may not require the immediate termination of an employee alleged to have engaged in such harassing conduct. Some lesser degree of discipline may be enough to convey the message that such conduct will not be tolerated. Where the alleged harasser is a long-term employee with an otherwise clean disciplinary record, skipping over lesser discipline and moving straight to termination may be inconsistent with just cause. The same may be true where an employer has rushed to discipline before investigating or imposed discipline on the basis of facts that do not rise to the level of actionable misconduct. In any of these cases, the union may have a duty to represent the disciplined musician in the grievance process, and even in arbitration.

Sometimes, the union takes a position of advocacy on behalf of a musician who has already been judged by colleagues and may not be well liked. Occasionally, the union’s position on behalf of one musician seems to be in conflict with the interests of another musician. Unions have systems to manage such apparent conflicts, including the assignment of different individual representatives to different musicians, but these are among the most difficult cases for unions. It is important to remember that, in such situations, the union is preserving foundational rights to due process and progressive discipline—not just for one individual musician, but for every musician in the bargaining unit.

Orchestra Librarians: Unrecognized Musicians No More

by Rochelle Skolnick, Director AFM Symphonic Services Division

If you are a musician in an AFM represented symphony orchestra, you rely upon the services of one or more professional music librarians who ensure that you have legible, accurately marked sheet music on your stand at all rehearsals and performances, and that parts are made available to you in advance so you can arrive at the first rehearsal for a new program prepared for the work ahead. For some musicians, that is the extent of their interaction with their orchestra librarians.

Many others turn to their librarians for a range of specialized support services and for invaluable musicological, historical, and repertoire information. Whether you are a casual or intensive consumer of library services, you appreciate the work of these dedicated music professionals who must possess musical training, skill, and experience. The work of professional orchestra librarians is essential—a necessary predicate to the work done on stage and in opera and ballet pits—but librarians’ critical role as partners to their performing colleagues often goes unrecognized.

Represented Librarians

That is not the case in the 36 International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) orchestras, 21 Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) orchestras, and four Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM/OMOSC) orchestras where orchestra librarians are included in the musicians’ bargaining unit. (A look at the wage charts shows the broad range of orchestras these numbers represent.)

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, Oregon Symphony, Sarasota Orchestra, and Washington National Opera Orchestra are the most recent additions to the growing list, which already included the orchestras traditionally thought of as the “big five” (Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and The Philadelphia Orchestra). Others include Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and San Francisco Symphony. One might conclude from this list that a key ingredient in making a so-called “destination orchestra” is librarian inclusion in the bargaining unit.

Unrepresented Librarians

Why does it matter whether your orchestra librarian is included in your orchestra bargaining unit? Those of you who regularly work under an AFM collective bargaining agreement know first-hand the benefits that come with collective bargaining: collectively negotiated wages and benefits, reasonable work hours and leave time, and protection against arbitrary termination—not to mention union representation in every aspect of employment. Orchestra librarians who are not part of their orchestra’s collective are employees “at will” and can be terminated at any time, for any reason or no reason at all. They have no recourse to a grievance procedure or peer review to challenge that decision.

These same unrepresented librarians are often expected to put in full eight-hour days, five days a week, in the music library and to be present at all evening and weekend services as well, arriving at least an hour before downbeat and staying until the service has ended and music has been collected and put away. Because many orchestra librarians are considered “exempt” for purposes of wage and hour laws, their employers do not provide overtime pay for this work. As individuals not part of a collective, librarians have little leverage to negotiate fairer schedules or compensation that takes into account their advanced degrees and complex skill sets. In some cases, that compensation can be as little as half the base scale wage of performing musicians.

These are clearly unacceptable conditions that could be remedied through collective bargaining. Librarian inclusion in orchestra bargaining units benefits not just the librarians—it also brings tremendous benefit to the rest of the orchestra collective. When we insist on inclusion for our librarians, we send a powerful signal to our employers that we will not tolerate abuse of any musician.

Besides simply expanding the size of the collective and thereby increasing its bargaining power, librarians with “full citizenship” in the bargaining unit become available to serve on orchestra and negotiating committees, bringing with them their additional skill sets and unique insights into the operations of symphony orchestras. Where librarians’ terms and conditions of employment, including hiring procedures, are standardized through collective bargaining, the quality of applicants for future library vacancies is demonstrably increased. This raises the overall level of the institution (aspiring librarians know the value of a CBA!). And, in a worst-case scenario that has played out several times over the past few years, librarian assistance is indispensable (but only available if the librarian is a bargaining unit member) when orchestra musicians enduring a work stoppage wish to self-produce concerts for their communities.

MOLA Conference

I recently attended the 36th annual conference of the Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association (MOLA) held in Kansas City. MOLA was founded in 1983 to foster communication among professional performance librarians. It has grown to include representatives from nearly 270 institutions worldwide.

At the conference, I had the privilege of participating in a well-attended panel discussion moderated by Dallas Symphony Orchestra Principal Librarian Karen Schnackenberg, a member of Local 72-147. Co-panelists included Sarasota Orchestra Assistant Principal Librarian Paul Greitzer of Local 427-721, Los Angeles Philharmonic Librarian and former ICSOM Governing Board Member Paul Gunther of Locals 47 and 30-73, Rochester Philharmonic Principal Librarian Kim Hartquist of Local 66, San Francisco Symphony Principal Librarian Margo Kieser of Local 6, and Kansas City Symphony trumpet player and ICSOM Media Committee Chair Brian Rood of Local 34-627.

The session, entitled “Librarians and the Collective Bargaining Agreement: A Roundtable Discussion of Traditions, Trends, and Tips,” provided attendees with a history of orchestra librarian inclusion in AFM represented symphonic bargaining units and guidance on how to become part of an existing bargaining unit. Each librarian on the panel described the path she or he traveled to attain unit membership, ranging from voluntary recognition by the employer to a certification election at the National Labor Relations Board. In each case, the librarian had the support of performing colleagues and described it as essential.

The Pie Fallacy

As I explored this topic, it surprised me to learn that, in some cases, resistance to librarian inclusion comes not only from employers, but from orchestra musicians. When pressed for an explanation, what I hear most often is that those musicians fear having to share “the pie” with their librarian colleagues. This scarcity-based fallacy ignores the reality that all employees of the orchestra, including the librarians, already sup in the same kitchen; bringing librarians to the bargaining table only enhances the collective’s power to demand more and better pie for everyone. The “pie” argument also disappoints me because it exposes a way of thinking that is inconsistent with principles of fairness, justice, and concern for the welfare of all musicians that animate our work as unionists and union musicians. Fortunately, this divisive rhetoric is confined to a handful of orchestras and does not represent the views of the majority.

As we head into the homestretch of our regular seasons, I encourage you to get to know your orchestra librarians, if you haven’t already, and find out more about their work. The MOLA website includes a page describing the orchestra librarian career (http://mola-inc.org/page/Career) that may be enlightening to nonlibrarians. If your librarians express an interest in becoming members of your bargaining unit, remember that we are all stronger when we (all) stand together. If you and your librarians need guidance about how to bring them into your bargaining unit, please call or email me. AFM Symphonic Services Division stands ready to assist in this important endeavor.

Symphonic Services Division

AFM’s Symphonic Services Division Highlights

Staff Additionsby Rochelle Skolnick, AFM Symphonic Services Division Director

Welcome to the 2017 special Symphonic Services Division edition of the International Musician! The members of the International Musician Editorial Board spent our first meeting early this year discussing our visions and aspirations for the magazine. As Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal wrote in the April issue, the IM is the official journal of the AFM but it is also so much more. It is, in my view, a place in which we have the opportunity to tell the story of who we are—as musicians, as unionists, and as members of our communities. The narratives we tell about ourselves not only document our past accomplishments but also have tremendous potential to inspire and to shape the future.

Joseph Conyers’ story (page 20) is one such inspirational narrative. Conyers leads by example, investing his considerable energy in bringing the art form he loves to children in underserved communities, empowering and inspiring them to realize their full potential. While most of these young people will go on to careers in other fields, some may find their future enriching the fabric of our professional orchestras. Conyers’ outreach efforts are consistent with a broader movement to diversify the American orchestra, both on and off stage.

As ICSOM Chair Meredith Snow writes in this issue, she and I recently attended the annual conference of the League of American Orchestras, which took place in Detroit and had as its theme “Transformation in American Orchestras.” It kicked off with a diversity forum in which dozens of industry stakeholders participated. Relations between the League and the AFM have often been strained but I believe we have consensus with regard to the value of diversity and inclusion within our field.

The IM is also a wonderful tool for the dissemination of information to our members, orchestra committees, and local officers. This issue is chock full of guidance pertaining to every aspect of representing musicians in our symphonic workplaces. Our Canadian SSD staff has collaborated to produce a detailed primer on organizing toward a first collective bargaining agreement within Canada and under Canadian provincial labour law. Laurence Hofmann walks us through the use of the wagechart.afm.org database to develop comparative data-based arguments in support of contract negotiations.

Our local unions depend upon the volunteer service of rank-and-file musicians on orchestra committees to assist in CBA negotiations and enforcement. In this issue, Chris Durham offers his invaluable perspective on best practices for service on orchestra committees. Jane Owen reminds us that the work of those committees doesn’t end when a new CBA is inked. Dawn Hannay (profiled on page 26) speaks to the importance of committee service as a means of carrying forward the legacy of those who fought to make conditions in our symphony orchestras what they are today.

Todd Jelen describes practical steps local unions can take now to insulate themselves against the adverse effects of pending anti-union “right to work” legislation. And Debbie Newmark introduces us to the intricacies of obtaining fair compensation for streaming of our recorded product and the AFM’s efforts in that regard. We are also fortunate to hear in this issue from the leaders of all three symphonic player conferences. Their contributions to the wellbeing of our musicians and our industry cannot be overstated.

Symphonic musicians are conditioned to read the IM starting from the back—the audition ads—and I don’t expect that will change any time soon. But with each issue of the IM we strive to offer content that entices you to delve into the heart of the magazine and linger over stories that inspire, entertain, and inform. I thank all the contributors who have made that a reality with this month’s issue.


Solidarity and Resolve Essential to CBA Growth, NEA Preservation

by Rochelle Skolnick, Director, Symphonic Services Division and Special Counsel

As a close reader of the “Orchestra News” section of the International Musician might have noticed, orchestra contract settlements over the past year or so have almost uniformly exemplified the “growth not cuts” mantra adopted by the courageous musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra during their contentious negotiations and strike. That growth has, in many cases, been incremental rather than dramatic but is nonetheless notable because it is symptomatic of a certain robust health within the symphonic field.

That health was confirmed by a longitudinal study (Orchestra Facts: 2006-2014) released by the League of American Orchestras in November 2016. Although that report received some attention at the time of its release, the press coverage largely missed one of its most important points. The study shows that, although the balance of funding sources for our orchestras has shifted somewhat over time, each of the funding streams upon which orchestras traditionally rely kept pace with or substantially outpaced inflation during the period measured by the study—with the exception of earned income, which trailed inflation by only 1%.

In the case of contributed income from trustees and foundations, which outpaced inflation by 45% and 13% respectively, the differential was dramatic. Yet, despite the industry-wide vigor in funding streams, expenses—the side of the ledger on which we find musician wages and benefits—actually trailed inflation for the same period, by 2.8%.

I believe that the relatively progressive contracts we have begun to see in the period since the League study concluded in 2014 represent a restoration to musicians of some of what was lost in the deeply concessionary bargaining that occurred post-2008. It’s about time.

But that restoration is not happening simply because managers and boards find it in the goodness of their hearts to take care of the musicians whose creativity and dedication draws patrons to concert halls and inspires donors to write checks. It certainly was not employer beneficence that brought the Fort Worth Symphony musicians back to the stage with a progressive contract after 13 weeks on the picket line. Rather, in every case, it has been the musicians’ solidarity and resolve that has won them their recent gains.

That was so for the musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony and it has been so for the musicians of other orchestras making significant gains, including the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Austin, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Nashville, National, Pacific, St. Louis, and San Diego orchestras, among others.

It will take similar solidarity and resolve to beat back another peril to American orchestras: threatened cuts to governmental arts funding, including the outright elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, contained in the presidential budget proposal released March 16. The $148 million annual budget of the NEA represents just .012% of all federal discretionary spending, yet it profoundly touches the lives of American orchestra musicians and all those they serve.

NEA Funding

That effect is far from speculative or remote. Besides having reached progressive contract settlements in the past year, what do the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Austin, Detroit, Fort Worth, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Nashville, National, Pacific, St. Louis and San Diego symphonies have in common? They all receive NEA grant funding.

In fiscal years 2016 and/or 2017, each one of those orchestras received an NEA grant to support one of a wide range of projects, both strikingly beautiful and culturally relevant. Grants went to support “Imagine Your Parks” events connecting several orchestras (including Jacksonville and St. Louis) with National Parks sites; a community engagement program focused on Buffalo’s international community in partnership with Buffalo Public Schools; premieres of new orchestral works written about and to loved ones (Kansas City); the Pacific Symphony’s American Composers Festival, featuring works by living Southern California-based composers; and the National Symphony Orchestra’s Sound Health initiative, which presents live classical music performances at DC-area medical facilities to enrich the lives of patients, family members, medical staff, and visitors.

These are just a few of the NEA-supported programs that expand minds and build connections among diverse groups of people. While abolition of the NEA would have a negligible effect on the federal budget, it would have a devastating effect on curiosity, intelligence, and empathy.

The March 16 budget proposal is only that—a proposal. It will be up to Congress to write the budget. As that process unfolds, I hope you will ensure your voice is heard in support of continued funding for the NEA and the myriad symphonic projects it enables. Tell members of Congress to Save the NEA at: www.afm.org/2017/02/nea/.


At a moment when the voices of xenophobia and bigotry are raised louder in our political discourse than I ever thought possible in my lifetime, the International Orchestra Conference (IOC) taking place in Montreal, May 11-14, offers a meaningful opportunity for American and Canadian musicians to share the experiences of our sisters and brothers in symphony orchestras around the globe. The IOC is a project of the International Federation of Musicians (FIM), the international organization for musicians’ unions and representative organizations with approximately 70 institutional members in 60 countries throughout the world.

The AFM will have a substantial presence at the IOC with AFM elected officers (AFM President Ray Hair, Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal, International Executive Board member and Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi, and Local 406 President Luc Fortin and Secretary Eric Lefebvre); symphonic player conference leaders (ICSOM Chair Meredith Snow, OCSM/OMOSC President Robert Fraser, and ROPA Board Member Naomi Bensdorf-Frisch); and myself serving as moderators and panelists.

Topics covered will include the public value of orchestras, recorded broadcasts and musicians’ rights; orchestras integrating digital tools; practical aspects of outreach and education; unions’ roles in preserving orchestral institutions; the role of musicians serving on orchestra boards; and bullying and harassment. Other US and Canadian panelists will be Robert Massey, executive director of the Jacksonville Symphony, which concluded very progressive contract negotiations this season; Barbara Haws, New York Philharmonic archivist/historian; and Katherine Carleton, executive director of Orchestras Canada. Discussions promise to be lively and to promote understanding among orchestra musicians across international borders. I hope to see many of you joining us in Montreal.