Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians and DSO ratify new three-year contract agreement

Fourth consecutive contract negotiation to reach early resolution; new agreement secures commitments through 2027

DETROIT (February 16, 2024) – The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) and its musicians announced the ratification of a new contract today, more than six months prior to the current contract’s expiration on September 1, 2024. The new agreement—the fourth consecutive to reach an early resolution—resulted from a collaborative effort between the members of the Negotiations Committee accomplished over several highly constructive bargaining meetings. 

The DSO and its musicians received confirmation of the new contract’s ratification following the orchestra’s performance in Gainesville on February 13 that kicked off the DSO’s 2024 Florida Tour, its first tour under Music Director Jader Bignamini.

“I commend the work of the Negotiations Committee in developing this new agreement and sustaining the spirit of openness and cooperation that we have instilled in the culture of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra over the past decade,” said President and CEO Erik Rönmark. “This agreement affects change in vital ways that will propel us forward artistically under Jader’s leadership, and continue to support our mission, vision, and values.”

"I am extremely proud of the collaborative nature of our contract negotiations,” said Principal Trombone Kenneth Thompkins. “Our top priority is to always provide the finest music to the people of Detroit and the world. On behalf of the musicians, I would like to thank our Board leadership for their ongoing support of the mission of the orchestra. It is very exciting to have all of the pieces in place to deepen our relationship with Jader Bignamini and to sustain our creative momentum."

The three-year agreement includes an increase in total guaranteed compensation of 10.9 percent over the previous contract, from $105,514 in year three of the current contract to $117,016 in year three of the new contract. The contract fits within the parameters set forth by the DSO’s current five-year financial plan adopted by the Board of Directors in 2023.

Additionally, the new agreement establishes industry leading changes to audition and tenure processes that align with and support the DSO’s longstanding commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as articulated most recently by DEI Guiding Principles adopted by the Board in 2022.

As detailed in the new contract, the DSO will invite its African American Orchestra Fellows to the semifinal rounds of auditions during their fellowship and for two subsequent seasons as well as 1st-place, 2nd-place, and Honorable Mention recipients of the Sphinx Orchestral Partners Auditions (SOPA) within that year and for two subsequent seasons. The agreement also increases support for probationary musicians including clear and transparent feedback, and the appointment of a musician advocate to support each probationary musician throughout their tenure process. In adopting these new provisions, the Negotiations Committee strongly considered the guidelines established by the National Alliance for Audition Support (NAAS), a national initiative to increase diversity in American orchestras.

“On behalf of the DSO’s Board of Directors, I congratulate the administration and musicians on ratifying a new contract that fits within our current five-year financial plan and upholds our DEI Guiding Principles,” said Shirley Stancato, Vice Chair of the DSO Board of Directors and Chair of the Board’s DEI Committee. “The new changes to improve equity are a reflection of our ongoing work to ensure that the DSO is an inclusive and culturally relevant community where all people can experience their lives through music.” 

The new contract between the DSO and the members of Local 5 of the American Federation of Musicians goes into effect on September 2, 2024, and extends through September 5, 2027. A tentative agreement was reached on January 31, approved by the DSO Board of Directors on February 8, and ratified by the musicians of the DSO on February 13.

Agreement At-A-Glance

  • Maintains current complement of 88 musicians, with 39 weeks of performances plus 4 weeks of vacation
  • Continues stipend payment for musicians for the 9 non-work, non-vacation weeks (with modest weekly increases in years 1 and 3)
  • Industry leading changes to make audition and tenure processes more equitable and inclusive by:
    • Inviting to audition semifinal rounds DSO African American Orchestra Fellows (during their fellowship and for two subsequent seasons) and Sphinx Orchestral Partners Auditions (SOPA) 1st-place, 2nd-place, and Honorable Mention recipients (in the year of the audition and for two subsequent seasons)
    • Codifying the DSO’s African American Orchestra Fellowship, inaugurated in 1990, into the CBA for the first time
    • Adding support for probationary musicians including clear and transparent feedback, and the appointment of a musician advocate to support the probationary musician throughout the tenure process
  • Expands paid family leave to provide equitable leave for all new parents
  • Addition of HR policies around anti-harassment and workplace violence and strengthening the complaint & investigation procedures
  • Adds 3 administrative services for HR and DEI training plus opportunities for promotional and marketing support
  • Modernizes concert attire by changing men’s dress code from tails and tuxedos to black suits, shirts, and ties, with tuxedo option for galas
  • Maintains optional work model allowing DSO musicians to provide community engagement services with performances in hospitals, senior living communities, schools, and other venues
  • Maintains donated services, whereby musicians donate 4 services per year in part to support high-profile, revenue-generating performance opportunities

Members of the Negotiations Committee were Jeremy Epp, Principal Timpani; Abe Feder, Assistant Principal Cello; Monica Fosnaugh, English Horn and Oboe; Kathryn Ginsburg, General Manager; Linda Lutz, Vice President and Chief Financial & Administrative Officer; Peter McCaffrey, Cello; and Kenneth Thompkins, Principal Trombone.

Dr. Rönmark, Board of Directors Chair David T. Provost, Board Chair Emeritus Mark Davidoff, and Board Treasurer Laura Trudeau served as advisors to management. George Troia, Jr., President of Detroit Federation of Musicians, AFM Local 5, and attorney Kevin Case, representing the musicians, also participated.

About the DSO
The acclaimed Detroit Symphony Orchestra is known for trailblazing performances, collaborations with the world’s foremost musical artists, and a deep connection to its city. Led by Music Director Jader Bignamini since 2020, the DSO makes its home at historic Orchestra Hall within the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, offering a performance schedule that features the PVS Classical, PNC Pops, Paradise Jazz, and Young People’s Family Concert series. In addition, the DSO presents the William Davidson Neighborhood Concert Series in metro area venues, as well as eclectic multi-genre performances in its mid-size venue The Cube, constructed and curated with support from Peter D. & Julie F. Cummings. A dedication to broadcast innovation began in 1922, when the DSO became the first orchestra in the world to present a live radio broadcast of a concert and continues today with the groundbreaking Live from Orchestra Hall series of free webcasts.

Since its first school concerts a century ago, and particularly since the founding of the Civic Youth Ensembles in 1970, the DSO has been a national leader in bringing the benefits of music education to students, teachers, and families in Detroit and surrounding communities. The DSO remains committed to expanding its participation in the growth and well-being of Detroit through programs like its Detroit Neighborhood Initiative—cultural events co-created with community partners and residents—and Detroit Harmony, a promise to provide an instrument and instruction to any student in the city who wants to learn. With unwavering support from the people of Detroit, the DSO actively pursues a mission to impact lives through the power of unforgettable musical experiences.