Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra Negotiations: An Audience Member's Perspective

(Warning: Particulaly Long, Rambling Post Follows)

I'm not sure if anyone else has noticed (though between the press, direct mail, etc. it's kind of hard to miss) negotiations between AFM and the Orchestra have broken down and a month-to-month agreement . While no labor action has taken place as yet, it's kind of the elephant in the room.

I've been meaning to try to dig up financial reports to truly understand what's going on... Out of the blue today a copy of the Orchestra's annual report showed up in my (physical) mailbox. I'm far from qualified, but that doesn't stop political pundit so I'll try my hand at it.

There is the proverbial rock and the hard place: As the couple sitting next to be before last night's Q&A session said while discussing the situation: "When they play like they did today, you want to give them the world" but economic realities are realities.

As I understand it, the Orchestra is seeking a 3 year contact with a 5% reduction year 1, a restoration in year 2, and a 2.5% increase year 3 and AFM has countered with a "flat" 8 month contract. Having not followed the situation too closely, I'm not sure what lead to the termination of the month-to-month agreement the union had been working under.

The Union has expressed concern that reductions would jeopardize the quality of the Orchestra and members might be inclined to move elsewhere. The truth is, it seems, that orchestra playing is a very nomadic profession -- orchestra members hail from nearly all corners of the world and have tenures spanning from a few years to 40+, so it is a viable risk. On the other hand, while things are particularly bad in Cleveland at the moment the economy world-wide isn't a whole lot better leading me to wonder how many organizations of similar stature to the Orchestra would be in a position to poach members from Cleveland.

The Orchestra has proffered that the average musician's salary is a bit over $150,000[1] with a 20-hour "official" work week, 10 weeks vacation, 27 weeks sick leave, and of course Cleveland's comparably low cost of living. To be sure, $150k sounds like a fantastic amount of money for a 20-hour week... Likewise 10 weeks of vacation is nothing to sneeze at. But I'm not sure what that "official" week entails aside from the actual performances; I have to assume that the amount of time each musician spends independently practicing varies based on a variety of factors and I'm not sure if independent practice time--if such is common--is included in the official week or not. Similarly, a fair number of the musicians donate additional time for community engagement activities. (And others derive additional income from either their association with the Orchestra or teaching roles at CIM).

Under the the banner of "shared sacrifice" and the representation that nearly every other work group has made concessions it would seem that the musicians are cast in the role of the spoiled children -- but when a position is accepted with the expectation of a certain salary, it is reasonable to expect that it will not decrease- I would be none too happy if I was expected to take a cut.

Both ticket sales[2] and giving are lagging: Corporate giving is down a shocking 20%... A stunning $15.9 million (if I'm reading the numbers right) was lost from the endowment's value. I'm convinced that the status quo cannot be maintained if the Orchestra is to be maintained. I'm afraid that any adverse labor action, a strike on the part of the musicians or a lockout by orchestra management could have more permanent effects than a temporary reduction: A 2000 strike by the Florida Philharmonic is cited by some as the death knell that ultimately created room in Miami for the Cleveland winter residency.

The orchestra can not exist but for the musicians, and the musicians enjoy a stability and quality of life thanks to the orchestra.

Taking the $152,000 figure provided by the orchestra and multiplying it by the 108 musicians currently listed as members of the orchestra yields a shocking $16,416,000 payroll obligation--it's easy to believe that this is the Orchestra's single biggest expense. A 5% reduction represents a savings of just over $820,000... anyone happen to have an extra 3/4s of a million burning a hole in their pocket?

As you can probably tell, I'm not sure which side I fall on. I think I'm somewhere in the middle, and I hope that a speedy compromise can be made.

What are your thoughts? Did I miss anything? Let me know...

[1] Does anyone know if this is pure salary or the fully loaded cost of a musician including overhead, insurance, support services, etc.?
[2] Though I'd like to think I'm doing my part with over $2500 in single-ticket purchases from the orchestra (not including parking) since I started keeping track July 1, 2009.

1 comment:

  1. The base salary of the orchestra is roughly $104,000., which all of the section string players make. Solo or chaired players negotiate individual contracts of higher values which skew the average. The information you are working with is all courtesy of the Musical Arts Association which has launched a media campaign in their own best interest. I urge you to check out the musician's viewpoint at http://www.clevelandorchestramusicians.org/. I would suggest reading the musician's letter to the board, in particular.