Philly Orchestra Strike Settles, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth Continue the Fight

Musician pickets with cello

Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra musicians picket outside the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall during the opening night gala Sept. 30, 2016. (Photo: Elizabeth Robertson / The Philadelphia Inquirer)

The Philadelphia Orchestra may have settled its strike less than 48 hours after walking off the job, but on the state’s westside, there’s no end in sight for the strike at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, whose musicians hit the picket line the same weekend as Philadelphia, Sept. 30. The Fort Worth Symphony musicians also continue their walkout, which began Sept. 8.

The Philly walkout was over a wage freeze that went into effect five years ago, when the orchestra declared bankruptcy, and was settled Oct. 2 with the help of a federal mediator. A new three-year Phila deal sees a two percent wage increase in year one, followed by 2.5 percent bumps annually thereafter, bringing the musicians’ base salary to $138,000 (from about $128,000). That puts the revered Philadelphia musicians ahead of most city orchestras, lagging only Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, according to media reports (which put Boston players’ base salary in the $153,000 range).

The Pittsburgh classicists rejected management demands for a 15 percent pay cut aimed at offsetting a $1.5 million annual deficit. That debt is projected to grow to $20 million in in five years, with the pension fund alone requiring a $10 million cash infusion to remain solvent, according to administrators. To address the pension shortfall, one scenario would see retirement benefits frozen for musicians who have worked less than 30 years, who would be moved over to a 401(k) plan.

Symphony musicians perform in green union t-shirts at a public park

Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Musicians have been performing in public spaces under the name “Symphony Musicians of Fort Worth” to promote their strike. (Photo courtesy Fox4News)

The average salary for a musician with the Fort Worth Symphony is $61,000. The musicians rejected a new contract which would have paid some principal players more than $70,000 per year, but included pay cuts for others. The musicians took a  recessionary pay cut in 2010 from which their salaries have not been readjusted, according to local media reports.

Concerts in both states have been cancelled, including a Nov. 1 show at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall by Elvis Costello, who refused to cross the picket line of the American Federation of Musicians, whose members include those in Philadelphia and Fort Worth. “Regrettably, the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra have not contacted us through official channels to return to the negotiating table. We hope that we are able to resume talks soon,” symphony chief operating officer Christian Schornich said.

The wage tensions underscore challenges symphony orchestras across the nation face as a result of declining audiences and dwindling donor support, a double-whammy that in some cases threatens the ongoing existence of city orchestras.  The Philadelphia musicians cited “the shameful decline of our treasured institution” in a posting on its Facebook wall.

A Wall Street Journal piece entitled “The Money Pit” cited the Philadelphia Orchestra president and CEO’s annual pay at roughly $725,000 a year and asked “Is it any wonder that the players are angry?” The indepth financial analysis — by librettist cum WSJ drama critic Terry Teachout — goes on to stress, “Do they, and their colleagues in other American orchestras, deserve to be paid salaries in accord with their artistry, as well as with the years of painstaking effort that went into mastering their craft? Of course.” But concludes with a supply vs. demand argument: “In 1967, classical music still occupied a central position in our high culture. Now it doesn’t. Most Americans don’t care about classical music and don’t go to orchestral concerts.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer cited a 2016 study by a University of Maryland that found 78 percent of orchestral philanthropy comes from roughly 2 percent of donors. The study went on to detail how things might be improved by increasing diversity among the board that expanding programming, technology, and events to appeal to wider audiences different audiences. “Having secured a new contract, the {Philadelphia] orchestra should speed up its tempo for innovation,” the editorial concluded.

Pittsburgh Symphony musicians picket outside Heinz Hall Sept. 30 (Photo: Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Pittsburgh Symphony musicians picket outside Heinz Hall Sept. 30 (Photo: Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)


One Response to "Philly Orchestra Strike Settles, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth Continue the Fight"

  1. Pingback: Pittsburgh Symphony Settles Strike | MaxTheTrax

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