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Negotiation News: Agreements in Place

by Barbara Corbató and Mark Buchner


The Musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony, members of American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Local 56 Grand Rapids, and the Grand Rapids Symphony Society (“the Society”) have agreed upon a one-year extension to the collective bargaining agreement originally set to expire August 31, 2020. 


This extension preserves the language of the current agreement with some minor changes to work rules outlined in a Memorandum of Agreement, which was ratified by the Musicians and the Society and then signed on June 10, 2020.


The Negotiation Committee for the Musicians and the Society began negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement in January 2020. The discussions were amicable and optimistic, working towards growth and improving the orchestra’s national reputation, while continuing the mission and financial health of the organization. 


The long-term goals of the negotiations were effectively sidelined in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The primary goal after the pandemic began was to find a way to move forward while maintaining a healthy organization. The Musicians and the Society continued meeting to find the best solution, with the result being the one-year contract extension.


Once the one-year extension was signed in June, focus shifted to the upcoming 2020-21 season and how to proceed in a world where normal orchestra concerts are currently not an option. A Health and Safety Committee was formed with members of the Orchestra Committee to work on a back-to-work Manual. This committee and Management met to discuss ways of adjusting the upcoming season to the now socially distant world. 


After deciding how to safely produce concerts in the fall, two amendments to the June 10 Memorandum of Agreement were written and agreed to by the Negotiation Committee and the Society. The first deals with the changes to work rules necessary to allow work to continue during the pandemic, and the second deals with a financial reduction of 5% to the base wages of the Musicians. 


The Negotiation Committee agreed with the Society that the financial reduction was necessary to help the organization survive the upcoming season during the pandemic. Both of the amendments were ratified by the Musicians and the Society last month, and are effective September 1, 2020.


Negotiations for the next agreement beyond August 31, 2021 will continue this year, with hopes from both sides that the pandemic will be much less of an issue in the years to come. The relationship between the Negotiation Committee and the Society is a very open and trusting one, and we again look forward to the transparency and honesty that have been integral to all of these negotiations.


The Musicians are represented in these discussions by the Negotiation Committee, which is co-chaired by Barbara Corbató and Mark Buchner, with legal representation from ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case. The other members of the committee are Beth Colpean, Andrew Genemans, David Hall, Dan Karas, Jack Latta, and Victoria Olson.


(Note from GRSMA: Thank you to our dedicated colleagues who served on this Negotiation Committee. Talks for successor agreements are never easy, much less during a global pandemic. We are grateful for your tireless work on our behalf during this time!)

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