Arts & Culture

Orchestra Iowa musicians seeking higher pay

Existing contract with union expires June 30

Orchestra Iowa performs at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids in 2014. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette
Orchestra Iowa performs at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids in 2014. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette

Orchestra Iowa musicians took their quest for higher pay in a new contract to patrons attending the final Masterworks concert of the season Saturday evening.

Musicians wore yellow ribbons and yellow flyers were passed out to concertgoers as they entered the Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids. The flyers contended Orchestra Iowa pays “almost 30 percent less than peer orchestras.”

Orchestra management is negotiating a new contract with the American Federation of Musicians Local 137. The existing contract, which expires June 30, was negotiated in 2016.

Orchestra Iowa management said in a news release that the peer orchestra comparison supplied by the musicians “drastically misrepresents an accurate and fair appraisal of symphonies which operate in a region comparable to Eastern Iowa.”

“A list of peer orchestras sent to management by the musicians’ negotiating committee last month include some symphonies which serve communities who have a cost of living nearly 50 percent to 100 percent higher than that of Cedar Rapids,” orchestra management said.

The orchestras on the list included Des Moines; Albany, N.Y.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Eugene, Ore.; Pasadena and Santa Barbara. Calif.; and Wichita, Kan., among other cities.

Diane Platte, an Orchestra Iowa musician and member of the negotiating committee, said in a statement that the musicians are seeking equitable pay.

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“We are currently presented with an opportunity to change things for the better ... to pay a just wage to people who have worked long and hard to earn a spot among the top practitioners in their field,” Platte said.

“A career as a performing musician often means a 70-plus-hour workweek,” Platte said. “Most Orchestra Iowa musicians hold advanced degrees. We are a group of highly educated and highly underemployed practitioners.”

Platte said few musicians are so “naturally gifted” that they are able to perform without a lot of hard work and practicing.

Of the 69 musicians with Orchestra Iowa contracts for the 2018-19 season, 37 are members of the American Federation of Musicians, according to Bruce Western, secretary of the Musicians Protective Union, American Federation of Musicians.

Western said a “substantial number”of the substitute and extra musicians hired by the orchestra also are union members.

Alexis Dagit, the orchestra’s director of marketing and communications, said a next scheduled negotiating session will be held later this month.

“Orchestra Iowa management is committed to our musicians and looks forward to continuing positive negotiations as we near the end of our current contract,” Dagit said in a phone interview.

“Management looks forward to continuing contract negotiations with the local union and hopes to reach a mutually agreeable outcome in the near future.”

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Music director Timothy Hankewich’s salary was reported at $98,210, according to the orchestra’s 2016 990 tax record, the most recent publicly available. Individual musicians’ pay was not listed.

Elsewhere in the coutry, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians ended a nearly seven-week strike over pensions in April after reaching an agreement with the orchestra’s board.

Musicians with orchestras in Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, among other cities, also have conducted strikes in recent years as attendance figures for symphony events overall have declined nationwide.

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