Pittsburgh Symphony Settles Strike

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (Photo: Jason Cohn)

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (Photo: Jason Cohn)

The Pittsburgh Symphony settled its 55-day strike, with a new five-year contract secured by the American Federation of Musicians, Local 60-471 negotiating committee on behalf of the PSO. The deal, concluded Nov. 23,  extends through 2021 and includes freezing certain pension benefits and a  pay cut of 7.5% the first year.

It’s been a rocky year for symphonies, with the Philadelphia Orchestra enduring a 48-hour strike, settled Oct. 2, and the Fort Worth Symphony, which walked off the job Sept. 8, still out of work. With ticket sales in decline and costs on the rise, the balance sheets don’t look good for the average classical music enterprise.

As early as January 2014 Slate in an article entitled “Requiem” sounded the death knell of symphonies and classical radio stations, claiming orchestras receive more money from donations than ticket sales. The report goes on to speculate that “if every seat were filled the average U.S. symphony would still face significant performance deficits.”

This negotiating cycle, the Pittsburgh Orchestra dodged a bullet, escaping with a surface wound. Management had been seeking a 15% wage cut, then agreed to 10.5%. The orchestra was able to settle for a 7.5% salary reduction when an anonymous donor stepped in to make up the difference.

There is a salary freeze in the second year; a 3.3% increase in the third year; a 2.0% increase in the fourth year; and restoration to the 2016 base salary of approximately $107,000 in the fifth year of the contract. In addition, the 102-piece orchestra will see three unfilled positions frozen, for a working total of 99 members through the duration of the new agreement.

The Pittsburgh orchestra will play a pair of free “The Music Has Returned!” concerts, underwritten by BNY Mellon, on Dec. 2 and 4.  The PSO has a world-class profile, and is scheduled to play Europe’s prestigious Salzburg and Lucerne festivals next summer.

“We asked the musicians to be a partner in the solution to the exceptionally difficult financial position we are working to correct and we are grateful for their sacrifice,” PSO president and CEO Melia Tourangeau said. “They have, indeed, come together with us in a powerful way to help position the Pittsburgh Symphony’s future.”

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