By Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer, December 11, 2015
CLEVELAND, Ohio -– Union musicians and Cleveland Orchestra managers have struck a new labor agreement.
The two sides announced Friday the ratification of a new contract retroactive to Aug. 31, when the previous contract, signed in 2012, expired. The new deal is valid through the 2017-18 season.
"There's a lot of momentum going right now, and nobody wanted to disrupt that," said James Menger, the orchestra's chief financial officer and lead negotiator. "This allows that momentum to keep going."
The new contract is between roughly 100 members of Local 4 of the American Federation of Musicians and the Musical Arts Association, the governing body of the orchestra, led by Dennis LaBarre.
The agreement marks a smooth end to a lengthy so-called 'play and talk' period, and extends the peace that has reigned at Severance Hall since 2010, when orchestra members waged a brief strike.
Bassoonist Jonathan Sherwin, chair of the musicians committee, described this round of negotiations as "somewhat more contentious" than in 2012, but also said the orchestra "responded well" to the concerns of the musicians.
In particular, Sherwin said, the contract -– ratified by a 72-percent majority –- narrows what he called a growing gulf between musician salaries at the Cleveland Orchestra and other major ensembles.
"We have been keenly aware of a widening gap between our compensation and those of our peer orchestras," he said. "We were successful in stopping that widening."
Both Sherwin and Menger declined to discuss specific financial terms of the new contract. However, both parties confirmed that the deal calls for annual increases in weekly compensation and retirement benefits, along with improvements in working conditions when touring. Base pay, according to the most recent figures available to the public, is approximately $120,000.
In return, both parties said, the musicians agreed to certain recording and broadcast provisions, to higher shared healthcare premiums, and to donate 12 services over the contract's duration. These can be concerts or other appearances, at home or on tour, from which the orchestra can earn revenue.
"We think it's a fair agreement," Sherwin said. "We're very pleased that they were willing to address the professional concerns that we had."
The momentum Menger described is seen in the orchestra's latest annual report, which revealed a string of institutional successes including record philanthropy, higher attendance, endowment growth and a small budgetary surplus.
Having a new contract in place, Menger said, frees the organization to focus anew on those matters, to push forward with artistic planning, with ongoing strategies for attracting new listeners, and increased fundraising efforts.
"Both parties wanted that from the beginning," he said. "There was a shared belief that we all have a stake in this."
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