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Utah Symphony musicians reach new contract, get raises

Wages • Members and owners worked together for more than a year to reach agreement.

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Members of the Utah Symphony brass section perform during the symphony's announcement of its 2015-16 season during event in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Monday, February 2, 2015.

The state's largest arts organization, Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, and the 85 musicians of the Utah Symphony have ratified a new three-year contract.

The deal includes an average 3.5 percent increase in base salary in each of the next three seasons for the musicians, who endured $3.8 million in salary cuts over the past seven years as the orchestra weathered a nationwide economic downturn and its aftermath.

"Those were painful periods for everyone involved," said violinist David Porter, who headed the five-member musician negotiating committee. More than the salary increase, Porter said the negotiations yielded an innovative contract that will allow the Utah Symphony to attract and retain top players. (Music director Thierry Fischer's contract is negotiated separately.)

Senior vice president and chief operating officer David Green said musicians and management approached negotiations differently than in the past. "It's a different style; you have to think very carefully about what you want and why," said Green, who praised the preparation and thoughtful presentation of Porter and his fellow musicians. Rather than exchanging proposals and counter-proposals as in a traditional bargaining model, representatives on each side spent more than a year researching industry standards and exploring options; then, beginning in February, both teams discussed each issue in the contract together, guided by federal mediator Kevin Hawkins. "It was very intensive but very collaborative," Porter said.

"I'm proud of the successful outcome of these efforts and grateful for the musicians' cooperation and support," USUO president and CEO Melia Tourangeau said in a news release, noting that with Hawkins' help, "we were able to have productive discussions and build a level of trust I've never before experienced during contract talks." Tourangeau was part of the management team, along with Green and USUO vice president of symphony operations and general manager Jeff Counts; Porter, co-chairman and associate principal cello Matthew Johnson, principal percussionist Keith Carrick, violist Julie Edwards and violinist Rebekah Johnson represented the musicians.

The new contract, ratified more than three months before the old one expires, takes effect Sept. 1 and runs through Aug. 31, 2018. USUO has a $20 million annual budget.

Apart from the salary waivers, the terms of the collective bargaining agreement had been unchanged since 2007, Green said. "That's a long time." The new contract reflects changes in the American workplace. For example, there's now a policy for paternity as well as maternity leave. The orchestra also made adjustments that Green and Porter believe will help it continue to take its music to Utah's ever-growing public-school population; allow greater flexibility for chamber-music performances and open the possibility of more opera rehearsal time if a conductor believes it is needed; make the audition and tenure process "the most fair and transparent in the industry"; and implement a new recording and broadcasting plan.

"An orchestra that records, that tours; a 52-week orchestra that pays amongst the greatest when you adjust for the cost of living," as the Utah Symphony now does, can be counted among the top 10 in the nation, Porter said. "It's exciting to see both management and players invest in the future."

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Members of the Utah Symphony brass section perform during the symphony's announcement of its 2015-16 season during event in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Monday, February 2, 2015.

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