‘Union Boot Camp’

ICSOM conference becomes a life-changing

Volume CX, No. 10October, 2010

Katherine Green

This August I had the great pleasure of attending the 2010 conference of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians as an alternate delegate.

This was quite a departure for me, for even after 20 years in the New York Philharmonic, I had not focused much attention on union issues.

So, armed with a copy of “More Than Meets the Ear” by Julie Ayer, an excellent book chronicling the labor history struggle of symphony orchestra musicians, and long overdue on my reading list, I trudged off to Houston.

After four days of meetings in an air-conditioned hotel conference room reminiscent of a meat locker, I emerged impressed, enlightened, energized, and humbled by my orchestra colleagues from all over the United States and union officers and deeply moved by the level of dedication and service that I witnessed.

After being welcomed by the mayor of Houston, an enthusiastic round of applause met Ray Hair, the newly elected president of the AFM, who spoke about a new spirit of unity, the importance of fighting negative rhetoric and encouraging orchestras to be their own best advocates.

He then gave a brief history of the AFM from its beginnings in 1896 as a “social club with burial benefits,” to its long-established role as a strong advocate for the rights of all musicians.


Joel LeFevre and David Herring from the AFM Symphonic Services Division presented the redesigned wage charts to make information-sharing easier and data more easily available to find and compare. This will be helpful for use in advocacy and public relations to support negotiations.

Debbie Newmark, director of Symphonic Media, detailed the new IMA agreement, its signatories to date and how this new agreement benefits orchestras.

Maurene Kilkelly, the executive director of the AFM Pension Fund, gave a report on the status of the fund which, unfortunately, is in the red.

Susan Martin gave an interesting summary of key provisions of the new health care legislation including tips for bargaining.

We heard reports from the representatives of ROPA, RMA, TMA, OCSM and from the trustees of the Strike Fund.

A highlight of the conference was the introduction of the newly elected International Executive Board, giving us an opportunity to meet the new members and to hear their vision of the future for the Federation, the locals and the individual members.

The ICSOM conference brought into sharp relief the current labor and financial difficulties facing orchestras like Honolulu, Charleston, Detroit and Houston and the current climate of economic uncertainty effecting us all.

The status and tactics of current negotiations were discussed and references made to successful bargaining strategies used in past negotiations.

Barbara Jacoma, attorney and negotiator, reiterated the necessity for solidarity and unity as the strength behind the bargaining unit and many other salutary truths concerning organized labor negotiations in these challenging times.

The ICSOM conference changed my life. I experienced a deeper sense of the symphony orchestra world as a whole and my responsibility within it.

I also gained more knowledge of our place in labor history.

The ICSOM conference is a forum that provides support in countless ways, sharing information and ideas which, in turn, provide vital support to the Federation in its efforts to improve our lives through local and international bargaining.

I relished the opportunity to meet the numerous people who are working tirelessly for our collective welfare and I am honored to report to you here and to have been a small part of the ICSOM conference.