I’ve been corresponding with Paul Austin, a musician with the Grand Rapids Symphony and Co-Chair of the Negotiating Committee for this orchestra and Vice President of the Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA), and organization to which my Elgin Symphony also belongs.
The Grand Rapids Symphony musicians are facing an extreme situation, and at present the hope for an amenable resolution appears bleak, as you can see from the articles below:
Grand Rapids Symphony musicians reject ‘last, best and final offer’ contract, call it ‘insulting’
by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk | The Grand Rapids Press
Friday September 04, 2009, 7:10 PM
Grand Rapids Symphony musicians, calling a proposed contact “insulting,” have overwhelmingly rejected a collective bargaining agreement for the orchestra’s 2009-10 season.
Musicians informed management Friday they had voted 63-2 Thursday evening to reject a two-year pact that would have cut three weeks from their 42-week season, transformed two weeks of paid vacation into unpaid furlough, suspended 401k pension contributions, and raised employee contributions to medical insurance to 25 percent.
“What they proposed as their ‘last, best and final offer’ is insulting to the musicians,” said Dan Mattson, co-lead negotiator for the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians.
Symphony president Peter Kjome said the proposed 2009-10 budget reflects to the 15-year average of spending 44.5 percent of the budget on the musicians.
“The challenge is, it’s the same percentage of the pie, but the pie is smaller,” Kjome said.
The orchestra finished its 2008-09 season with a deficit “in excess of $850,000, driven primarily by the market decline and the impact on our endowment.”
Kjome said he also anticipates losing the $215,000 the orchestra received in state funding last season, but he’s obligated to present a balanced budget to the board of directors on Sept. 17.
“The proposal we have made will help allow the Grand Rapids Symphony to balance our budget and proceed with the 2009-10 season,” Kjome said.
The contract would keep the upcoming season’s ticketed concerts in place and retain the jobs of all 50 full-time and 30 part-time musicians under contract at last year’s weekly salaries.
But musicians say the loss of five weeks of pay and other adjustments still add up to an effective pay cut of 20 percent and more for veterans players, and the contract also included provisions to reopen it after the first season.
“We’ve faced nothing like this in our history,” said Mattson, assistant principal trombonist since 1997. “It’s surprising to us and disappointing.”
Kjome said administrative staff not covered by the collective bargaining agreement already have taken pay cuts of 3 to 10 percent and have had their 401k contributions suspended dating back to March.
Mattson said musicians have offered several revenue raising proposals such as adding a third performance in another venue to each pair of concerts in the Picnic Pops Series at Cannonsburg Ski Area as well as adding a fifth week of shows to the four-week series.
But the proposals have been rebuffed by management.
“We want to work and serve our community,” Mattson said. “It seems that our management and board doesn’t have the same creative visions.”
A tentative meeting has been set for next Wednesday with a federal mediator. The season opening concerts are set for Sept. 18-19 in DeVos Performance Hall.
“We’re still willing to talk, and we’re planning to play the opening concert,” Mattson said. “In the past we’ve played and talked, and we’re willing to do it again.”
But Mattson said the damage has been done.
“We’re not a family any more,” Mattson said. “They’ve always talked that we were, but we’re not a family any more.”
E-mail Jeff Kaczmarczyk: email@example.com
Also from Paul (via the ROPA mailing list):
“The GRS: a Five-Step Grand and Rapid Departure from Success”
Paul Austin (Grand Rapids Symphony)
1. Michael Kaiser
In Michael Kaiser’s book, The Art of the Turnaround, the story of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation seems to apply to the Grand Rapids Symphony (GRS), that is, saving one’s way to health does not work — creating exciting new artistic ventures, marketing them aggressively, and using new funds to reinvest in additional important projects does work. The GRS’s newly-appointed President/CEO promoted this book last fall and encouraged all to read it (musicians, staff and board alike). Now that the musicians have done so and would like to use some of the ideas gleaned from the book, our President/CEO feels that this is no longer a good idea. The negotiation committee asked the GRS President/CEO to invite board and staff members to attend Mr Kaiser’s appearance in Kalamazoo during his cross country tour of the USA last month (only a one-hour drive from Grand Rapids), and he failed to do so. It was discovered that Mr Kaiser has been invited to come to Grand Rapids in September to speak to the board of directors. We asked if the musicians could be included in this event, so that the bridge between parties can be made. So far this request has been denied.
2. Isolation from the Grand Rapids Community
While the GRS musicians continue to present our management with new, creative and exciting projects, they are not interested in any of our ideas. As Grand Rapids is the second most philanthropic city in the USA, we suggested a challenge grant to our broader community much like the Charlotte Symphony had done a few days ago. As downtown Grand Rapids is under a massive development of a medical mile which is within walking distance of our performance venues, we asked for the GRS to partner with our medical community modeled after music wellness programs that had been highly successful in the Pittsburgh Symphony and Knoxville Symphony. As Grand Rapids is known as the boyhood home of Gerald R Ford, we continually ask for them to include a Fourth of July concert in our schedule. As summer tourism is an important revenue source for west Michigan, we presented the idea of repeating our Thursday/Friday Picnic Pops concerts to the lake shore on Saturdays; on August 10th, The Chicago Tribune featured a story describing Grand Rapids as a relaxed urban getaway and an ideal weekend attraction, with specific mention of the Grand Rapids Symphony. Two days ago, we read of an online challenge in eastern Michigan that raised nearly five million dollars for 75 arts organizations in the Detroit area. Finally, our management and board are unwilling to take the story about their financial concerns to the broader community, to which the musicians have asked “if not now, when?”. Simply, they seem unwilling to serve the Grand Rapids community.
3. Failure to Explore Increased Revenue: Picnic Pops
From the stage, musicians look out at three to four thousand audience members per night at our Picnic Pops concerts, a ticketed event held at a local ski area. This is a widely popular series for our community. We have frequently asked management to add one week to this season by transferring a week that currently is not profitable from our winter season to the summer season, and they refuse. We are mystified by the fact that they refuse to expand the summer season by one week, as it is an obvious source of revenue for the organization. We are aware of a business person who wished to be a sponsor for a Picnic Pops concert, yet was told by a GRS staff member that they would not be able to send a person to his office to say thank you as well as provide information about the Picnic Pops series to his key office staff. (Mind you, this potential sponsor was not asking for a conductor to pay a visit to his company; rather, it could have been any staff member.) As a result, this person decided against funding a concert.
4. Balancing the Budget During Challenging Economic Times
GRS management insists on presenting a balanced budget to their board in two weeks, in spite of last weekend’s front page story in The New York Times which reported that signs of economic recovery are occurring across the world right now. The musicians firmly believe in the basic economic fact is that it is best to manage debt during times of recession instead of attempting to balance a budget.
5. A Derailment from the Success of the Past
During the past decade, the GRS has received local, state-wide, and national attention to much critical acclaim. In 2000, we gave a one-week tour of northern Michigan to places where live symphony orchestras are rarely heard. In 2003, we gave a performance in the newly-renovated Max M Fisher Music Center in Detroit. In 2005, we presented a concert in Carnegie Hall. In 2007, we received a Grammy nomination. Now, in 2009, the musicians are viewed as a problem to work around instead of a resource with which to work. We are an orchestra that serves as an arts ambassador for Grand Rapids, and we are being dismantled with no light at the end of the tunnel by leadership with no vision or willingness to work with the musicians on their new, creative and exciting ideas.
The fact that the management members at the bargaining table were GRS musicians in the 1990s is completely disheartening to the musicians. There had been the view by the musicians that our new President/CEO would be a Janus-type figure who could look into the past as well as the future, bridge any potential musician/management divide, and provide a unique perspective to the board of directors. Unfortunately, the gap between the musicians and the management/board has grown to a level that has never been seen in Grand Rapids. Indeed, this is a grand and rapid departure from success.