Arts & Entertainment and Human Resources

Musicians reach contract with Grand Rapids Symphony

April 11, 2016
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Grand Rapids Bach Festival joins Grand Rapids Symphony
The Grand Rapids Symphony, founded in 1930, delivers more than 400 performances across the community each year. Photo via

After 11 months of negotiations, a group of symphony musicians has signed a five-year contract with their employer.

The Grand Rapids Symphony said last week that it has ratified a new collective bargaining agreement with the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians.

“The successful conclusion of our negotiations will help the symphony and its superb musicians continue to enrich our community at a high level of excellence, while supporting ongoing efforts to assure the orchestra's long-term strength and positive direction,” said Peter Kjome, president, Grand Rapids Symphony.

The new contract follows a four-year collective bargaining agreement signed in September 2011 that expired on Aug. 31, 2015. Though the Grand Rapids Symphony began its 2015-16 season without a contract, operations continued under terms of the previous pact, while discussions went on in the background.

The agreement that will carry the Grand Rapids Symphony through its 90th anniversary season in 2019-20 maintains the present 40-week performance season, preserves the current complement of musicians and makes no changes to the orchestra’s health insurance.

It also includes pay raises, partially restores employer-funded retirement contributions for members of the orchestra and introduces seniority pay.

The contract includes a 1-percent pay raise in the first year, rising to a 3-percent raise in the final year for the orchestra’s musicians, according to the Grand Rapids Symphony.

Employer contributions to the musicians’ 401(k) will resume in September, beginning with a 2-percent contribution, rising to as much as 4 percent in the final year when matched with a 2-percent contribution from the players.

Musicians will also receive seniority pay beginning next season, which provides for additional pay for all rehearsals and performances for musicians, beginning with their sixth year of service and increasing every year afterward.

Employer contributions to the 401(k) plus the introduction of a seniority pay system are commonly found among ensembles whose musicians are members of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, which represents 52 of the largest orchestras in the U.S., including the Grand Rapids Symphony since 2013.

Paul Austin, a French hornist and co-chair of the negotiation committee for the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians, said having “comparable benefits,” such as the return of a 401(k) contribution and establishing a seniority pay system, will keep the Grand Rapids Symphony “competitive with peer orchestras” and “attract top talent” to join the symphony.

The Grand Rapids Symphony has 50 full-time positions, with three positions currently held open, and about 30 part-time positions on its roster.

The new agreement outlines efforts to raise additional funds to help add full-time musicians to the ensemble.

The contract is also expected to help the Grand Rapids Symphony attract a new music director to replace former director David Lockington, who is serving as music director laureate currently.

“A new music director wants to take the helm of an orchestra that is strategically aligned with all stakeholders,” said Larry Robson, vice chairperson of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s board of directors and co-chair of the music director search committee.

“The newly signed, five-year contract will go a long way to attract the best of the best,” said Mary Tuuk, a member of the symphony board and co-chair of the search committee.

Having a five-year contract in place is also good news for the entire community of Grand Rapids, according to Kate Pew Wolters, chairperson of the symphony board.

“As a city consistently recognized nationally as one that is vibrant and growing, I count the Grand Rapids Symphony as one of our greatest cultural assets,” Wolters said. “The roles that our musicians play, not just on the stage, but as contributing members of our community, can be seen in our schools, as tutors and as mentors.

“As we look forward to our 87th season, the board applauds the partnership that has led to this vision of growth and sustainability.”

The Grand Rapids Symphony's concert series includes the 10-concert Richard and Helen DeVos Classical Series, the six-concert Fox Motors Pops Series and the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops, which returns to Cannonsburg Ski Area in July.

The orchestra also collaborates with the Grand Rapids Ballet during its annual performances of “The Nutcracker” in December and with Opera Grand Rapids for several productions each season.

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