Arts & Culture

Orchestra Iowa proceeding with new contract, with planned musician pay increases

Orchestra Iowa performs at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids in 2014. (The Gazette)
Orchestra Iowa performs at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids in 2014. (The Gazette)

Orchestra Iowa management and players have agreed to terms for a new two-year contract.

The two groups had been in negotiations over new terms, including wages for musicians, since January and held at least 10 meetings, the most recent of which took place this past Thursday.

The new contract will include a 3.3 percent wage increase for players in the first year and a 2.66 percent increase in the second year, Bruce Western, secretary for the American Federation of Musicians Local 137, told The Gazette on Monday.

Orchestra musicians went public with demands for higher pay in the new contract earlier this year, with players wearing yellow ribbons and distributing flyers to attendees at a Masterworks concert.

The players cited long hours and practice commitments in arguing they deserved better wages than “almost 30 percent less than peer orchestras.”

Orchestra management said in June that the musicians’ peer orchestra comparison “dramatically” misrepresented “a fair and accurate appraisal of symphonies which operate in a region comparable to Eastern Iowa.” Some of the cities, the management continued, had costs of living nearly 50 percent to 100 percent higher than that of Cedar Rapids.

Western said the musicians’ union will continue striving toward equitable pay. Of the agreed-upon wage increases, he said, “I would say we’ve made minimal progress toward that particular goal.”

Under the new contract, Western said, musicians also will be exempted from a requirement that they miss no more than one-third of the orchestra’s rehearsals or concerts, specifically for its Masterworks series.

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The orchestra’s daytime rehearsal schedule can present a hardship for musicians with day jobs, Western said, noting, “it wasn’t a complete elimination of the (requirement), but it was a major break ... .”

Of Orchestra Iowa’s more than 60 musicians, 39 currently are American Federation of Musicians members.

The next step is for the contract to be drafted, said Alexis Dagit, the orchestra’s director of marketing and communications, and afterward, its final ratification could take place in November.

Until then, Dagit cautioned that the terms are tentative and some, such as the service requirement for rehearsals and concerts, may be addressed outside the contract.

Though the previous contract, negotiated in 2016, expired June 30, Dagit said the orchestra and the musicians’ negotiating committee reached an agreement, in advance of last weekend’s Brucemorchestra XII event, that the players would continue performing, with the knowledge that the contract was moving forward.

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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