by Matt Heller, with Tamsin Johnston and Miles Newman
When it comes to Collective Agreements (CAs), there’s one thing to note about notice: it’s everywhere. You could fill a rather large spreadsheet with all the notice requirements from an average CA, (If you do this, please send it to me.) So let’s start by getting more specific.
This column is about service notification: the amount of notice required for management to move, cancel, or add a service to the schedule.
You probably know your Service Notification requirement by heart, even if you couldn’t name its clause. In Calgary, it’s the 28-day rule (7.02). At the National Arts Centre Orchestra, it’s 42 days (5.03). The Canadian Opera Company has a 60-day rule (Article 4). For the TSO, it’s 30 (7.2.6). More isn’t necessarily better, but it does allow you to plan further in advance. For many of us, it dictates whether we can find space to take on other work, projects, auditions — or plan to take some needed rest.
It’s also worth noting — this being 2020 — that many service notification clauses have been modified and shortened by temporary Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs). For now, we’ll focus on the status quo while recognizing that none of us are living through normal times. In future columns, I hope to dive into force majeure and MOUs; for now, let’s think back to the before times, when we knew our schedules months in advance.
We can think of our notice clause as a commitment our employer makes to us, out of respect for our time and even dignity as professionals. It’s also a commitment we make to our employer, to respect that work as our top priority. Of course, commitments are made to be broken, as are notice clauses. In fact, many have detailed processes for late-notice changes — when they’re acceptable, when they need an approval vote, even how much notice musicians have to give if we have a conflict with the late change (known as a “Prior Commitment clause”).
In practice, most orchestras rarely change schedules after the prescribed date. In Calgary, we tend to get our schedule changes right on the deadline. Holding an approval vote — or excusing all musicians with legitimate conflicts — is often impractical. Managements might wish for extra flexibility, but notice clauses require planning and forethought.
That doesn’t mean things are always simple. Two Regina Symphony musicians, Tamsin Johnston and Miles Newman, wrote a summary of their orchestra’s recent negotiations over notice, which I’ll quote in full, as it gets to the nuance and particularities of notice:
The RSO has had many adventures with our Service Notification clause. In its current format, it requires management to give us 56 days’ notice to add a service, broadly speaking. Twenty-eight days’ notice is required for the details of the service, including exact time, location, repertoire, and instrumentation. In our CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement], we also have a Prior Commitment clause which impacts our Service Notification clause. Under 56 days, the members of the core must make ourselves available for the change to the schedule, unless we have a prior engagement. As you can imagine, there are more nuances yet to this section of our CBA.
The additional four weeks of notice became part of our contract only recently, during the last round of negotiations, in fall 2019. Before our current CBA, management only needed to provide 28 days’ notice for anything in the schedule, and compromises were still requested from time to time; unsurprisingly, relations between the RSO and its musicians wore thin.
For musical and financial reasons, it’s always been important to book other work — if you can get it. We’ve promoted a culture of other opportunities being mutually beneficial for both the organization and the individual musician, and over the years, our managers have interpreted this in various ways. Unfortunately, discretionary decision-making around releasing musicians from RSO engagements has not always been consistent or justifiable, even when changes were made to our schedule within the service notification period!
There was a sea change in the Regina Symphony on all levels of the organization a few years ago, and the direction that management wanted the orchestra to take was one that demanded a greater commitment from musicians, particularly our per service players. One of the challenges is that Southern Saskatchewan is not a very populous region, brimming with top-notch professional musicians. Seeking loyalty while embracing flexibility has been a very delicate balancing act in our orchestra, and I think that the complexities of this part of our CBA certainly reflect both our history and identity as an orchestra.
This is the first of what I hope will be a regular series of columns, diving into the wonderful world of Collective Agreements. I only mean that half ironically — while they’ll never rival a Mozart score, I think our Collective Agreements are amazing documents, deserving of all the love and attention we can spare. For each column, I plan to take a close look at a relatively limited area. I welcome feedback, corrections, or questions. The best compliment for a geeky column is a geeky response.