(John Michael Smith’s address to the 2019 ROPA Conference, Boston, MA)
I welcome you all here this morning for the 36th Regional Orchestra Players’ Association Annual Conference. My name is Mike Smith, and it is my honor and privilege to serve as President of this great organization, and to welcome you to Boston!
I’d like to thank Boston Musicians’ Association, Local 9-535 AFM, and three orchestras of this Local that are hosting this year’s conference: Boston Ballet Orchestra, Cape Symphony, and the Portland Symphony. Local 9-535 is led by President Pat Hollenbeck, Vice President Bob Couture, and Secretary/Treasurer Mark Pinto. Our host orchestra delegates are Bob Marlatt from Boston Ballet Orchestra, Norma Stiner from Cape Symphony, and Russell Wilson from Portland Symphony. They have all been welcoming and accommodating, providing much needed volunteer help, and participating in making this conference a great event!
I’d like to thank the staff here at Hilton Boston Logan Airport Hotel for their great help and hospitality in providing so many things that make a conference like this happen smoothly.
I’d like to thank the ROPA Executive Board for all the work they have done in preparing for this event and throughout the year, and I know their work and dedication to ROPA and the orchestras we serve will be felt and experienced by all who attend this conference.
I’d like to introduce the 2018-2019 ROPA Executive Board:
Members at Large: Casey Bozell from Portland Opera Orchestra, Lisa Davis from Mississippi Symphony, Christian Green from Ann Arbor Symphony, Kendra Hawley from Palm Beach Opera Orchestra, Katie Shields from Arizona Opera, Maya Stone from Huntsville Symphony, Cory Tiffin from Las Vegas Philharmonic, and Steve Wade from Hartford Symphony. Our ROPA Delegate at Large to the AFM Convention is Naomi Bensdorf Frisch, from the Illinois Philharmonic. Our Treasurer is Sean Diller, from the South Bend Symphony. Our Secretary is Karen Sandene, from the Lincoln Symphony and Omaha Symphony. And I’m Mike Smith, from the Minnesota Opera Orchestra.
I’d like to thank our AFM Staff members who are or will be in attendance at this conference: President Ray Hair, Vice President Bruce Fife, Secretary/Treasurer Jay Blumenthal, Symphonic Services Division Director and Special Counsel Rochelle Skolnick, SSD Media Director Deborah Newmark, and SSD staff members Chris Durham, Laurence Hofmann, Todd Jelen, and Jane Owen; International Lead Organizer for the AFM Alex Wiesendanger, Legislative Political Director and Director of Diversity for the AFM Alfonso Pollard, and Chair of the AFM Diversity Committee Lovie Smith-Wright.
I’d like to note our guest speakers this year. Portland Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Carolyn Nishon; Alexander Technique specialist Petrea Warneck; President and CEO of the Boston Symphony Mark Volpe; orchestra negotiator and labor Attorney Mel Schwarzwald; and Jessica Schmidt of Orchestrate Inclusion. I think we have assembled a great collection of recognized experts, many who live or have ties to the Boston community, and who are all passionate about the subjects they will be presenting to us. I want to thank them for sharing their time and passion for what they do, and I am looking forward to these next few days!
I would like to encourage our delegates and attendees to consider becoming more involved in ROPA. There are several open positions on the Executive Board: four Member-at-Large positions are open; the office of Vice President and Secretary are open, as is the position of Delegate at Large the AFM Convention. The Executive Board represents and works for you, the delegates and members of ROPA Orchestras. If you would like to do more, the ROPA EB invites you to run for a position. The responsibilities and duties for these positions are described in the ROPA Bylaws. And a conference is a great opportunity to speak with our board members about what it is like to serve on the board and how they carry out their duties throughout the year.
We are also looking for orchestras and Locals to host our future annual conferences. Next year we will be in Orange County, California, and hosted by Local 7 Orange County Musicians’ Association, and Pacific Symphony. If you think your Local and orchestra would like to host a future annual conference, please let us know! There is an article in the Delegate Handbook about hosting a ROPA Conference. I can tell you it is a great experience to host a conference, and it is a great team-builder for your orchestra and Local. So please consider this way of becoming more involved in ROPA!
Another way you can be more involved in ROPA is to submit articles and news for the Leading Tone, our periodic newsletter. We would like to publish four newsletters every year, but were only able to put out two this year, because of a lack of articles and news. All delegates and orchestra members are encouraged to bring forward topics and stories that are of interest to ROPA.
Speaking of being involved in ROPA, we will be remembering two musicians at this conference who brought much of their spirit and passion to ROPA, their orchestras and their union. Linda Boivin served as our ROPA Conference Coordinator for several years, and recently passed away after a long battle with cancer. And Janice Galassi, a former member of the ROPA Executive Board, ROPA delegate, AFM staff person, cellist, and tubist, recently passed away. Their smiles, determination, and spirit brought much to many ROPA conferences. They will be truly missed.
You may have been following the dialogue of the AFM-EPF, and the Musicians for Pension Security. The basic fact is that the AFM Employers’ Pension Fund has been classified as critical and declining, which puts it in a position to apply to the US Treasury Department to reduce benefits under the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA). The AFM-EPF will do everything it can to preserve the AFM-EPF for current participants and future generations of musicians. One current piece of legislation for that is the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act, also known as the “Butch Lewis Act.” This legislation passed in the House of Representatives last week, and was re-introduced to the Senate a few days ago. This bill would provide low-interest government loans to struggling multiemployer pension funds, and could be coupled with additional assistance from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. The bill would provide sufficient money for the fund to pay benefits to current retirees and beneficiaries for life, while allowing the funds to grow back to stronger financial footing. ROPA and ICSOM are currently looking at combining efforts for a campaign to encourage support for this bill, and you as AFM musicians will be encouraged to contact your members of Congress now and in the coming months, to help push this legislation through. I encourage you all to contact your congressional representatives regarding supporting efforts to support the AFM-EPF and other multiemployer pension plans.
This past year has been a challenging one for some orchestras, and all musicians in the AFM. We’re facing the continuing struggles with the AFM pension. We’ve had two strikes by major orchestras in Chicago, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians have been locked out for their summer season, effectively implementing their management’s path of cuts, not growth. How do we respond? We stick together. We need the solidarity that organizing and collectively working together to stand against these challenges that would try and break us down. The knowledge and inspiration we receive here at ROPA can provide us with tools, resources, and knowledge that will make us strong.
I had a number of firsts for me in this past year: I attended my first SphinxConnect Conference in Detroit in February. This annual conference has been happening for several years, and was impressed with the energy and passion they shared in addressing the ongoing and everyday struggle of diversity and inclusiveness in our field for black and latinx orchestral musicians. I attended the League of American Orchestras annual conference in Nashville. ROPA and ICSOM have been invited to work together with the League, the Sphinx Organization, and the New World Symphony, who have partnered together to create the National Alliance for Audition Support (NAAS), which is an initiative with the long-term goal of increasing diversity in American orchestras.
Most recently I attended my first AFM Convention. I was completely overwhelmed by the strength and energy that was present in the room for our AFM. It was truly inspiring! ROPA introduced resolutions that were passed by the convention; we do make a difference, and we are being heard.
Other things worth mentioning this morning: after 18 months of hard and tedious bargaining, the combined negotiating team of AFM officers and staff, leaders of major Locals, and rank and file musicians from ROPA and ICSOM achieved a new Integrated Media Agreement, to carry through to 2022. It provides increases in compensation for many areas of live recording, and in particular addresses much greater increase in compensation for streaming, which has become increasingly dominant in only a few years And I know that many of you will welcome the upcoming launch of online conductor evaluation surveys and electronic conductor evaluation reports that will soon be up and running! And we welcome our 91st orchestra to ROPA, the Vermont Symphony!
ROPA delegates and friends, may you take away from this conference much knowledge, many tools, and resources to share with your orchestras when you return home, to guide and inspire them with strength and knowledge, in keeping with ROPA’s Guiding Principles:
- ROPA is a place for our member orchestras to turn for support;
- ROPA establishes a forum for our member orchestras to discuss concerns and to educate orchestras on current trends and solutions;
- ROPA provides assistance for orchestras in crisis with advice and contact information;
- ROPA works to create fair collective bargaining agreements, fair working conditions, and fair compensation.
Together we can!
Sunday, August 28, 2019
About John Michael Smith