Musicians Get the Job Done
State of the classical music field
Volume 116, No. 9September, 2016
I hope everyone has had a rejuvenating and enjoyable summer. Let me report on a number of items that have impacted the freelance concert world since I last wrote in this space.
The New York Pops has reached an agreement with Local 802. Those rates and terms have become the basis of our benchmark classical scale, which we call the Single Engagement Concert rate, viewable on the Forms, Scales & Agreements section of this site. We have subsequently done our best to conform our other collective bargaining agreements to that benchmark.
The American Composers Orchestra has agreed to a new CBA that basically maps the New York Pops economic provisions.
The American Ballet Theatre reached an agreement with Local 802 in early July. Wages and benefits now conform to promulgated Local 802 scales. Health contributions have increased and make it possible for ABT musicians to reach year-round Plan A contributions.
The Mostly Mozart Festival has agreed to increased health contributions, even though we’re still in the middle of our existing contract with them right now.
St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble is one short conversation away from completing a new CBA with Local 802. This negotiation was rather lengthy. The result includes a new structure for health fund payments, a small pay increase, reformulation of chamber music time and pay provisions, and a new organizational framework for artistic and personnel committees.
The American Symphony Orchestra has presented a position that is a bit difficult to characterize; it seems to be equal parts honest conversation and yet deep confusion about the future of the ASO. Not the least of the confusion stems from the fact that the current remaining ASO management team is apparently the same management team that operates The Orchestra Now, an academic program sponsored by Bard College. Against that background, we are cautiously approaching agreement on a full collective bargaining agreement. Additionally, there remain several outstanding grievances regarding ASO’s hiring for the Bard Festival. Local 802 contends that some of those practices have denied musicians employment due to them under the terms of the CBA. While Local 802 is vigorously pursuing those grievances, there is some chance that these issues may be resolved by the time you read this report. The temperature of continuing negotiations leads me to cautious optimism for a successful new CBA.
The Queens Symphony Orchestra, Little Orchestra Society, Opera Orchestra of New York and Westchester Philharmonic are engaged in continuing negotiations regarding their future.
The Brooklyn Philharmonic is inactive, and has been this way for a number of years now.
Finally, as I reported earlier this year, the Long Island Philharmonic, founded in 1979, ceased operations in January.
That is surely an amazingly mixed bag of success, failure and ambiguity. The mix reflects many intersecting narratives. Nonprofit funding is hard to find. The mainstream culture has shifted away from live classical music and is aimed more towards on-demand entertainment, both streaming and mobile. Those are considerable headwinds against a thriving concert world that pays fair wages and benefits for highly skilled employees. Our smaller Local 802 employers, earnest as they may be, are easily blown out of the water by the deep cultural and institutional hostile environment. Local 802 surely wishes them success and will help them whenever possible. Our members thrive when those institutions survive.
Understand as well that the eternal fight for fair pay for workers – including artists – has suffered huge assaults over the past 30 years in every area of the labor movement. Workers and artists contribute every day to the artistic and economic vitality of New York. We create, we perform, we entertain, but in all ways we work! If musicians are to improve our economic position, we must assert our top standing in NYC’s cultural environment, and we must emphasize that the vitality of the New York City depends on the musicians of New York.
We will always be artists. That is what brought us all here. However, none of us should ever lose sight of the fact that the wages and benefits we enjoy today are the result of long-term work by previous Local 802 members who not only were substantial artists but who also saw themselves as workers. If we can all remember that legacy, we may be able to repair our present by embracing the activism and dedication of our past.