Last week’s announcement of a new, two-year labor agreement between Springfield Symphony Orchestra and Local 171 of the American Federation of Musicians is, undoubtedly, good news. And the press conference at which it was announced, attended by SSO board members, union musicians, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, and others, was all warmth — and a palpable sense of relief.
That’s because it ended an awkward period, starting during the pandemic and extending well beyond, in which an expired contract turned into a divorce of sorts, with the union musicians forming a separate organization, Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (MOSSO), and scheduling smaller-scale concerts throughout the region.
As part of the agreement, MOSSO will live on as the renamed Springfield Chamber Players, ensuring that the SSO continues to produce full symphony concerts, while transitioning chamber concerts to the new entity.
So, maybe divorce is the wrong word. Maybe separation is more appropriate, because no one involved — not the SSO’s leadership, board, or the musicians themselves — thought a permanent dissolution was a good idea. That’s why the atmosphere at the May 4 announcement was so festive, and why SSO President and CEO Paul Lambert and Local 171 President Beth Welty repeatedly expressed their admiration for each other and for the way the other handled the long negotiation process — which, let’s not forget, included an unfair labor practice complaint by the musicians’ union registered with the National Labor Relations Board (which has, of course, been dropped).
So, labor peace has been achieved, and everyone’s ready to make beautiful music together.
As noted, the labor agreement — which guarantees musicians annual raises and a minimum of eight concerts per year — applies only to the next two seasons 2023-24 and 2024-25. The hope is that it will serve as a framework for future negotiations, because, again, no one wants the SSO imperiled.
After all, the Springfield Symphony is one part of a downtown renaissance in Springfield that relies on a number of drivers — from the Thunderbirds to MGM to the club district — as well as a plan for more housing and mixed-use development, to continue an era of revitalization. And the SSO is also a critical element in the arts and culture scene in Western Mass. as a whole, one of its more attractive tourism drivers and quality-of-life elements.
In addition to the agreement between the SSO and Local 171, the city of Springfield has pledged $280,000 over two years in financial support for SSO youth educational programming, underscoring the organization’s generational importance.
Now, it’s up to the business and philanthropic communities, as well as area residents, to support these performances and the SSO itself. But it’s also up to the organization and its musicians to guard against another messy separation — or worse.