Springfield Symphony Orchestra season could be canceled if labor agreement isn’t reached by next week

Hampden County
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO) announced Friday that their 2021-22 season could be canceled if a labor agreement can not be reached by Friday, October 1.

The SSO and union representatives are continuing discussions for a labor agreement. If an agreement can not be made by next Friday, the orchestra says there could be some show cancellations in the 2021-22 season.

The announcement from the SSO comes after it was recently announced that the Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (MOSSO) will be hosting a free concert at Symphony Hall on October 15th at 7:30 p.m. Tickets must be reserved online and guests must have proof of full COVID-19 vaccination. The concert was organized by the union.

The SSO sent 22News the following statement:

Failure of the musician’s union to reach a labor agreement with the SSO by October 1, 2021 will likely result in the cancellation of a partial 2021-22 season. The SSO Board and management established October 1, 2021 as the reasonable date after which it would be unrealistic to organize concerts, secure dates, engage all of the elements of a program and undertake the significant marketing necessary to hold a symphonic concert season.

Union representatives received the SSO’s most recent offer for a labor agreement on September 9 and the SSO requested a response to the offer by last Wednesday, September 15 to no avail. Only early this morning, literally in the middle of the night, and as the union announces the formation of a competing organization that will host a free concert, has the union responded to SSO’s final offer of two weeks ago. We regret that the union’s counter offer is substantially the same offer as many weeks ago, without meaningful movement. Our most recent offer included acceptance of the union’s demand for a contract that would extend through the 2022-23 season, as well as substantial pay rate increase for both seasons, while still allowing for the SSO to further develop a viable plan for the coming seasons and beyond.

The plan announced by the Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (MOSSO) to host a free concert at Symphony Hall with some of the musicians from the SSO will further muddy the waters and appears designed to create confusion among the concert-going public. To be clear, MOSSO is not the SSO and these efforts clearly indicate that the union would rather avoid a negotiated settlement that leads to a 2021-22 season.

It appears MOSSO is intent on forming its own orchestral organization and competing with the SSO, which will result in splintering the already limited symphonic orchestra audience and donor base. The SSO remains committed to working with the union and the musicians, and the community at large with one voice in sustaining a resident orchestra in Springfield. With the formation of MOSSO representing a competing organization and hosting their own concert, this only diminishes the chances of resolving the contract by October 1 and would likely result in the cancelling of the upcoming SSO season.

We continue to hope for a resolution prior to October 1, which would allow us to prepare for this current season, and also to begin planning for the 2022-23 season.

Springfield Symphony Orchestra

The National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against the SSO for alleged unfair labor practices. The NLRB is scheduled to appear in court on December 1.

22News contacted the MOSSO for a statement on the labor agreement following the SSO’s statement. They replied:

I am deeply saddened to read this statement from the SSO, as I’m sure all of our musicians are. The SSO musicians Orchestra Committee has been in negotiations for over two years with management, who have been completely absent of response or movement on their part for sometimes months at a time. As you may know, the National Labor Relations Board has a charged the SSO Inc. for failure to bargain in good faith and abide by their legal obligations under our collective bargaining agreement.

Since I joined the negotiating team in May 2021, we have continually urged the SSO to move forward in planning the current (2021-22) season. As has always been done in the past, the musicians want to “play and talk”. This would mean, of course, that management must move forward with hiring the now resigned or displaced Development Director (Anz vacated this position to take on interim ED), permanent Executive Director, Music Director (beloved Maestro Kevin Rhodes contract has not been renewed), Education Director, Personnel Manager, Box Office Manager, and Operations Director. All of these positions remain vacant since March of 2021, and I have seen no job postings.

In late July 2021 the Orchestra Committee agreed to their proposed 5-concert season, and continue to insist that we must plan for at least a second season.

MOSSO (Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra) are offering a free performance with Maestro Kevin Rhodes on October 15 in an effort to fill the vacuum which has been left by the Springfield Symphony Orchestra Inc. MOSSO would of course prefer to work together with the SSO Inc. to return to Symphony Hall, but since they will not plan performances, we feel it is our duty to bring music to our community. We do not wish to compete with our beloved SSO, and since they are not planning performances, we truly are not in competition. We simply want to bring live, professional symphonic music back to Springfield.

In every previous negotiation where a contract has lapsed, we have continued to perform and plan seasons under the terms of a lapsed contract. “Play and talk” is an industry standard. We see absolutely no reason not to continue this tradition. This continual threat of cancellation seems to me (personally) to merely be an unnecessary intimidation tactic. This move threatens the livelihood of our musicians who depend on this orchestra work to make a living, but more importantly it threatens the very existence of our over 75-year-old cultural institution that provides soul-enriching art with love, passion, and care to our community. We have been bargaining in good faith in the hope that we can come to a reasonable agreement between two parties, and continue to insist that the SSO move forward with planning this season and beyond, which musicians agreed to in July. We have submitted a response to their latest offer. We eagerly await a mutual agreement that benefits both parties and the community of Springfield and Western Massachusetts.

Alexander Svensen, MOSSO, Clerk & Media Committee Member

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