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A New Contract For Kansas City Symphony Musicians

Chris Lee
Kansas City Symphony

It’s been called a "tumultuous time" for orchestras across the United States with labor disputes leading to strikes and lockouts. But the Kansas City Symphony, the city’s largest performing arts organization, announced a new three-year contract Friday with musicians signed a year ahead of schedule.

The Symphony's executive director Frank Byrne says work started on the contract in January 2013, about 18 months before the expiration.

"As a statement about our pro-activity, our desire to work together, and our desire to send a signal about stability and forward momentum here, we came together and decided that it would be a great accomplishment, particularly in light of a lot of the things that were happening around the nation, to show that we can settle both amicably and promptly," says Byrne.

In recent years, strikes and lockout have led to shutdowns at orchestras in Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville. In Minneapolis, the Minnesota Orchestra lockout continues after 10 months.

"There's a lot of trauma in the American orchestra industry right now. Many unhappy stories, and we think that that is a terrible thing for the arts and for the cities who are deprived of music when these things happen," says Byrne, who describes the Symphony's contract settlement as a "stark contrast."

Brian Rood serves as the musicians negotiating committee chair. A trumpet player, Rood recently completed his 18th season with the Symphony. He says the board, staff, and musicians have built trust and relationships over the years.

"We have a continuity in leadership in several of our different constituencies that is really important and right now is rather unique to Kansas City," says Rood, who mentions music director Michael Stern, executive director Frank Byrne, and longtime board members, such as Shirley Helzberg.

"When you have that much continuity it is easier than perhaps some of the other areas around the country, in terms of building upon success, working out different issues as they may come up."

The new contract includes "modest" incremental salary increases for musicians over the next three years, from $50,065 in the 2013-2014 season to $54,284 in the 2016-17 season.

"Raising salaries of our musicians is key to both getting and keeping the kind of musicians that are going to help us make artistic progress into the future. And to advance the agenda that both Michael Stern and I have for the orchestra," says Byrne.

It also includes changes to benefits, such as increases in family health insurance coverage and seniority pay, and a boost in retirement plan contributions.

Playing with the Symphony can be a strenuous occupation, says Rood. "When we play, we play hard. While we enjoy it very much, it is rigorous, so we try to build in safeguards to protect people’s health as well as abilities to play for many years into the future."

The contract was also refined for "flexibility and efficiency," and the ability to include more education performances and other revenue-generating activities.

Rood adds, "The mission about playing into the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and fielding the best orchestra we could in a financially prudent manner is something that we've all been able to gather around these many years. And that's been helpful to us."

The new three-year musicians' contract begins July 1, 2014.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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