Members of the New York Pops orchestra voted 54-1 to ratify a new three-year contract early in December. It was the first agreement reached during the current round of freelance negotiations and may well set the pace for the 11 other orchestras, all of whose contracts expired in September.
The difficulty of achieving a solid agreement that could move the entire field forward was especially great this year. Faced with enormous financial pressures and uncertainty about the future, the managements of virtually every freelance orchestra sought to freeze wages in the aftermath of Sept. 11. The Pops essentially requested a one-year extension of their current contract. The negotiating committee was unwilling to agree to this.
For one thing, they did not want to find themselves negotiating a new contract within less than a year (the current negotiations began early, in June, but made very little progress throughout the summer), and then face the possibility of renewed demands for a freeze. “We have always had a three-year agreement, and we felt that we needed one now,” committee chair Jay Blumenthal told Allegro. “While there may be strong arguments for accepting a freeze this year, we needed a long enough contract term to rehabilitate wages before this agreement expires.”
And the committees at all 12 orchestras felt that, while economics might be a sticking point this year, there were a number of non-economic demands that management could agree to, with no financial down side.
- Performance wages will remain at $175 in the first year, rising to $186 (a 6.3 percent increase) in year two, and $200 (or 7.5 percent) in year three. Rehearsal wages presently at $35 per hour will increase to $37 in year two and $39 in year three.
- The pension contribution will rise from its current level of 12 percent to 13 percent in the third year.
- Health Benefits contributions, which have been $23 per performance and $5 per rehearsal since 1997, will increase to $24 per performance and $6 per rehearsal in the second year, and to $25 and $7 in the final year of the contract.
- Attendance requirements have been a critical issue for freelance players, who need the maximum flexibility in scheduling their work. There is no attendance requirement during the first year of the contract. The attendance requirement (50 percent of subscription concert sets in NYC) negotiated in the last CBA will continue in years two and three.
- Another provision aimed at providing musicians greater flexibility to accept freelance assignments is a provision for two days of unpaid personal leave each year, which is included in the contract for the first time. The details of how this will be implemented are still being worked out.
- Another new clause establishes wages for lecture/demos, an activity the orchestra is seeking to expand. Musicians will earn individual performance scale for a pair of 40-minutes classes, not to exceed two hours in elapsed time.
- A provision for the position of librarian has been added to the CBA.
- At the ratification meeting held on Dec. 7, after the final rehearsal for the New York Pops Holiday Concert, orchestra members were especially enthusiastic about several improvements in working conditions. Music stand lights shall never be dimmed while musicians are playing; musicians shall never be required to play in direct sunlight; outdoor concerts will not proceed if the temperature drops below 65 F and, if the temperature exceeds 80 F, the musicians will be permitted to remove their jackets.
THE FREELANCE FIELD
Contracts for all of the freelance orchestras, which together employ more than 500 musicians, expired on Sept. 11. Still negotiating are American Composers Orchestra, American Symphony Orchestra, Bronx Arts Ensemble, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Little Orchestra Society, Long Island Philharmonic, New York Chamber Symphony, Opera Orchestra of New York, Queens Symphony Orchestra, Riverside Symphony Orchestra and St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble.
The New York Pops negotiating committee was made up of Jay Blumenthal, committee chair, Daryl Goldberg, Sue Panny, Lee Soper and George Wozniak. They were assisted by Local 802 Assistant Director David Lennon, Vice-President Tina Hafemeister, Concert Rep Joe Delia and legal counsel Leonard Leibowitz.