NLRB orders Springfield Symphony Orchestra to pay musicians $276K in back wages

  • The National Labor Relations Board has ordered the Springfield Symphony Orchestra to pay $276,406 to its musicians as part of a prolonged contract dispute. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/6/2022 9:48:54 AM

SPRINGFIELD — Following a lengthy battle over a new contract, the National Labor Relations Board has ordered the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO) to pay its musicians $276,406 in back wages — money they would have earned for playing concerts during the current season.

The decision follows an unfair labor complaint that unionized musicians filed last year, when they claimed SSO management — specifically, a select group of the orchestra’s nine-member board of directors — had engaged in unfair labor practices and “bad faith bargaining,” failing to issue them a new deal for the 2021-22 season. The previous contract expired in August 2020.

It’s the latest development in a story that has seen the orchestra’s players form their own group, MOSSO — Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra — and stage some of their own concerts, as they say SSO management has failed to provide adequate leadership for the orchestra.

The SSO has not staged any concerts this season, even as some other orchestras have returned to live performances. The board of directors has cited the pandemic, falling revenues and the lack of a new contract as major hurdles in scheduling shows for the 2021-22 season.

Typically, the SSO has performed about 10 concerts every year, but the last time the group staged a full show was in March 2020. MOSSO staged its own full concert last October at Springfield Symphony Hall, and members have held some smaller shows as well.

Thomas Bergeron, principal trumpet for SSO and a member of MOSSO, says the NLRB settlement also requires the SSO to produce two concerts this spring. But he questions whether SSO management will be able to do so, given its limited staffing.

“I think they’re going to face some major logistical challenges in putting those concerts together,” said Bergeron, who lives in Amherst.

Among several vacant positions, the orchestra currently has no executive director — John Anz, previously the group’s interim director, resigned last month — no development director, and no conductor. The contract for Kevin Rhodes, SSO’s music director and conductor for 20 years, was not renewed last year.

However, Paul Friedmann, a member of the board of directors, said the orchestra is having conversations with candidates for the executive director position and also has reached out to some possible conductors for the two spring concerts.

“We feel confident we have the resources to stage both those concerts,” he said.

‘We want to play’

Bergeron said he and his fellow musicians are pleased with the NLRB’s decision to recognize their need to be paid; they intend to use their $276,406 settlement to stage additional concerts this spring, he noted, beyond what SSO management is now required to produce.

“We want to play music,” he said. “We don’t want to be paid not to play, which is essentially what the board has done here.”

Musicians have objected in particular to the actions of six board members (including Friedmann) who have formed what’s known as the Board Management Committee (BMC), which MOSSO maintains has steadily eroded the orchestra’s financial strength and standing, in particular by failing to do adequate fundraising.

In fact, Bergeron said the 71 musicians in MOSSO have voted unanimously to express no confidence in the BMC, and they’re calling for those six members to resign; they’ve released an online petition on the MOSSO website (springfieldsymphonymusicians.com) for others to sign.

“We need a different set of people on the board, people who are committed to the orchestra and appreciate that it’s an important part of Springfield,” he said.

Friedmann, though, said there would be no resignations and that the board is committed to SSO’s future, and to eventually settling a new contract with the musicians. “It’s a work in progress, but we think we’re going to get there,” he said.

Friedmann added that other orchestras, not just the SSO, have struggled with funding and scheduling in the wake of the pandemic.

In a letter sent to orchestra patrons late last fall, he and other board members described some of those circumstances and said musicians needed to give them greater “flexibility” in scheduling — or not scheduling — concerts.

Board members added that they were investigating all means of sustaining the orchestra: “All of of us on the SSO Board volunteered to serve because of our love of live professional symphonic music.”

MOSSO, though, offered a rebuttal to that letter in which musicians said the board had made a number of “penny-wise, pound-foolish” financial decisions that hurt the orchestra; they also argued the group’s finances are actually better than the board maintains.

Bergeron also said musicians offered to drop their complaints against SSO and allow management to keep the $276,406 settlement — in exchange for the resignations of the six BMC members.

That offer so far has been refused, Bergeron said, but he noted that “the needle might be moving a little in our direction, based on how many people have already signed the petition.”

At the end of the day, he added, “We want to play music, we want to play for the people of Springfield, and we’ll do what it takes to make that happen.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy