Nov 2, 2023 - News

For first time ever, Cleveland Orchestra's bargaining committee was all women

Five women with violins dressed in black.

The Cleveland Orchestra's bargaining committee, from L-R: Elayna Duitman, Eliesha Nelson, Kathy Collins, Isabel Trautwein, Emma Shook. Photo: Jiah Chapdelaine

The musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra have agreed with management on a new three-year labor contract.

Why it matters: For the first time ever, all five members of the musicians' bargaining committee are women.

  • The composition is notable in the male-dominated industry of premier symphony orchestras. Roughly 65% of Cleveland Orchestra's musicians — and virtually all of its principal players — are men.

What they're saying: Violinist and committee chair Kathy Collins, a 29-year veteran of the orchestra, told Axios that there had previously never been more than one woman on the committee, which is elected every year and typically tasked with contractual negotiations every three.

  • This year's group, she said, represents a significant step forward, not only for gender equity in governance but hopefully in playing as well.

By the numbers: Musicians will see wage gains of 4% in the contract's first year and 3% in the second and third years, per the new agreement.

  • Each member will get a $5,000 signing bonus, which Collins characterized as a compromise with management to address inflation.

Between the lines: Collins said the committee was not only all women, but also all section string players — four violinists and one violist — who are trained to play collaboratively.

  • Though they were steadfast in their priorities at the bargaining table, they were more inclined to listen and discuss issues, she added.
  • "We recognized that the cost of living is a lot lower in Cleveland than it is in Boston or Chicago," she said, referencing two of the country's other top orchestras. "But we were firm on addressing inflation and keeping pace with our peers."

The other side: The orchestra's president and CEO, André Gremillet, touted the agreement in a statement.

  • "Both parties approached these negotiations with a constructive mindset, a willingness to problem-solve creatively, and a genuine desire to tackle important institutional challenges realistically," he said.

The bottom line: Though their needs may be specialized — Collins referenced premium dental care for brass and woodwind players — professional touring musicians are fighting for the same labor protections and benefits as workers in other industries.


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