New Two-Year Agreement FAQ

1.  What is the “Musicians’ Union?”
The Union is the musicians. The BPO musicians’ exclusive bargaining agent is Binghamton Local 380 of the American Federation of Musicians. Local 380’s Executive Board currently consists of musicians who are all either members of the BPO and/or the Tri-Cities Opera Orchestra. The 2015 negotiating team consisted of musicians elected by their colleagues from the orchestra, a local officer and a private consultant who is also an orchestral musician.

 2. What is this New Agreement all about?
As of September 28, 2015, the musicians of the BPO ratified the Tentative Agreement. The new two-year contract includes a wage freeze for both years, housing for musicians who live more than 100 miles away, and drastically reduced mileage compensation for all traveling musicians.

3.  Why did the Musicians’ Union accept such a concessionary contract?
The BPO made it clear in mediation that they would cancel the October concert, and possibly the entire season, if the Union did not accept their offer of August 31. Had the Union not accepted that offer, which stipulated a wage freeze, housing for musicians living over 100 miles away and a drastic reduction in mileage, the BPO labor attorney indicated the BPO would declare their last “formal” offer of August 12 as their “last, best and final.” That formal offer stipulated a wage freeze and the complete elimination of mileage reimbursement.

4.  What is the three-year turnaround plan the Philharmonic board proposed to address their financial problems?
The board stated the following goals to what they referred to as a path of sustainability:

  • increase ticket revenue by 50%
  • double contributions and grants
  • new marketing initiatives and improved community relations
  • offer new programming to create new audience base (including younger people)
  • cut costs, including hall rental

5.  In negotiations, did the Union propose or agree to any language that would have save the BPO money?
Yes. The Union proposed a financial package, including a per service freeze, return to former mileage/housing policy, and a reduced rehearsal schedule that it estimates would have saved the Philharmonic approximately 70% of their travel expenses per concert series and what amounted to $41,500 in the first year of the contract. The BPO rejected this financial package.

Also, the Union proposed Audition language whereby a musician could be designated as a runner up at an audition for a period of up to two years. This could have saved the Philharmonic the cost of holding an audition for that position if an opening for an equivalent position occurred during those two years. The BPO rejected this language.

 6.  How much money is the BPO saving with the reduction in mileage?
Due to the reduction in the mileage rate from 41 to 33 cents per mile, and due to the reduction in overall round trip miles eligible for reimbursement from 180 to 100, and due to the increase in the unpaid-upfront round trip miles from 20 to 40, the Union estimates that the BPO will spend approximately 70% less on travel costs per full concert season over the previous two seasons’ average.  Coupled with the BPO’s unilateral cancellation of the first concert of the 2015/2016 season, their savings for 2015/2016 will be even higher.

7.  What are some contract terms that the BPO proposed and the Union rejected?

  • Require that rehearsals could start as early as 3 pm on weekdays in order to schedule two rehearsals the same day/evening. Currently rehearsals can start no earlier than 7 pm. Many of our musicians are area music educators and cannot possibly make a 3 pm service.
  • Eliminate the musicians from any input into the Music Director search process. Musicians typically conduct an evaluation based on artistic criteria. The Union argued this at the table and later the BPO agreed to keep musicians involved in the Music Director search process, including evaluations, on an advisory basis.
  • Reduce minimum break time between services from 2 hours to 1 hour. Musicians need time to rest, get something to eat/drink and warm up again. 1 hour does not allow enough time.
  • Require musicians to pay for their own meals on tour. The contract currently requires that BPO covers meals when musicians are on tour; this is standard in the orchestra industry.
  • Remove any responsibility to the BPO to pay a musician who could not attend a rehearsal due to inclement weather, e.g., stuck in a snowstorm, etc.
  • Eliminate BPO’s longstanding practice of sharing a list of chamber ensembles made of BPO musicians when patrons call the BPO office with requests?

8.  How does musicians’ mileage reimbursement compare between the existing contract and the one that was just ratified?
Previously, all musicians were paid up to 180 miles per day, with no compensation for the first 20 round trip miles, at .41 per mile, making the effective maximum payout at $65.60 per day. Under the new agreement, musicians will be paid about 70-90% less depending how far away they live. Musicians who live more than 100 miles away but need to drive back and forth daily due to day jobs and child care commitments will not be reimbursed for those additional trips.

9.  Didn’t BPO include housing in the contract for the first time?
It is true that BPO is now offering housing, whereas the old contract did not include it. The housing, offered to musicians living more than 100 miles away, is to be either in host homes or double occupancy at a hotel of the BPO’s choosing. If a musician wants to stay in a single room, s/he is required to pay for the entire room cost; BPO will not cover the difference.

10.  How much money does a BPO musician make per year for service pay (rehearsals and performances)?
A section string player (a player not seated at the first music stand for his or her particular instrument) who played every service in the 2014/2015 earned $2,380 in service pay for the entire season.  If that musician lived 10 miles or less from the performance space, s/he received no mileage.

11.  How many times has the Union accepted a freeze of per service pay?
By the 2016/2017 season, musicians will have endured 7 wage freezes in 17 seasons.

12.  How does BPO pay compare to that of other orchestras?
The pay scale for the BPO is 30% below the average for nearby professional orchestras that compete for the same musicians. This low pay scale combined with the new lower mileage formula means that the BPO Board will need to focus more time and energy on fundraising in order to attract and retain the professional musicians that the Binghamton community has come to expect on the stage of the concert hall.

13.  Does a BPO musician receive any benefits, either under the current contract or the new agreement?
No. Insurance, pension, vacation or sick leave benefits are not paid to any musicians.