In ratifying a new contract guaranteeing their jobs through August of 2023, BSO players have agreed to pay cuts averaging 37% in a pain-sharing pact with management to mitigate a $50 million loss of ticket and rental revenue from the organization’s $100 million annual budget.
If and when monies re-materialize, the contract provides for tiered, and possibly retroactive restoration of the cuts.
Official accounts and personal reports of the negotiations portray a union generously offering givebacks for the benefit of the institution, knowing full well that most other working musicians are not so lucky to have employment guarantees.
Management has given back to players by lowering expectations from about 330 services in the outgoing contract to 167 in the first year of the new, concert-less one. (In generally understood parlance, musical services refer to performances, rehearsals, and various outreach; not practice at home, which players nevertheless need to keep up chops.) The memorandum of agreement (MoA) between the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Musicians Association local no. 9-535 of the American Federation of Musicians dated August 24th, leaves determination of workload in years two and three for future discussion.
Under the plan, no player shall receive less than $120,000, and many will continue to benefit from seniority bumpups and overscale compensation.
The terms of the agreement seem to recognize a watershed moment in music presentation and consumption. In particular, the definition of required or “quota” work has expanded (in scope rather than number of services) to include digital online performances and involvement in community engagement activities, educational collaborations, Tanglewood Learning Institute programs, and development and BSO board events, and the necessity or showing up on Sunday afternoon three times a year.
Though this new contract apparently constitutes a situational redefinition of service beyond normal concerts and rehearsals, wiggle room is left to revert to previous work models in years two and three.
Other presenters may take pages from it, at least those who survive.
BSO president and CEO Mark Volpe, Boston Musicians Association President Patrick Hollenbeeck, and chair of the BSO Player’s Committee James Markey announced:
The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s new labor agreement reflects our collective understanding of the major challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the devastating financial losses due to the cancellation of the BSO’s performance and event schedule March-November. By addressing these challenges on the compensation level, as well as in several other areas, the BSO’s new labor agreement acknowledges the part the musicians are playing in the overall cost-saving measures to ensure the Boston Symphony Orchestra emerges from the pandemic as a vibrant and essential institution for its loyal music community. It was especially gratifying to come to an agreement on the importance of redefining official services beyond rehearsals and concerts during this time of hiatus from live performances and beyond. In a departure from the standard labor agreement subjects, management and musicians worked enthusiastically together [spilling lots of ink into the MoA on the creation of the BSO Resident Fellowship], ‘an excellence-based training program for early career orchestra musicians from African-American, Latinx, and Indigenous descent’ to study with BSO musicians and perform with the BSO and Boston Pops in their Symphony Hall seasons in Boston, as well as participate as a Fellow in the Tanglewood Music Center, the BSO’s acclaimed summer music academy. We hope this will inspire much needed optimism as we continue to look toward better times and toward expanding the BSO’s vision of its future offerings.
Markey added, for BMInt readers, “In these highly unusual times, when we have so few opportunities to participate in concerts, we really appreciate being part of a highly creative process to keep music happening in a resilient BSO.”
The BSO will continue to monitor recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as well as confer with its own team of medical experts on matters related to an eventual reopening. An announcement of streaming events for the fall is expected soon.