Paper Chase

A Brief History of Oregon Symphony Labor Contracts, 1982-2006
by Jonathan Dubay

Orchestra musicians and management spend a great deal of time and effort to negotiate a document called the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

This contract essentially defines two areas: compensation and working conditions. Compensation includes payment for services and broadcasts, plus other monetary items provided to each musician, such as pension, insurance, instrument allowance and parking. Working conditions are issues such as schedule, temperature and safety.

Overall, the period from 1982 to 1992 has seen cost-of-living increases in wages and growth in other compensation and health care, followed by concessions in these areas since then. While working condition guarantees have increased, family weekend time has decreased. Also, there are more uncompensated musician responsibilities.

There have been twelve contracts since 1982:

1982 |  1985 |  1988 |  1989 |  1990 |  1993 |  1996 |  2000 |  2003 |  2005 |  2006 |  2008 |  2009

During this time organization is on the threshold of major changes. The musicians establish the Oregon Symphony Players Association and, with it, a contract negotiation committee. With this contract the orchestra becomes full-time and moves to its new home at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Rehearsals move from evening to daytime, necessitating an unprecedented level of time commitment by musicians.

This contract continues the growth from the previous three years. The two-tiered (A and B orchestra) pay status ends and the number of services jumps from 210 over 39 weeks to 240 over 42 weeks. Pension rises slightly from 7% to 7.25%. Paid vacation also goes from 2 to 2.5 weeks, its current level. The Association begins to pay instrument allowance for the first time, at $225 per year by the end of the contract period. Local radio broadcast fees also rise by $8 per broadcast. Health insurance is for the employed musician only, though by the third year of the contract 50% of second-party insurance is added.

While the contract provides for an annual base salary of $21,500 by the third year, it also requires musicians to give up daytime jobs that had been a financial necessity. The number of weekend services increase as the limit of Saturday daytime services is lifted from 12 to 17. The musicians agree to a one-year trial of revolving seating for string instrument players. (After a year, the string section returns to fixed seating until 2003).

After nearly four months of work without a new contract, the musicians and the Symphony Association agree on a document which allows for cost-of-living increases in wages and, by the third year, what every worker deserves, full family health and dental insurance. Two new positions are added, bringing the total onstage to 85. The number of guaranteed services rise to 245 over 43 weeks. Sick leave increases to its current level of 38 services.

On the deficit side, there is a decrease in guaranteed weekend time free of services.

After a lockout by the Association, the musicians agree to a one-year contract extension with a wage freeze.

After two months of work without a new contract, parties agree on a one-year contract that allows for an increase of 5%, bringing the base salary to $25,924. Instrument allowance increases by $11.25, and broadcast fees rise by $2.50.

Musicians work for eight months without a new contract. In May of 1991, the parties agree to a three-year agreement that will turn out to be the last growth contract for the next nine years. Cost-of-living increases in each of the three years bring the base salary to $29,285. The number of guaranteed services increases to 250 in the third year. Instrument allowance increases to $350 per year. Broadcast fees rise to their current level of $56.25 per broadcast. There is an employer flex account contribution of $250 per year by the end of the term. There is also a choice of two health insurers. The orchestra is now 86 players.

For the first time there is paragraph in the contract that addresses sound levels on stage. It stipulates that earplugs and sound shields be available at every service, and defines some procedures for dealing with excessive sound pressure levels. (For more information, please see Noises Off.)

The Oregon Symphony turns 100 years old. Musicians trade concessions in health insurance for cost-of-living wage increases in each of the three years. Instrument allowance rises to $450. Pension rises to its current level of 8.5% in the third year.

The orchestra’s first strike results in a four-year agreement that, again, trades cost-of-living increases in wages for reductions in health coverage. There is a one-year wage freeze in 1996-97. By the fourth year, the base salary inches up to $36,210. A ticket revenue bonus pool offered by the Association amounts to less than $3 per player. Employer flex compensation goes from $350 to $0, and health insurance co-pays rise. The season service guarantee increases to 256.

The orchestra moves its Tuesday night concert in Portland to Saturday nights, requiring more weekend services. The new contract creates several oversight committees that involve a great deal of uncompensated musician commitment.

The orchestra and association engage in Interest-Based Bargaining. After three months of work without a new contract, parties agree to cost-of-living increases that bring the base salary to $40,433 in the third year. The agreement makes permanent two temporary 2nd violin positions, bringing the orchestra to its current size of 88 musicians. Solo pay is reduced. Personal leave days increase, based on seniority, but are now subject to refusal. Orchestra musicians agree to 2 uncompensated services to help cover employer health insurances costs.

The Association requests to begin negotiations early, citing a need to attract new contributions. The musicians agree to a 5.25% pay reduction and a wage freeze over two years, reducing the base salary to $38,206. There is also a hiring freeze, which allows the Association to fill vacancies with temporary players at a lower rate of pay. Guaranteed services are reduced to 236 over 41 weeks. The orchestra agrees to revolving string seating.

After playing without a contract for nearly the entire season, musicians vote to accept a one-year contract with an increase of $2,020 (approximately 5.28%) plus an additional $500 in instrument allowance. This agreement includes an improved safety net for a musician whose skill sets come under the scrutiny of the music director. It also lays groundwork for a more even distribution of musicians' work flow, to counter the increasing occurrences of job-related injuries and ailments.

After playing almost the entire season without a settlement, musicians ratify a two-year agreement that trades a reduced orchestra size for near-stagnant compensation. A retroactive increase of 1% in the first year is followed by a $1534 raise across the board in the next year and an additional 3% in the last six months of that season. There is a temporary hiring freeze for new string players to fill vacant chairs, resulting in a reduced orchestra size of 76 players, down from 88. Extra players hired for individual concerts will now receive $125 per service.

Seniority is no longer used to calculate personal leave, and the maximum number of services available for leave is reduced to 7. For the first time, a modest seniority pay is instituted—maximum $30 per week for 25 or more years of service. Work load rules are strengthened by a limit of 8 services in ant 7-day period. Several scheduling rule changes include reduced weekend 2-day-off periods. Unpaid audition leave is established, and public transit reimbursement is codified.

A committee is formed to envision the future of the Oregon Symphony within the year.

Breaking a long trend, this two-year agreement was settled in the first month of the season. It continues a reduced string section size by freezing new hires for twelve open chairs. This is in exchange for what amounts to cost-of-living increases in each year. The first year sees an across-the-board increase of $2,570, bringing base salary to $45,924. The second year contains a provision for matching salary increases to the CPI average for all American cities. Seniority pay increases 14% in the first year and Electronic Media Guarantee increases $50 in the second year. Retirement /severance pay is increased by $120 per year of service, with a higher overall cap of $7000.

Cancellation for cause is simplified, redefined as “No musician may be discharged for non-musical reasons except for just cause.” Leave of Absence rules are relaxed, allowing musicians greater flexibility in career enhancement choices.

Halfway thtrough the prevailing contract, at the request of the Association, musicans ratify a two-year memorandum of understanding. The resultant financial savings to the Oregon Symphony Association of $1.4 million, made possible by the reductions of season length for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, compensations, and benefits, is considered a contribution by the musicians to stabalize and improve the current economic condition of the Oregon Symphony, and as a collective gift to assist fndraising efforts by the Association to improve the future strength of the Association.

Season length is shortened by three weeks. Choice of health insurance carrier is eliminated: all musians covered by Kaiser, with option for out-of-network service at a higher co-pay. Hiring freeze from 2006 remains in effect, keeping 12 string chairs unfilled until 2011. Employer pension contribution is reduced from 8.5% to 4%.

Weekly salary will increase in the first year by only 1% over 2008-09. In the second year it will increase based on the CPI, but not more than 3%.



Instrument Allowance
Upkeep of instruments can be very expensive, and is necessary to perform one’s job. These costs have risen dramatically over the last few years. (Please see The Hidden Costs of Being a Musician for more information.)

Living Wage
A 2007 report by the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations documented that a living wage for one adult with a non-working spouse and two children in the Portland area was $46,474 per year. According to the Oregon Center for Public Policy, 2007 median income for a family of four in Multnomah County is $58,833.

When an employer prevents workers from returning to the work site.

Interest-Based Bargaining
A bargaining process that involves parties working toward improving mutual interests. This paradigm is described in William Ury's book, Getting to Yes.

Revolving seating
In the string sections of the orchestra, there can be many players in a single section (for example, the Oregon Symphony currently has 16 first violins). Revolving each player through the section is one way to answer the question of who sits in which chair. Prior to this system, the Oregon Symphony used the more traditional approach of fixed seating determined by audition at the time of employment.

A concert or a rehearsal.

A lawful work stoppage initiated by a collective bargaining unit (the employees and their representative Union).

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