Southwest Florida Musicians Win Right to Bargain
In a resounding victory for Local 427-721 (Tampa Bay, FL), musicians of the Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra (SWFLSO), based in Fort Myers, Florida, voted to be represented by the American Federation of Musicians for the purpose of collective bargaining.
The organizing effort began at the end of 2005, when Local 427-721 Secretary Richard Sparrow contacted the Federation's Organizing and Education (O&E) Division for organizing assistance.
"The musicians of the Southwest Florida Symphony had been working for too many years without any contractual protections," says Sparrow. "Communication between management and the musicians was spotty and there was just no accepted process of dealing with orchestral issues that the musicians felt were important."
"The orchestra musicians became galvanized over the 'nonrenewal' of Maestro Paul Nadler," explains Organizing Committee member and SWFLSO principal flutist Bill Larsen. "The collective realization was that a similar fate could befall any musician at any time without recourse."
Larsen continues, "This combined with several years of stagnation, spurred the musicians to band together and elect its first, functional orchestra committee. Chief among their concerns were job security, tenure, working conditions, and wages."
"When the newly formed musicians' committee began to talk with members of the local board, Local 427-721 President Charles Rice made sure that we contacted O&E to discuss the organizing process," says Sparrow. "We were able to offer support to the SWFLSO musicians throughout the organizing and negotiating process, in combination with the commitment to orchestra musicians on the part of the Federation."
A traditional organizing campaign was launched in early 2006, when the musicians' committee, which constituted itself as the Organizing Committee, began to assess orchestra musicians as to their support for collective bargaining. Representation cards were signed enthusiastically, and it became clear that the support of musicians for a union contract was overwhelming.
Once the campaign "went public" and was announced to musicians at large as well as SWFLSO management, a visit between O&E Director Janice Galassi, local officers, the Organizing Committee, and other SWFLSO musicians, increased the pace of the organizing effort.
"Janice formed an immediate bond with the musicians involved and was able to offer assistance and guidance that took much of the anxiety out of the organizing process," says Sparrow. A secret ballot election was supervised by the American Arbitration Association (AAA), and yielded a solid union victory with only four "no" votes cast.
"The local and the Organizing Committee were exceptional," observes Galassi. "This is the key to any successful organizing campaign. …