Grand Rapids Symphony, musicians ratify 5-year contract

Media Contact:
Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk
Grand Rapids Symphony
616.454.9451 x 139

GRAND RAPIDS, MI, April 5, 2016 – The Grand Rapids Symphony and the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians have ratified a new, five-year, collective bargaining agreement that raises pay and partially restores employer-funded retirement contributions for members of the orchestra.

The agreement that will carry the Grand Rapids Symphony through its 90th anniversary season in 2019-20 maintains the present 40-week performance season, preserves the current complement of musicians, and makes no changes to the orchestra’s health insurance.

The contract ending in August 2020 introduces seniority pay to recognize musicians’ years of service beginning with the 2016-17 season opening in September. 

Having a five-year contract in place is good news for the entire community of Grand Rapids, said Kate Pew Wolters, chairperson of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Board of Directors. 

“As a city consistently recognized nationally as one that is vibrant and growing, I count the Grand Rapids Symphony as one of our greatest cultural assets. The roles that our musicians play, not just on the stage, but as contributing members of our community can be seen in our schools, as tutors and as mentors,” Wolters said. “As we look forward to our 87th season, the board applauds the partnership that has led to this vision of growth and sustainability.” 

Musicians represented by the American Federation of Musicians, Local 56, ratified the contract on Saturday, April 2. The Grand Rapids Symphony’s Board of Directors gave unanimous approval on Monday, April 4. 

Talks lasted 11 months, but the result is a labor agreement that “represents a shared commitment to advance the work of our great orchestra,” said Grand Rapids Symphony President Peter Kjome.  

“The ensemble that our community has nurtured over many years has received national recognition, and we’re delighted that this new contract will take us through the 2019-20 season, which is the orchestra’s 90th anniversary,” Kjome said. “The successful conclusion of our negotiations will help the symphony and its superb musicians continue to enrich our community at a high level of excellence, while supporting ongoing efforts to assure the orchestra's long-term strength and positive direction.” 

The new contract follows a four-year collective bargaining agreement signed in September 2011 that expired Aug. 31, 2015. Though the Grand Rapids Symphony began its 2015-16 season without a contract, operations continued under terms of the previous pact while discussions went on in the background. 

The contract includes a 1 percent pay raise in the first year, rising to a 3 percent raise in the final year for the orchestra’s musicians. 

Employer contributions to the musicians’ 401(k) will resume in September, beginning with a 2 percent contribution, rising to as much as 4 percent in the final year when matched with a 2 percent contribution from the players. 

The new seniority pay component, which begins next season, provides for additional pay for all rehearsals and performances for musicians beginning with their sixth year of service and increasing every year afterward. 

Employer contributions to the 401(k) plus the introduction of a seniority pay system are commonly found among ensembles whose musicians are members of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, which represents 52 of the largest orchestras in the United States, including the Grand Rapids Symphony. 

"The musicians were mindful of an industry standard since becoming members of ICSOM in 2013,” said Paul Austin, a French hornist and co-chair of the negotiation committee for the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians. “Having comparable benefits, such as the return of a 401(k) contribution and establishing a seniority pay system will keep the GRS competitive with peer orchestras and attract top talent to join the Grand Rapids Symphony." 

The Grand Rapids Symphony has 50 full-time, contracted positions with three positions currently held open, and about 30 part-time positions on its roster. The new agreement outlines efforts to raise additional funds to help add full-time musicians to the ensemble, a development that violinist Diane Helle, co-chair of the negotiation committee, described as “extraordinary and exciting.” 

“The musicians are pleased, after months of talks with the Grand Rapids Symphony Society, that our shared vision for the orchestra includes a commitment to increase the number of full-time musicians, continuing the exciting work of building the great orchestra that this community deserves,” Helle said.   

In addition to the Grand Rapids Symphony’s own concert series – including the 10-concert Richard and Helen DeVos Classical Series and the six-concert Fox Motors Pops Series in DeVos Performance Hall, and the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops, which returns to Cannonsburg Ski Area in July – the orchestra collaborates with Grand Rapids Ballet in its annual performances of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” in December and with Opera Grand Rapids in several productions each season, including upcoming performances of “Orpheus and Eurydice” on Friday and Saturday, April 8-9, in DeVos Center for Arts and Worship at Grand Rapids Christian High School;  and of “Romeo and Juliet” on April 29-30 in DeVos Performance Hall downtown. 

“Successfully concluding contract negotiations enables us to give full energy to the impact of the Grand Rapids Symphony and our musicians on our community,” said Roger Nelson, vice president and chief operating officer. “Not only does our orchestra perform for the Grand Rapids Ballet and Opera Grand Rapids, our high quality musicians infuse excellence throughout the community, including their work for the symphony’s Education and Community Engagement programs. 

The new labor agreement between the Grand Rapids Symphony and members of the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians smooths the way for the arrival of the orchestra’s next music director. The search for a successor to music director laureate David Lockington is expected to culminate within the next couple of months. 

“A new music director wants to take the helm of an orchestra that is strategically aligned with all stakeholders,” said Larry Robson, vice chairperson of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s board of directors and co-chair of the music director search committee. 

“The newly signed, five-year contract will go a long way to attract the best of the best,” added Mary Tuuk, a member of the GRS board of directors and co-chair of the search committee. “And it’ll pave the way for a new era of artistic excellence and community vibrancy.”   

About the Grand Rapids Symphony 

Organized in 1930, the Grand Rapids Symphony is nationally recognized for the quality of its concerts and educational programs. Led by Music Advisor Larry Rachleff, Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt and Associate Conductor John Varineau, nine concert series are presented, featuring a wide range of music and performance styles. Affiliated organizations include the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus; Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and Classical Orchestra; and Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Choruses. To learn more about the Grand Rapids Symphony, please visit 

This activity is supported in part by an award from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.