Musicians who perform with the Ensemble Sospeso, a chamber orchestra that specializes in contemporary music, will soon be earning the benefits of a union contract. Management voluntarily recognized Local 802 on Feb. 12 and promised to begin negotiations for a first contract by April 5.
The victory came after ensemble members called 802 with concerns about the directors’ choice of musicians for a March 5 engagement. The concert, “Boulez as Composer,” was to feature the world-renowned avant-garde composer Pierre Boulez, and to take place at Alice Tully Hall. However, instead of hiring all of the musicians who had often been used in the past, the directors were flying in a special soloist for one of the pieces, displacing one musician.
That – plus the fact that this engagement was being produced nonunion at a major hall – prompted the New Organizing Department to approach the directors, Josh Cody and Kirk Noreen. Cody and Noreen declared their willingness to settle the situation and both sides reached an amicable agreement within 24 hours.
In addition to formal recognition and setting a deadline for the first negotiation session, the settlement also included a raise and pension contributions for the March 5 concert. For this single engagement, orchestra members received a 3 percent jump in their gross pay and pension payments of 9 percent. A “maintenance of benefits” clause was also agreed to, meaning that the directors cannot reduce anyone’s compensation or cause working conditions to suffer as a result of the agreement. Finally, both sides agreed to immediate arbitration if any terms of the settlement were disputed.
Equally important, the directors agreed to settle the issue of shuttling in a special performer for one piece. The orchestra member who was bumped from that piece will be featured on a major work the next time the ensemble performs at a major hall. Additionally, the directors will send a letter of apology to the members of the orchestra, informing of them of the situation, expressing regret over any miscommunication or inconvenience, and promising to make best efforts to prevent this from happening in the future.
“I think both parties approached this responsibly and maturely, and the benefits are on both sides,” said Michael Atkinson, a French horn player who has performed with the ensemble.
David Fedele, a flutist in the group, points out that union recognition provides the musicians who have performed as the Ensemble Sospeso from the beginning “the opportunity to establish job security from within the core of the group. This security is well-deserved by the musicians, and was not previously recognized by its directors,” he said. “Union recognition also sets scale wages to be realized by the directors, who may not have been motivated to do so without union involvement.”
“I was really happy to see our union help coordinate an effort to point a promising group in the right direction,” said bassist Jeremy McCoy.
Bob Ingliss, an oboist, told Allegro he was particularly happy that “things were done in a very nonconfrontational, cooperative manner, so as not to compromise the quality of the negotiations.”
A bargaining survey and ballots to elect a negotiating committee were sent out to the ensemble at the end of February.