Grand Rapids Symphony and Musicians Agree to Four-Year Contract

Fri, 09/16/2011

Increased Fundraising, Cost Controls Support Positive Outcome of Contract Talks

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., September 16, 2011 – The Grand Rapids Symphony and its musicians, members of the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians Local 56, have agreed to a four-year labor contract.

The Symphony Board of Directors unanimously approved the agreement at its Sept. 15 meeting after the musicians voted for the new contract on Sept. 9. The contract continues a wage freeze followed by modest increases over the life of the agreement.

“Given the challenges that arts organizations across the country are experiencing, this long-term agreement is a particularly significant achievement,” said Symphony President and CEO Peter Kjome. “Careful cost controls, in combination with successful fundraising efforts and increased ticket sales, have helped allow us to reach agreement.”

Specifically, the new contract:

• Calls for continuing to hold weekly musician wages at current levels during the first year, with increases of 2 percent in each of the next two years followed by a 3 percent increase in the 2014-15 season. Compensation across the organization has been frozen at reduced levels since 2009, when Symphony musicians, executive and artistic leadership along with administrative staff joined together in compensation reductions ranging from 5 to 20 percent.

• Holds open three full-time and one part-time position in the orchestra.

• Continues to suspend employer contributions to the 401(k) plan. Contributions for staff remain suspended as well.

• Makes no changes to health insurance at this point, although it provides the opportunity to revisit health benefits during the term of the agreement.

 “Our musicians are committed to sustaining and elevating the artistic excellence of the Grand Rapids Symphony,” said Diane Helle, Symphony violinist and co-lead negotiator for Musicians Local 56. “We have been in ongoing discussions with Peter Kjome, board members and staff in order to reach this agreement and ensure a bright future for our wonderful orchestra.”

Martha Bowman, principal bassoon and co-lead negotiator, agreed, noting: “Now that an agreement has been reached, we look forward to focusing our energies on the concerts and educational programs that reach thousands of people across West Michigan each year.”

Crucial Efforts are Ongoing for 2011-12

Discussions about the contract were supported by a shared commitment to focus on key strategic objectives such as artistic excellence, community engagement and education, supported by rigorous cost controls, increased ticket sales and strong fundraising results.

“The Board of the Grand Rapids Symphony is very pleased that the parties were able to reach a long-term agreement in this challenging economic environment,” said Symphony Board Chairperson Steve Waterbury. “It is important that we work to leverage the increased operational stability that comes with this agreement to support the artistic goals of the Symphony.”

Larry Robson, immediate past chair, said: “We appreciate the work of the musicians, board and staff during this process over the last several months. All of us are so grateful for our community’s support of the Symphony.”

Kjome said that the agreement will help support the Symphony’s objectives for the 2011-12 season, including:

• Presenting more than 400 performances touching the lives of more than 170,000 in the region, ranging from the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical Series in the Symphony’s home at DeVos Performance Hall to educational concerts in the schools

• Collaborating with other arts organizations in the community, including Opera Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids Ballet and the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival

• Sponsoring the Symphony Chorus, Youth Symphony and Symphony Youth Choruses

• Providing comprehensive education programs that reach young people from 15 counties across West Michigan

“This agreement with our exceptional musicians represents a mutual commitment to work together as an organization to serve our West Michigan community,” Kjome said. “We must continue to focus on increasing revenue while carefully controlling costs in order to maintain our financial strength and minimize the impact on the orchestra’s concerts, educational programs and high level of artistic excellence.

“This Symphony is the finest regional orchestra in the country. It is gratifying for all of us to have reached this agreement. We remain focused on efforts to sustain the quality and scope of the performances and educational programs that serve our community.”

About the Grand Rapids Symphony
The Grammy-nominated Grand Rapids Symphony was officially organized in 1930 and is recognized as one of America’s leading regional orchestras. Led by Music Director David Lockington, eight concert series are presented, featuring a wide range of music and performance styles. More than 400 performances are presented each year, touching the lives of some 170,000. Nearly half of those who benefit are students, senior citizens and people with disabilities reached through extensive education and community service programs. The Symphony sponsors the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and Classical Orchestra, Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Choruses, and also provides the orchestra for Opera Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Ballet Company. To learn more about the Grand Rapids Symphony, please visit

These concerts are made possible with support from the Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.