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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jan. 27, 201712:00 PM EST

No lawyers needed for Jacksonville Symphony and musicians to reach five-year deal

by: Marilyn Young

For months, representatives of the Jacksonville Symphony Association and the American Federation of Musicians focused on the details.

Article by article, they dissected a contract that over the years had become contradictory in some areas, cumbersome and unclear in others.

It was a tedious process.

But one that representatives from the symphony’s administration and musicians did without attorneys at the table, which made both sides happy.

“That allowed us to keep legal mumbo jumbo out and we really could talk about solutions that everybody deals with day to day,” said Todd Lockwood, who chaired the musicians’ negotiating committee.

It also was evidence of a collaborative effort that brought creative solutions, said symphony president Robert Massey, who led the administration’s negotiating team.

“Musicians are some of the most innovative people,” he said. “The best ideas come from them.”

The negotiations ended with a five-year contract that increases musicians’ salaries by 19 percent over time, incrementally expands the 35-week season to 40 and adds seven musicians to the current 53-member symphony.

The deal ratified Wednesday came eight months before the end of the current contract, which expires in September. The new contract will run through Sept. 3, 2022.

The process and results were a stark contrast to historical negotiations under different leadership, which included a lock-out for part of one season, double-digit pay cuts for the musicians and cutting the length of the season.

Massey said the pay increase and the longer season will help the symphony be more competitive and better able to retain musicians.

The symphony’s peer class has about 18 ensembles, Massey said. Until the new contract, Jacksonville was 16th in that class.

He said the goal was to get Jacksonville in the top third, which would require an annual base rate in the low $50,000s.

The cumulative weekly pay increase and the longer seasons will ultimately increase the musicians’ base rate from $38,000 to $52,000.

They also receive additional payments, ranging from weekly rates of $1.50 for each year with the symphony (capped at 25 years) to percentage increases for associate principals (15 percent) and principals (25 percent).

Non-financial changes include longer breaks during rehearsals, which Lockwood said were about five minutes short of the industry standard. He said the musicians were unhappy about the short breaks, as were music director Courtney Lewis and guest conductors.

All breaks were extended, Lockwood said, citing the example of a 10-minute break in a two-hour rehearsal increasing to 15.

There also were changes to the audition and hiring process, he said.

Previously, early rounds of auditions were blind, with candidates playing behind a screen. However, the screen was removed in the final round. The new contract keeps all of the rounds blind.

“It’s as clean as a process can be,” said Lockwood, an associate principal bass since 2009.

And seven musicians will participate in the screenings instead of five.

Massey said since he and Lewis arrived about two years ago, they have focused on building a unified direction among the staff, musicians and board.

“Finally, we have a president and music director that share the same vision and for the first time, it’s really the same as the orchestra,” Lockwood said. “Everybody just wanted a better orchestra.”

That unity helped the symphony’s revenue top $10 million last year for the first time and gave it a $90,000 operating surplus.

It also helped the negotiating process.

“I don’t remember hearing about so much laughter as there was this time,” Lockwood said. “It was an enjoyable process.”

One where lawyers weren’t needed in the room.

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