Tuesday, August 4, 2009
The first morning of a ROPA conference always includes the roll call of orchestras, a brief overview of what to expect, and greetings from local dignitaries. The Dayton conference was no different.
Mayor Rhine McLin has a wonderful upbeat personality. She is a big arts supporter, and claims to be an honorary member of the AFM. (I fully believe it!) Dayton often ranks at the top of mid-size cities in support of the arts. She said that the DPO was founded during the Great Depression of the 30s, and so it will survive the current economic downturn. She reminded us that Dayton is the birthplace of aviation – I’d forgotten that the Wright Brothers were from Dayton and developed the first airplane in their bicycle shop here. She ended by stating that it’s a challenge to continue to do what we do, do it better, and not let the economy get in the way.
Next was Neal Gittleman, Music Director of the DPO. During the roll call, he was remembering all the cities where he’s guest conducted. Quite a few, apparently. The thrust of Neal’s remarks was that orchestras in medium-sized cities are in the forefront of innovating. They have great ideas and know how to reach audiences, how to educate children, and find ways to make themselves indispensable parts of their communities. Mega orchestras get more press but smaller orchestras are doing the progressive work. When there is a downturn, we feel it first and feel it harder. When the recovery comes, we feel it last and feel it less. He is confident that we’ll find ways to solve these problems, as musicians are always problem solvers.
Kareem Powell, President of Local 101-473, then greeted the delegates and offered his assistance. Kareem was with us throughout the conference and I understand is a great boon to the DPO musicians.
Paul Helfrich, Executive Director of the DPO, gave his second greeting to a ROPA conference, as he’d been Executive Director in Charleston, West Virginia, when the ROPA conference was held there a few years ago. He talked about the challenges of the past year: declines in endowments, cuts to government funding, and reductions in corporate and foundation budgets, as well as individual budgets. He posed the question of whether this is something that will pass with time or whether this is a fundamental shift of the economy. He then told the delegates that a year ago, Dayton was named to the Forbes magazine list of the 10 fastest-dying cities in America. (!) The week after the ROPA conference, there was a symposium in Dayton about the arts in these 10 “dead” cities. None of these cities consider themselves to be “dying” and Paul is very optimistic about Dayton’s recovering from the recession.
The keynote address was given by Randy Cohen of America for the Arts. He gave a fast-paced and fact-packed presentation about how the arts impact our economy. (Check back soon for a separate article about Randy’s presentation.)
ROPA OFFICER REPORTS
Next came the officer reports from the ROPA Executive Board. Left to right as shown in the photo, the 2008-09 ROPA Executive Board: MAL (Member at Large) Tim Judd (Richmond Symphony), President Carla Lehmeier-Tatum (New Mexico Symphony), MAL Nancy Nelson (Houston Ballet/Grand Opera), MAL Norman Stone (Dallas Opera Orchestra), Secretary Larry Gardner (Fresno Philharmonic), Vice President Paul Austin (Grand Rapids Symphony), Treasurer Dennis Danders (Wichita Symphony), MAL Sherill Roberts (Portland Opera Orchestra), and MAL Karen Barker (Erie Philharmonic). MAL Laurien Jones (California Symphony) is not pictured.
This was the 25th anniversary of ROPA, so first a 1982 letter written by Nathan Kahn, founder and first President of ROPA (then a member of the Nashville Symphony’s bass section, and now a member of the SSD staff for many years and the Colorado Springs Symphony) was read. In the letter Nathan lamented that smaller orchestras were not able to join ICSOM but had so many similar problems. Thus began ROPA. The theme for the 25th ROPA conference: Together we can make it happen!
Issues raised in the officer reports:
- 1. There is some disconnect between the AFM and symphony members. 1/3 of the ROPA membership have been asked or have agreed to re-openers or cuts. After the tragic death of Ron Bauers [financial analyst for ICSOM and ROPA, and a former Polyphonic contributor], the AFM has not identified another financial analyst to take his place.
- 2. There are no media blackouts on the part of managements – they took their message to the press. Boards are demanding cutbacks and they’re using the Flanagan report, the structural deficit concept, etc. to back up their requests.
- 3. Many ROPA orchestras went ahead when asked to re-open their contracts without contacting the ROPA Executive Board (EB) or without asking for assistance from SSD. That said, ROPA orchestras need more full-time SSD negotiators.
- 4. ROPA now has 78 member orchestras. The five newest are Reading (PA) Symphony, Duluth-Superior Symphony, Atlanta Ballet – now a full member [rather than associate member], Richardson (TX) – also now a full member, and Lincoln NE as an associate member. Portland ME was a guest orchestra visiting at this conference. For a complete list of ROPA member orchestras, visit the ROPA website.
- 5. According to Dennis Danders, ROPA Treasurer for 8 years attending his 25th ROPA conference, the organization is $2000 over budget, with a healthy cash reserve.
Tom Lee, AFM President
In response to several questions raised over the past several months, including the effect the downturned economy has had on the American Federation of Musicians and Employer’s Pension Fund, President Lee gave the following general information: Very recently Norman Samnick, the management co-chair of the Fund, passed away and so a new management co-chair will be named in the very near future. This will not affect the administration of the Fund in any way, because the Fund is operated on a daily basis by Maureen Kilkelly, the Executive Director.
The downturn in the economy has had a challenging effect on not just the AFM-EPF, but on all pension funds in general. A little over a year ago the AFM EP Fund was 102% funded, and has traditionally had good returns, resulting in good payouts for retirees. The Fund invests in equities and fixed income assets at a proportion consistent with the advice of the investment consultant and the actuary’s projections. The precipitous decline in the stock market reduced the Fund’s assets, as it did in most pension funds and other investment programs, and it required the Trustees of the Fund to make some adjustments in the multiplier until a future date when the economy recovers.
President Lee explained that some members have expressed concern about termination letters to employers. Termination letters are sent to protect the assets from additional liability that has not been properly funded. For example, if an employer is two or three months behind in sending contributions to the Fund, as proscribed by a collective bargaining agreement, and then that employer files for bankruptcy, the Fund must provide the employees with a benefit for that period of time for which no contributions were received. The only way to protect the Fund is to send a termination letter to the employer, which immediately stops the liability to the Fund. The employer may be reinstated when the contributions are brought up to date.
President Lee also apologized that the appointment of the SSD Director took so long and also regretted any mis-communication for which he may have been responsible and asserted that all of the candidates were well qualified for the job. He expressed his confidence in the new SSD Director, Chris Durham, and stated that he’s certain Chris will do a terrific job.
Tuesday afternoon, the delegates went into sessions with their Members at Large and I headed over to the DPO office to conduct interview for our upcoming Polyphonic Orchestra Spotlight on the Dayton Philharmonic.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
SYMPHONIC SERVICES DIVISION (SSD) PRESENTATION
The morning began with a presentation by the AFM’s Symphonic Services Division (SSD) staff. Chris Durham, Director of SSD, said that he plans to continue to negotiate, as he’d rather be bargaining than sitting at a desk. (See the upcoming Polyphonic interview with Chris for more information about his plans for SSD going forward.)
The SSD staff members present were Nathan Kahn, Negotiator, Janice Galassi, Director of Organizing and Education, Debbie Newmark, Director of Symphonic Electronic Media, Doug Lyons, Contract Administrator, Barbara Owens, Contract Administrator, and David Schoenbrun, West Coast Contract Administrator.
Issues raised during the SSD presentations included:
The difficult negotiating climate. Orchestras are in serious financial trouble, for a variety of reasons. Orchestras with hefty endowments saw their portfolios drop by 35-40%, so bridge funding is required, which can temporarily diminish the main part of their income stream. Strong recommendations for orchestra committees to do a full analysis of their orchestra’s finances.
Also recommendations to read Michael Kaiser’s book, The Art of the Turnaround. Kaiser states what top managers have been saying for years: when you’ve got a revenue problem, if you cut the artistic product, you’ll see diminished ticket sales. It’s an endless spiral downward. The cuts in the artistic product will put you deeper in the hole.
Employee Free Choice Act – at a business roundtable the head of Home Depot said, “Now is the time to get your cuts in wages and control labor before Obama takes it away from us.” Managements have a great fear of this act because of the card check provision. EFCA is in part behind some of the regressive bargaining we’re seeing now.
Wage Charts! [If you’ve never been a ROPA, ICSOM or OCSM delegate, you probably don’t realize that your delegate is responsible for getting all that information to the AFM, to be included in the charts. So the data is as good as what the delegate collects, and the data only appears in the chart if the delegate sends it in – on time!]
There’s a new computer system in the NY AFM office, and because of some glitches last year, it took longer than usual to get the charts done. But on the other hand, more orchestras were able to get their data in.
Some suggestions from delegates:
- 1. Put the wage charts in a spreadsheet format so Orchestra Committees can more easily manipulate the data.
- 2. Perhaps create a separate wage chart for opera/ballet orchestras.
- 3. Perhaps merge the larger ROPA orchestras and the smaller ICSOM orchestras onto the same chart.
- 4. Education is needed for the first-time ROPA delegates in how to fill it out – the previous delegate should help.
There were two full-fledged organizing campaigns this past year:
- 1. In Peoria IL their music director was suddenly let go, and they began to organize. They’ll have an election in the fall.
- 2. For the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, there was voluntary recognition.
SSD urges all proposed contract Electronic Media language to go through the Electronic Media department, because all electronic media contract language must be approved by the AFM President’s office.
Strike fund – to be eligible, an orchestra’s musicians must make a minimum salary of $300 per week with 15 weeks of employment. The deadline for applications is December 1st.
Emergency Relief Fund (ERF) – this is a ROPA loan fund that can provide loans to individual musicians in ROPA orchestras that are in the midst of a confrontation with management.
SSD staff stressed the importance of communications with local officers, who are the signatory to the CBA and who can provide a link to the resources at the AFM. Also important is establishing a good relationship with the local Central Labor Council – an important resource if a labor action happens.
Driving for Dollars – The Freeway Philharmonic documentary by Tal Skoot, produced in 2008, was described as an excellent tool and was recommended as mandatory viewings for boards of directors, as most of them don’t understand how musicians piece together their livings. [Ed. Note: Polyphonic hosted a Virtual Discussion Panel about “Driving for Dollars” in February 2008 – the panel included Tal Skloot, the filmmaker, and several of the musicians featured in the film.]
Benefits Consultant – Chris introduced Joe Goldman, Benefits Consultant to SSD and a Member of Detroit Symphony. Joe is working with bargaining committees when they’re negotiating about benefits, such as health insurance and 403(b)s [the non-profit equivalent of a 401(k)]. His advice is to pay attention to the details; the fine print matters. What you don’t know can hurt you. Contact the SSD office to reach Joe.
OTHER PLAYERS CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS
Before lunch, the representatives from the other three Players Conferences in attendance gave a few remarks.
ICSOM (International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians)
ICSOM had three representatives present: Chair Bruce Ridge (North Carolina Symphony), President Brian Rood (Kansas City Symphony), and Secretary Laura Ross [ROPA Secretary Emerita] (Nashville Symphony).
Bruce Ridge talked about ICSOM’s relationship with ROPA and how it’s never been more important; he speaks with ROPA President Carla Lehmeier-Tatum on a near-daily basis. ICSOM was busy preparing for its own conference in Norfolk VA later in August.
Excerpts from Bruce’s address: Idealism must be relied on and nurtured. We must re-engage in our mission of advocacy, stressing the value of our orchestras to our communities. We must respond now more than ever. We must re-inspire ourselves and our colleagues.
We are in a recession. This is not a new economic reality. It may be the worst of our lifetimes, but it has happened before, and is always followed by a recovery. There’s a new apocalypticism out there that doesn’t provide for any plans for recovery. In 1958 there was a deep depression; auto sales fell by 31%, and unemployment stood at 20% – this is comparable to today. President Eisenhower insisted on a balanced budget; Vice President Nixon opposed him. Eisenhower persisted, and Nixon lost the next election. In a recession, you don’t balance the budget but you manage your debt.
We must not allow a cyclical economic downturn to negatively impact our mission. Musicians are the biggest donors to our own institutions, in terms of adjusting our contracts. Honolulu has not been paid in 16 weeks but they continue to fight for their orchestra. We must fight against our own apathy and frustration, and lead our colleagues. It is time for activism. For example, sign those petitions for President Obama to create a Secretary of the Arts cabinet position.
Our enemy is apathy and frustration. The arts are a fundamental part of our economy; we generate over $166 billion in economic activity. For example, the Boston Symphony generates over $160 million for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Last month was the best July since 1989, and the best month overall since 2002. There is an impending recovery and we must be poised to take advantage of it, even if our managements are not. This is not a time to be discouraged – we must renew our commitment. Look back to the beginnings of your own career for inspiration!
Francine Schutzman, President of OCSM (Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians)
Francine is with the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO), based in Ottawa, but hails from New York. Her lead-in line was priceless:
“I always think of Bruce as the preacher with the inspiring sermon who gets the congregation all riled up, and I’m the one who then gets up and tells you what hymn to sing.”
Francine referred to herself being a Canadian as akin to being a reformed smoker. You figure it out!
Excerpts from Francine’s address: OCSM is the Canadian counter-part of both ICSOM and ROPA. We have 20 member orchestras, ranging from those with 10 core players to 98 full-time players; from an annual salary of $13,000 to $81,000; from budgets ranging from $1.2 million to $26 million. Nine are employee groups and the rest are defined as self-employed, each with different tax advantages. Half are in the AFM strike fund, and all are in the AFM pension fund – all but one contribute 7% or more. The Canadian AFM fund is separate – our benefit multiplier is $3.70; from 10 to 12% it’s $2.
Every member of every OCSM orchestra is an AFM member – there are no right-to-work states in Canada. We also have a separate SSD division, with Mark Tetrault as the Director. [Mark was in attendance at the conference and at the first ROPA conference!]
In Canada, the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) was practically a full-time classical music station for 40 years. It was government supported, with no commercials. They supplied extra income for most orchestras – NACO did 18 concerts a year and the fees were much higher than American NPR fees ($130 to $280 per concert). Last fall the CBC turned into a popular radio station; this is a huge loss for orchestras and all Canadians. We still do have a generous agreement with the CBC, though they’re picking up far fewer of our concerts than they used to. Eight is the most for any OCSM orchestra (Toronto).
We have some of the same challenges as US orchestras but the economy is seemingly not quite as bad as in the States. 25-30% of orchestras have taken cuts. Toronto has a pay freeze for one year and an extended contract for one year. Montreal received a $30 million dollar contribution, so no cuts there. And medical costs/health insurance doesn’t enter into our bargaining – all are covered by the government.
Marc Sazer, Secretary of RMA (Recording Musicians of America)
Marc gave a presentation about the ongoing dispute the RMA has with Tom Lee and the national AFM office regarding the hiring of a staff person and the recording of video games. Tom Lee responded to his comments during Thursday’s session. It’s a complicated issue and outside the focus of this article. For more information, see RMA’s website, the AFM’s website, Drew McManus’ blog Adaptistration or the AFM Observer blog .
QUICK & DIRTY DATA ANALYSIS IN ORCHESTRA NEGOTIATIONS
William Thompson¸ a professor at the University of Louisville, then gave a presentation about Data Analysis in Orchestra Negotiations. Unfortunately the lavalier microphone he was wearing kept cutting in and out, so I will not attempt to give a detailed summary of his presentation, as I missed quite a bit of it.
It was an extremely dense, detailed, and technical presentation, yet fascinating. He is an amazingly powerful and engaging presenter; he’d been at the 2008 ROPA conference and was obviously a big favorite with the delegates.
He talked about realistic budget analysis goals, the nature of audits, and three financial analysis tools: trend line analysis, deviation analysis, and differential analysis. As I said, very technical.
REPORT ON BREAKOUT SESSIONS
Several delegates gave reports on the breakout sessions that happened Tuesday afternoon and evening.
- Email Communications – When is it appropriate to conduct business by email and when is it not?
- Board Relationships – When do musicians become co-opted when dealing with board members?
- Redefining the Role of the Musician – What should be the role of a musician in an orchestra beyond playing his/her instrument?
- Orchestra Committee Issues – What do you do with an Orchestra Committee that has its own agenda?
REPORT ON INDIVIDUAL ORCHESTRAS
Finally, the day’s session closed with some reports from orchestras in trouble or who’ve had a particularly difficult negotiation: Shreveport Symphony and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.
Christopher Allen reported that last year the Shreveport management wanted to get rid of their 24-member core and return the orchestra to a per-service basis. The musicians refused and went on strike in October 2008, the organization was placed on the International Unfair List, and management finally canceled the season in January 2009. The Symphony has been bringing in groups to perform in a concert series. Yet as the Shreveport musicians face a new season with no agreement, there is a glimmer of hope. The board sent the musicians a letter, stating that they would like to resolve the impasse and inviting them back to table. Their Executive Director resigned in July, and Michael Butterman has been retained as Music Director. Chris feels that it’s a difficult road ahead but the potential to save the orchestra is still there if every effort is made.
Todd Jelin reported that the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has had difficult relations with their management for several years. They began their summer season in 2008 but were unable to come to an agreement, so the musicians went out on strike for the rest of the summer season. They were back at the table in October across from some very anti-union lawyers, and received a “last and final” offer in February. The musicians ratified it under duress, especially given the recession – they weren’t happy with much of the agreement but at least they’re back playing.
TOUR OF THE SCHUSTER CONCERT HALL
Wednesday late afternoon we were treated to a private tour of the new hall in Dayton, the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center. We had our own tour guide, Al, who obviously loved the hall and relished giving us all the details. Built in a block that formerly housed an empty department store, Schuster Center was designed by architect Cesar Pelli & Associates of New Haven with a very futuristic motif. It includes a 2300 seat Mead Theater, a smaller theater, a restaurant opening into the Wintergarden, complete with palm trees set against a block-long, glass-enclosed atrium, and a tower with offices and condominiums above. The Dayton Philharmonic moved into the new hall in March, 2003.
The interior was designed to celebrate the role the Wright Brothers played in Dayton history. The very top of the hall’s dome has a fiber-optic replica of the galaxy, known as the Starfield, as it appeared to Orville and Wilbur Wright the night before their first flight, December 16, 1903. The width of the Starfield is the exact width of the Wright Flyer’s wingspan, and the length from the Starfield to the back wall of the hall is the distance of the Wright Brothers’ first flight. The hall has hundreds of fiber-optic lit crystal knobs lining the entryways and corridors that carry the star theme throughout the hall, for a spectacular yet warm effect. Everyone wished we could have heard the acoustics of the hall – from all accounts they are as impressive as the architecture. Symphony magazine had a feature story on Schuster Hall in its March/April 2007 issue, with a spectacular photograph of the hall.
We were then bused to Dayton’s historical Carillon Park for a dinner hosted by Dayton AFM Local 101-473, which was also a celebration of ROPA’s 25th anniversary. A continuous slide show of ROPA conferences from the past 25 years (many photos courtesy of Laura Ross, ROPA Secretary Emerita) reminded delegates of how many people have served ROPA over the years. A few highlights were Michael (aka “Peaches”) Lisicky’s and Sandy Gerster’s wedding in Las Vegas with Tom Lee at the organ and an Elvis impersonator at the reception, and many photos of former SSD Director Lew Waldeck. Indeed, Wednesday was Lew Waldeck day at the conference, so delegates all wore flowered Hawaiian shirts and were given colorful leis on their way to the dining area. (Lew spent a lot of time with the Honolulu Symphony and was very partial to Hawaiian shirts.) Photos included other old friends who’ve passed on – Ron Bauers, Mike Karr, Richard Totosek, and Sylvia White.
Much ado was made of Nathan Kahn, the founder of ROPA. Nathan was a bass player in Nashville back in 1984 when he realized the need for an ICSOM-like players conference for smaller orchestras. There were 13 original members at the first conference in Columbus OH; ROPA has grown to 78 members in 2009. Nathan now plays with the Colorado Springs Symphony and has worked as a negotiator for SSD for almost two decades, but his loyal dedication to ROPA over the years was most appropriately celebrated. Four people at the conference in Dayton had been at the first conference back in 1984: Nathan, Dennis Danders, Chris Durham, and Mark Tetrault.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Patricia (Trish) Polach, ROPA Counsel, started off Thursday with a wonderful presentation about contract re-openers. Most orchestras in the country are facing a re-opener and Trish, in her usual amazingly concise way, explained exactly what the law is around it all. This concise presentation occurred amidst 5 – count them – 5 microphones going dead on her. In the midst of changing mikes she knocked over the mike stand, then couldn’t find her slide clicker, and then the laptop went dead. It was hysterical, she was unflappable, and the presentation was excellent, as usual. I especially appreciated her description of the three types of managements making these requests to re-open: the Distressed; the Opportunistic; and the Confused, the Dim, and the Lazy. (Check back at Polyphonic for a separate article with highlights of Trish’s presentation.)
Vinni LoPresti and Will Luebking from the AFM Pension Plan (AFM-EPF) gave a fact-filled presentation about how the pension plan works, what changes have been made recently because of the economic downturn, and some financial information about the fund. Vinni was most helpful in explaining the different procedures for designating pre-retirement and post-retirement beneficiaries. (Again, check back with Polyphonic for a separate article about the AFM-EPF pension plan.)
After lunch David Nesmith, a horn player with the West Virginia Symphony, gave a workshop on the Alexander Technique where he had most of the delegates down on the floor practicing “Constructive Rest.”
From the level of participation of the delegates, this was a most popular session indeed, attesting to the need for musicians to pay attention to what they’re doing to their bodies while playing (and not). David has graciously agreed to send Polyphonic a description of this technique, and is preparing an audio presentation as well, due out early next year.