Robert Levine  

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Labor Relations, Negotiations, and Contract Administration

Robert Levine
April 10, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

Are you confused about Orchestra Committees, Locals, Player Conferences, CBAs, AFM, ASOL, SOI, etc., etc.? The orchestra world often begins to seem like alphabet soup. But here's a quick and easy way to sort your way through the basics of contracts, labor law and unions, and find out just exactly how your orchestra is run.

Robert Levine, Principal Violist in the Milwaukee Symphony, former Chair of ICSOM, and President of AFM Local 8 in Milwaukee, has written an article in question & answer format that walks you through all these issues. From defining collective bargaining to discussing why orchestras are unionized, Robert presents a clear (and often amusing) picture of what you need to know to participate meaningfully in your orchestra and your local.

Robert goes on to describe how an orchestra works, from both the musicians' point of view, discussing such topics as peer review, tenure, auditions, and revolving seating, and the industry's point of view, touching on orchestra categories and funding. This FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) article will continue to grow - please send in your questions and Robert will add the answer.

- Ann Drinan

You’re reading this page because you have a general interest in the subject of labor issues in orchestras, because you have a specific question about some aspect of negotiations and contract administration, or because you’ve clicked on the wrong link. You might be your orchestra’s newest and youngest member, wondering why you should join a union and what goes on at an orchestra meeting that could possibly be of interest to you. Or you might have not attended your last orchestra meeting and thus found yourself elected to the Orchestra Committee and are wondering what to do now. In any case, we hope you find the answers to your questions here. If you don’t, please let us know and we’ll make sure that those answers are here next time you visit.

Orchestras, like diamonds, have many facets. For orchestra musicians, arguably the most important function and facet of an orchestra is that it’s a workplace. As such, it is subject to a complex web of laws and contracts.

The Employment Relationship

The legal relationship between an orchestra and its musicians is based on the concept of employment, which can be defined simply as the exchange of wages for service provided by an individual employee to an individual or business who directs that work. In the US, there is an extensive body of law (both federal and state) governing the employment relationship, which not surprisingly has come to be known as “employment law.”

Virtually all orchestra musicians in the US are employed under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). CBAs, the process by which they are negotiated and administered, and the behavior permitted and/or required of all those involved, are governed by a sub-set of employment law, which is known colloquially as “labor law.”

The relationship between employment law and labor law is not a simple one. Most CBAs provide more protections against discipline and termination to covered employees than does employment law. But there are many protections for employees (such as prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, or national origin) that exist in employment law that aren’t written into many CBAs. The basic rule of thumb is that CBAs can provide for terms and conditions of employment better than those required by employment law, but cannot mandate terms and conditions worse than the law requires.

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Comments (Click to Hide)

It's about time there was such a straightforward guide available to explain how all of this works. As a player it makes wading through the process less stressful.
cello45 on April 10, 2019 at 10:47 AM

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