Detroit Symphony Musicians March for a Fair Contract

International Musician, October 2010 | Go to article overview

Detroit Symphony Musicians March for a Fair Contract


Usually, you think of a marching band, not a marching orchestra. But on Labor Day, it was the musicians of Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) who headed up Detroit's annual parade. They were joined by AFM President Ray Hair, Local 5 (Detroit, MI) President Gordon Stump, International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) President Brian Rood, ICSOM Chair Bruce Ridge, and Regional Orchestra Players' Association (ROPA) President Carla Lehmeier-Tatum. Local 5 also hosted numerous out-of-town guests-members of orchestras from across the country-for the well-publicized event.

In light of outrageous wage and benefit reductions that DSO management has demanded of the musicians, Metro Detroit AFL-CIO President Saundra L. Williams invited DSO and Local 5 to lead the Labor Day procession. Local 5 was also a worthy candidate for the prestigious position because of its commitment to fellow labor groups, proven by its attendance at AFL-CIO Central Labor Council meetings every month and appearances at other unions' rallies and pickets. (Plus, adds Stump, Williams had noted that she loved the image of musicians dressed in their concert best-tuxes, tails, and all.)

To many outside the symphonic world, this formal attire may seem like a novelty, but to orchestra musicians, it's work clothes. Musicians are laborers who deserve fair wages for their hard work, and Gordon hopes that DSO's presence in their work clothes at the forefront of the AFL-CIO parade helped to emphasize this point. "Musicians always draw a crowd. People love music," he says. "Our goal is to have them love and respect musicians enough to pay them for their services."

That is the issue at hand for DSO musicians, whose management is seeking pay cuts of around 34%. Showing concern for the difficult financial position of the orchestra, the musicians have offered concessions worth $9 million, but management has so far been unwilling to negotiate. The musicians fear that, if their salaries take such steep cuts, DSO will no longer be able to remain competitive with the top-tier symphony orchestras.

Unfortunately, however, the trend of musicians paying for management's financial woes is not unique to Detroit. "All of the people who came to Detroit from out of town for the parade validated our feelings that this is the beginning of a worrisome national trend," explains Stump.

The group of close to 150 musicians arrived on scene for the parade around 7:30 a.m. and began the march around 9:30 a.m. The parade route was about two miles long, and the entire procession, made up of more than 50,000 Detroit workers, lasted about two hours. Meanwhile, a group of 15 DSO members performed for parade crowds in front of the Max M. Fischer Music Center. Following the parade festivities, the DSO marchers and their supporters gathered at the plaza at the end of the route for a rally.

All five AFM officers and representatives in attendance gave powerful, emotionally charged speeches. …

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