Just six years after signing their first contract, Westchester Symphony Orchestra musicians have ratified an agreement that brings them to full freelance scale. This makes them the first orchestra to have gone from a “lowball” contract (which provides union benefits but less than normal scale wages) to full 802 freelance scale.
Bargaining team members George Dewar, Greg Evans, Dale Kirkland, Jim Musto, David Schneck and Gary Shultheis negotiated the contract, along with staff from the New Organizing Department.
“This contract is a milestone,” said David Schneck, principal trumpet and bargaining committee member. “It shows that when management and orchestra are committed to making things work, great things can happen. Both have shown a commitment to bring this orchestra up to the highest standards, and the contract reflects that desire in its pay scales.
“Moreover, it shows how a well-organized, militant orchestra can have control over its destiny, serving as an example for all that 1) organizing works; 2) it isn’t necessary to kill the goose that lays the golden egg in order to get a scale up over time; and 3) when a well-organized orchestra speaks, management listens.”
“We are enthusiastic about the symphony’s response to our proposal to bring this fine orchestra on line with the union guidelines,” said negotiating committee member Greg Evans (French horn).
The agreement calls for performance wages of $145.20 in the first year, $165 in the second, and “$197 or scale, whichever is lower,” in the third. Since the freelance negotiations will not take place until next year, it’s unknown what scale will be. If Local 802 scale does not increase to $197, Westchester management will pay whatever it actually turns out to be. The intent is to offer a concrete wage in the third year that matches scale, without forcing management to pay more than scale.
This same third-year formula is tied to every aspect of the contract. Wages, rehearsals, premium pay, pension, health benefits, and cartage all increase by 10 percent in the first year of the contract, make a larger jump in the second year, and reach guaranteed full scale in the third.
Rehearsal pay increases from $27.50 to $33 to scale; principal pay rises from 11 percent to 15 percent to scale; pension goes up 8 percent to 11 percent to scale; and health benefits increase $5.50 to $15 to scale. Cartage and doubling also increase to scale by the third year. Also, by the third year of the contract, rehearsals ending after 7 p.m. will pay the same scale as a performance. Wages for educational services move from $60 to $75 to $90.
The bargaining team also won a minimum number of rehearsals for certain subscription concerts, as well as a guarantee that the symphony will fill all parts called for in the score of each piece during each rehearsal. This means that, when orchestra members rehearse, they will be able to hear all parts around them. It also means that management cannot skimp on rehearsal orchestration.
The contract also requires the conductor to hire rostered musicians called for in a particular score before adding other instruments performed by non-rostered players. For instance, if a score calls for a tuba, the conductor must hire the rostered tubist before adding non-rostered string players.
“I’m very pleased,” said violinist Cady Finlayson. “It’s a step in the right direction. My favorite part is the rehearsal requirement.”
“Things are improving on many different levels with the orchestra,” said principal French hornist Peter Schoettler. “Having the union involved will always benefit the musicians.”
Westchester musicians won their first contract in 1994 under dramatic circumstances, recalls principal flautist Margaret Swinchoski, who served as personnel manager for several years. “We struck the dress rehearsal – the final gala of the season,” she recalls.
The musicians waited outside in the parking lot for an hour and a half, while at least six members of the orchestra remained on stage, rehearsing. After some back-and-forth negotiations with the conductor, Anthony Aibel – and after Aibel learned that the bulk of the orchestra had not gone home but was massing outside – Westchester management agreed to sign a contract in the dressing room.
The orchestra came back, rehearsed for the next two hours, and played the concert. “Everyone wanted the contract to be signed and we wanted to play,” said Swinchoski.
The first contract allowed the symphony to pay less than scale, yet still make benefit payments. Typically described as a “lowball” contract, an agreement like this allows an orchestra to ease into scale while extending union protections to the musicians.
“There were doubts among some members when we first negotiated a union contract for less than established scale,” said President Bill Moriarity. “But this new Westchester agreement shows that it works when we move incrementally towards scale — and finally reach it – while having the benefits of a union contract along the way.” The agreement has still to be ratified by the executive boards of the union and the symphony.