Following the most grueling of times in the local symphonic scene, the full-time musicians of our area's major orchestras set a national example for the fair treatment of their substitute and extra musicians. Coming out of the largest labor dispute in modern symphonic history, both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra have secured a measure of financial parity for the dedicated musicians who provide a vital periodic role supporting the core ensemble.
Tenure-track musicians in our major orchestras rest assured that a comprehensive package of terms and conditions of their employment are negotiated through the resources of the Local TCMU and the American Federation of Musicians. But those "regular" musicians of the orchestras are not the only category of employee governed by the collective bargaining process. The master agreements also establish the terms and conditions of employment of "substitute" and "extra" musicians. "Extra" musicians supplement the core complement of the orchestra when the repertoire requires additional musicians. "Substitute" musicians temporarily take the place of an absent regular contracted musician in the orchestra. A negotiation committee elected by the membership of the orchestra appears as the Union representative for collective bargaining, including the role of experienced AFM legal counsel, to achieve employment terms for all who perform. As substitute and extra musicians do not have an ongoing long term role in the orchestra, the bargaining process does not provide them with health insurance, short and long-term disability benefits, sick pay and vacation pay. All orchestra employment, however, includes the AFM-EPFund pension contribution and TCMU representation in the event of an individual employment dispute. And, traditionally in this community, the bargaining committee seeks per-service compensation at an equal level for all untitled musicians, including subs and extras.
But here is the dilemma. The tug and pull of the bargaining process leaves a checklist of contested issues at the late hour of the dialogue, with the employer leveraging its claimed financial limitations in each remaining conflict. Pressure from management is routinely applied to the committee to sustain benefits for the core members of the orchestra but compromise the level of compensation for substitute and extra musicians. The important preservation and advancement of the quality of the orchestra, and the need to attract and retain the highest stature of long term music performers, inevitably constrain the bargained level of substitute and extra pay, particularly in times of dire financial stress. When negotiations occur in the context of a work stoppage, the bargaining committee is invariably mindful of their members with huge looming medical expenses, and missed mortgage payments, hanging desperately to their professional careers. At this telling stage of the negotiation process, the Local Union often remains the strongest voice for the temporary musicians who support the orchestra.
As our internationally reputed orchestras based in Minnesota have managed to survive this stressful process, some other orchestras nationwide have permanently succumbed to the pressure - - compromising temporary musicians to preserve the station of long term musicians. Given this pattern, the 2016 AFM Convention took noteworthy steps to protect substitute and extra musicians in the bargaining process. Stage one is a new adopted policy: the AFM is dedicated to the preservation and attainment of parity in the per-service compensation of substitute and extra musicians.
The second stage involves process, where AFM policy now requires that the long term orchestra members, their negotiating committee, and the local union explore approaches for the tangible representation of substitute and extra musicians in bargaining. This could involve a consulting representative from the pool of temporary musicians in the bargaining process, or even a bifurcation of the master agreement where the terms governing substitutes and extras are separately bargained by the Local after ratification of the terms for the core orchestra. Other creative approaches should be considered.
As long as the current process retains parity, a major change of the bargaining paradigm may not be required. But the TCMU Local will remain vigilant in the support of all of its members; the pressure to divide them in bargaining, placing one group of musicians against another, is unlikely to disappear.