UPDATE: Here’s a link to the Press and Sun-Bulletin editorial on Aug. 28: http://tinyurl.com/ondvjjg
Published here is an Aug. 18 letter from the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra about plans to cancel its season-opening concert because of a breakdown on contract negotiations with the musicians’ union. It is followed by the union’s response. (For more details, here is a link to coverage in the Friday, Aug 21, issue of the Press & Sun-Bulletin: http://tinyurl.com/q4qwfcu.)
Binghamton, NY – Today the negotiating committee for the American Federation of Musicians Local 380, which represents musicians of the Binghamton Philharmonic (BPO), rejected proposals from the Binghamton Philharmonic Board of Directors for a two-year contract that would have provided musicians with a minimum base rate of $85 per service and 28 guaranteed services. The parties are chiefly at odds over mileage compensation for Binghamton Philharmonic musicians whose residence is greater than 10 miles from the Forum Theatre. Currently, the mileage has a projected expense of $67,600 for the 2015-2016 season. The Binghamton Philharmonic Board of Directors proposal included reduction of this mileage compensation.
Unfortunately, the Union has rejected all reasonable proposals and suggested that the Binghamton Philharmonic could save money by cancelling a performance. These actions have resulted in the cancelation of Opening Night for the Binghamton Philharmonic’s 2015-2016 season. “We regret any inconvenience the cancelation of our Opening Night Concert has caused our audience and patrons and assure you that the Board of Directors remains committed to reaching a fair agreement,” said Maureen Wilson, president of the Binghamton Philharmonic Board of Directors. “Binghamton Philharmonic musicians are top-notch professionals, and deserve fair compensation in line with our market. At the same time, we must decisively manage the finances of the organization.” “The Binghamton Philharmonic Board is extremely disappointed that the musician’s union has rejected our current proposal. Looking around the country, it’s clear that the more cautious path would be to work with us to ensure success of the Binghamton Philharmonic and in turn their future.”
While many of the nation’s orchestras have faced large deficits and even bankruptcy problems in recent years, due to economic challenges across the United States, the Binghamton Philharmonic has sought to maintain a fiscally responsible and sustainable business model based upon the long term strategic goals of the Board of Directors: creative programming to attract new audiences; successful marketing strategies to increase ticket sales; and collaboration with key community members to advance key promotional opportunities. The Binghamton Philharmonic has actively reduced administrative expenses and salaries of key employees in an effort to attain reasonable cost savings without negatively affecting programming, management and other aspects of the Binghamton Philharmonic. “We have been taking tactical and innovative steps toward tangible financial, audience and reputational gains,” commented Brittany Hall, Executive Director of the Binghamton Philharmonic. “The terms that we offered, and that the Local 380 rejected, maintain that delicate balance between how we spend and how we manage our finances, while at the same time recognizing the quality of our orchestra. The Board of Directors continues to approach these negotiations constructively, and we remaincommitted to reaching a fair agreement that will ensure the long-term financial stability of our great institution.” Patrons holding tickets to the canceled concert on September 26 will be able to exchange their tickets for upcoming orchestra performances during the 2015/16 season, may donate their tickets to the BPO, or may receive a refund. For further information regarding ticket options, ticket holders are asked to call the Binghamton Philharmonic Box Office at 723.3931.
Celebrating 60 years of high quality professional music, the Binghamton Philharmonic continues to promote talented guest artists and emotionally moving pieces. We are here to enrich the lives of the community by demonstrating orchestral talent unseen anywhere else. The Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra is one of Binghamton’s oldest performing arts organization. Led by Music Director and Conductor José-Luis Novo, the Philharmonic is the only professional orchestra within 80 miles of Binghamton and draws audiences from more than 50 municipalities in the Southern Tier. The Philharmonic provides opportunities for the public to enjoy excellence in symphonic performance by offering musical diversity and innovative educational programs in order to enrich the quality of life in our community.
This is the union’s response, also dated Aug. 18:
Binghamton, NY – Today, the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) announced to the media that it has cancelled the opening concert of the 2015/2016 season. This public announcement was made without any prior notice to the Negotiating Committee for Binghamton Local 380, American Federation of Musicians, despite a 48-?hour press blackout agreed to by both sides. Currently the Union and the BPO are in mediation and have been working with an officer out of the Syracuse field office of Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
The BPO asserted in its statement that the Union has “rejected proposals from the Binghamton Philharmonic Board of Directors for a two-?year contract that would have provided musicians with a minimum base rate of 85 per service and 28 guaranteed services.” “In fact, the Union has not rejected the latest offer that the BPO made, said Sarah Chandler, President of Local 380, a member of the Union team and a member of the orchestra.” “Instead, we submitted questions to the mediator on August 17 in follow-?up to the latest BPO offer and are awaiting a response from BPO. When we last met in person, at a mediation session on Wednesday, August 12, the Union made a proposal that the BPO flat out rejected.” That Union proposal was for a three-?year contract that included a very small per service increase, a reduction in per mile compensation in travel and a return to the former housing policy whereby musicians were reimbursed for hotel. BPO rejected that proposal. “Between the return to the former mileage policy and the cut in mileage (currently drivers receive 0.41 per mile, well below the IRS rate), the BPO would realize quite a savings,” said Chandler. The Union estimates that in the 2014/2015 season the return to the former mileage policy would have saved them $14000 even with the inclusion of hotel reimbursement.
At a negotiating session on June 15, the Union offered a reduction of one concert in the season to save the BPO money, which BPO rejected. This was prior to the BPO’s announcing its season to the public, which the Union believes was no sooner than July 1 “When a concert is cut,” Chandler stated, “the parties typically discuss the best time to do that. The Union certainly would not have suggested opening night. Such a late cancellation also gives musicians almost no time to find other work. The last minute cancellation is an unfortunate situation that could have been avoided, had we done this all together.”
While it is true that the BPO’s latest offer, made subsequent to the mediation session on August 12, does appear to include an offer to compensate some of the musicians a reduced amount for travel, all prior BPO offers stipulated paying absolutely no mileage to any musician. As stated on the BPO’s web page, “our 71 orchestra members live in more that 20 different cities” and “hail from Broome County and other Southern Tier counties, from the East Coast and New York City, from West Virginia and Pennsylvania to Baltimore, Rochester, and New Jersey.” These professional musicians choose to come to Binghamton instead of accepting other work and need to be compensated accordingly for their travel. For years the musicians have accepted far less than the IRS rate for mileage, and the Union has not proposed raising the mileage rate in these negotiations. Until August 13th, the BPO had insisted on deleting mileage altogether. “The Union is in the process of reviewing the offer that the Philharmonic made on the 13th and is awaiting clarification of the questions we sent to the mediator on the 17th,” said Chandler. The Union also has unresolved issues with language in the collective bargaining agreement that management has not yet addressed.
“We believe that the community wants to see the Binghamton Philharmonic continue as the high level professional orchestra it has become,” said Chandler. “These professional musicians want to continue to bring beautiful live music to the community and are deeply disappointed in the Philharmonic’s decision. The Union will continue to bargain in good faith until we reach a fair settlement for our musicians.”