Signed, Sealed and Delivered!

Union gets contracts with Orpheus, Brooklyn Phil

Volume CVIII, No. 9September, 2008

Jay Blumenthal
Click for larger image.
Orpheus, the ensemble without a conductor, now has an agreement with Local 802. Above, cellist Melissa Meell. Background (left to right): Jordan Frazier, Julia Lichten, Donald Palma and Susannah Chapman.

We have a deal! Orpheus, the ensemble famous for collaborative music making and performing without a conductor, now has an agreement with Local 802.

A little history is in order. For many years, Orpheus had a cursory relationship with the union. But in fact, the ensemble was never a party to a Local 802 collective bargaining agreement.

At the time, it was thought by many in the Orpheus organization that a union contract was unnecessary: the same collaborative spirit brought to artistic issues could be extended to other internal issues.

Additionally, the last thing anyone wanted was the union coming in and telling Orpheus what to do and how to do it.

Safe to say, there was distrust of the union.

But things change. Both organizations — Local 802 and Orpheus — evolved and the relationship between the two was destined to do the same.

Initially the evolution began when I first met Graham Parker, Orpheus’ executive director.

Graham and I were invited to serve on a panel charged with the task of discussing union and management relations for arts management students at NYU.

We both came away from the discussion with a mutual respect for one another. Unbeknownst to both of us at the time, the groundwork was being laid for a future working relationship.

Not long after the panel discussion, Graham called, indicating Orpheus’ desire to explore the possibility of a union contract covering educational music services for Orpheus musicians.

(The motivation for the call was Orpheus’ desire to provide pension benefits for the musicians performing these services.)

Graham, along with three Orpheus musicians who had been elected to Orpheus’ Salary and Benefits Committee, came to Local 802 to see if we could come to an agreement regarding these services. Soon after, an agreement was reached and ratified.

Of course this begged the following question: what about a comprehensive union agreement covering all Orpheus services?

This was a tall order. A contract covering educational services was one thing, but a full contract including recognition, grievance and arbitration and maintenance of benefits was a completely different kettle of fish.

Truth be told, there was motivation for Orpheus to negotiate this agreement as well. The AFM agreement covering symphony, opera or ballet live recording was available — but this agreement could be used only by organizations having a collective bargaining agreement with the union.

Once again, my telephone rang. Graham and the musicians were ready to explore a comprehensive union contract.

The delicacy of the situation was not lost on Local 802. Graham and the musicians had to be reassured that the union was not looking to change the way things were done at Orpheus. An atmosphere of trust had to be established and cultivated if we were going to achieve what would amount to an important agreement for both parties.

Early meetings were nothing more than getting to know one another better. We were essentially sticking our toes into the negotiating waters in an attempt to see if we both liked the temperature.

While it has taken over a year, we now have a tentative agreement.

The negotiations were always collaborative in spirit and never adversarial. The resulting comprehensive agreement includes wage rates over and above the union’s classical single engagement rates, with a pension contribution rate of 15 percent of gross scale wages.

The contract also includes touring conditions, recording language and educational services. (The original educational agreement was folded into this contract.)

A special thank you to musicians Richard Rood, Jonathan Spitz and Jordan Frazier — all members of the Orpheus Salary and Benefits Committee who participated in the negotiations.

Also, a special thank you to Harvey Mars, Local 802 legal counsel. While much of the negotiating was done without lawyers, Harvey was most helpful when legal advice was needed. Concert Rep Karen Fisher participated in the negotiations as well.

Graham Parker deserves special recognition. Graham had the courage to convince his board that Orpheus had evolved to the point where a union contract was necessary. It was he who brought Orpheus to the negotiating table.

The result was a win-win situation for all involved: the musicians, the Orpheus board of directors, the administration and the union.

Click for larger image.
The Brooklyn Philharmonic has a new contract in place with Local 802.


On June 30, the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra and Local 802 reached a new agreement. Wages and pension follow the same pattern as the other major freelance orchestras. (See Wage & Contract Info on this website).

In this negotiation, Brooklyn Phil management indicated it intended to abandon the subscription concert series model. The orchestra will now offer “core” concerts instead of subscription concerts at the beginning of the season. Since the work guarantee and attendance requirement had been based on performing a percentage of subscription concerts offered, it logically followed that both the work guarantee and attendance requirement would now apply to core concerts. The Brooklyn Phil can offer a maximum of nine core concerts each year to which the work guarantee and attendance requirement apply. This new core concept may actually increase the amount of work being offered to musicians while at the same time maintaining the flexibility in scheduling that freelance musicians require.

As with the other major freelance orchestras, the Brooklyn Phil agreed to the same health benefit contributions. However, management requested some relief in the amount of the shortfall fund money it had to set aside due to the fact that the Brooklyn Phil reimburses tenured musicians who pay for their own hospitalization insurance a percentage of their hospitalization insurance costs. The union agreed to a $3,500 shortfall fund instead of the normal $5,000.

New music librarian language was written, which now codifies a formula for calculating fair compensation for additional hours of off-site work.

Members of the orchestra committee are Louis Bruno, Wayne DuMaine, Daniel Gerhard, Lanny Paykin, Andrew Seligson, Jessica Troy and David Wechsler. Concert Rep Karen Fisher and I represented Local 802. Harvey Mars served as legal counsel.


A new three-year agreement has been reached between the American Ballet Theatre and Local 802. The weekly performance wage, which was $1,725, rises to $1,759.50 (for seven performances) in year one, $1,794.69 in year two and $1,857.50 in year three.

The union and orchestra committee had maintained that the same percentage increases for performance wages applied to the rehearsal wages. However, management said it did not. The parties returned to the bargaining table to iron out the disagreement.

This resulted in a one-time $5,000 payment divided among the orchestra musicians playing the Met season — instead of the 2 percent rehearsal wage increase in the first year. Rehearsal wage increases in years two and three were restored to 2 percent ($51 per hour) and 3.5 percent ($52.79 per hour).

One of the highlights of the new contract is guaranteed year-round Plan A health coverage for any musicians playing 75 percent of the Met/ABT season or 75 percent of all performances during any contract year. Should the Plan A eligibility rates increase by more than 20 percent between April 1, 2008 and March 31, 2010, the musicians have agreed to a wage deduction covering the amount of the increase over 20 percent. The same is true for the period April 1, 2010 through March 31, 2011. Previously, the qualifying musicians only had guaranteed Plan A health coverage for a six month period and Plan B for six months. There was a shortfall fund that did help those musicians who fell short of the Plan A coverage for the second half of the year, but this is no longer needed with year-round Plan A coverage. Substitutes will receive a health contribution of $30 for each performance and $9 for each rehearsal for the term of the contract.

Also new to this contract is a conversion of sick days to sick services. Previously, tenured musicians received two sick days with pay within each year of the contract, cumulative to 18 sick days. There was no buy-out of unused sick days upon separation from the company. Now musicians are entitled to three sick services per year with a cap on accumulation to a maximum of 36 sick services. Sick days earned previously have a rate of conversion of one sick day to 1.5 sick services. New to this contract is a buy-out of unused sick services upon separation from the company at a rate of 80 percent of the performance rate at the time of separation for each accumulated sick service.

Members of the ABT Orchestra Committee are Olivia Koppell (co-chair), Tom Olcott (co-chair), Karen Purpura, Sandy Strenger, Jack Wenger, David Wilson and Carol Zeavin. Concert Rep Karen Fisher and I represented the union and Harvey Mars served as Local 802 legal counsel.