Within the past few months, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra negotiated a new three-year contract, launched its music and wellness website, and completed its fortieth major tour. Pittsburgh delegate Penny Brill reports on the developments.
In June the PSO ratified a new contract that calls for a 4% raise the first year, a freeze the second, and a 3% raise in the third. The increases were possible thanks in large part to a $1.2 million gift, restricted to musicians wages, made by Michele and Pat Atkins, and by the continuing generosity of the Richard P. Simmons family. A key provision in the contract is that the size of the orchestra remains at 99 players plus 2 librarians.
PSO’s music and wellness website, wellness.pittsburghsymphony.org, was launched in August. It is a great addition to PSO’s Music and Wellness Program and serves as a resource for patients, families, healthcare providers and administrators, as well as for musicians. The website is designed to empower those interested in the creation of music and wellness programs or in the use of music to support health-related goals. Its development and launch were made possible by a Getty Education and Community Investment Grant, the Sigismunda Palumbo Charitable Trust, the Scaife Family Foundation, Michael Baker Corporation, and the Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust.
The POS’s August 2013 European tour included well-attended and successful concerts in five countries, including a first-time performance in Bucharest, Romania. In addition to the PSO concert in Bucharest, 19 musicians participated in a side-by-side rehearsal and concert with very talented local professional musicians. The concert was intended to support and make more visible the work of Romanian musicians and was financed by an American donor who had ties to Romania. It was a remarkable, very positive experience. Additional activities included music by our concertmaster and associate principal violist at Sankt Anna-Kinderspital (St. Anna Children’s Hospital) in Vienna and a chamber music concert organized by our principal oboist at a private home in Cologne to support music for schoolchildren there. The tour was made possible by funding from BNY Mellon, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, the NEA, AW Mellon, and the Hillman Endowment for International Performances. The orchestra was pleased to have musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra playing with us on tour.
While the shocking story of the financial collapse and bankruptcy of the New York City Opera is now already well known, orchestra members were completely blindsided by the severity of what they heard early in September. The company said that, unless the it raised $7 million by the end of the month plus an additional $13 million by the end of December, both the remainder of the current season and the entire next season would be cancelled.
The journey to bankruptcy began in 2008. At that time, with the agreement of the New York Attorney General’s Office, the board borrowed from its endowment both to pay down the accumulated deficit and to cover operating expenses for the season when the company would “go dark” during the Lincoln Center theater renovation. General Director Designee Gerard Mortier’s decision to terminate his association with the company led to calamitous appointment of George Steel as general manager and artistic director in 2009. Steel downsized the company, including firing the music director and slashing orchestra and chorus guarantees, and further alienated the company’s loyal donors and ticket buyers by moving out of Lincoln Center in 2011. The inevitable bankruptcy followed.
As reported by the online news publication Capital in April 2012, Steel told a group at the New York Public Library the company was “now at last on a stable financial footing, and we’re looking forward to a bright future and to grow.” Opera chairman Charles Wall repeated at the time that the opera was on “firm footing.” The company’s 2012 Form 990 shows a different story, listing a deficit of $44 million. From the landlord at their executive offices to individual orchestra members who recently retired, the list of creditors is long. It will be many months before the bankruptcy case is settled.
Delegate Gail Kruvand ponders what will happen to the orchestra. Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi has been consistent in support of the orchestra as an ensemble that wishes to continue to play together. There have been multiple reports in the media regarding the need for a second major opera company in New York City, and orchestra members are committed to supporting efforts to create a new company.
On September 13, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians ratified a new three-year agreement with the BSO Association by an overwhelming margin. The new agreement contains wage increases of 1% for the first six months, and another 1% in the second six months of the first year. The second year will see increases of 1.5% for the first half and 3.5% for the second half of the year. In the final year, a 53-week year, the increases will be 1% for 32 weeks and 6.61% for the final 21 weeks of the agreement. Annual wages for a base salary musician will rise from $67,600 in 2012–2013 to just over $75,000 in 2015–2016. The pay for the final 21 weeks of the contract will be $1,500/week.
Changes to the way health care costs are shared and funded will provide added financial benefits to musicians in the form of increased Health Savings Accounts (HSA) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) funding by management. Pension contributions to the AFM-EPF will increase from 4.36% to 5% this year, and in the second and third years of the agreement the Association will provide another 1% contribution into 403(b) or similar retirement vehicles. In return, BSO musicians agreed to allow five Sunday matinee concerts at Strathmore Hall, their second main venue (an hour away from Baltimore, in Bethesda, Maryland). The BSO board and management believe that there is significant demand for Sunday concerts there, and that increases in revenue from these concerts will help fund the compensation increases.
The negotiations were conducted in July and early September and were characterized by the musicians’ attorney, Bruce Simon, as “very professional.” BSO musicians had heard for the last year or so that their board and management had started to think that the deep concessions musicians had reluctantly accepted this past decade had indeed had a negative impact on the organization, and the musicians were happy to have had this belief confirmed at the bargaining table. BSO Players Committee chair and ICSOM delegate Greg Mulligan says that the musicians hope that this “win-win” agreement portends a better relationship with their board and management than has been experienced over the past several years. At the same time, they recognize that their increasing internal unity contributed heavily to the success of this negotiation and that, in order to preserve and further the artistic success of the BSO and the livelihoods of its musicians, they must remain vigilant, committed, and united.
Greg and the rest of the committee, Leonid Berkovich, Bob Barney, Marcia Kämper, and Andrew Wasyluszko wish to thank principal librarian and Local 40-543’s Secretary-Treasurer Mary Plaine for all her expertise and assistance along the way, and Bruce Simon for his wisdom and guidance. They all worked diligently together to achieve this agreement.
According to Allyson Dawkins, principal violist of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra and board member of the American Viola Society (AVS), AVS recently held its first Orchestral Excerpts Competition for violists aged 18–28. The Joseph de Pasquale Grand Prize winner, Blake Turner, will play for a week in the viola section of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra under the direction of its music director, Sebastian Lang Lessing. Turner will be paid as a regular extra musician and will receive an additional cash award. The second and third prize winners, Batmyagmar Erdenebat and Emily Basner, respectively, will receive cash prizes and private lessons on orchestra excerpts from principal violists of The Philadelphia Orchestra C. J. Chang (current principal violist) and Roberto Díaz (former principal violist). Both Chang and Díaz were students of the renowned Joseph de Pasquale, principal violist of The Philadelphia Orchestra from 1964 until his retirement in 1996. Judges for the finals of the competition included Cathy Basrak, (Boston Symphony Orchestra), Choong-Jin Chang (The Philadelphia Orchestra), Christian Colberg (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra), and Ellen Rose (Dallas Symphony Orchestra).
In August Nashville Symphony musicians ratified a one-year agreement that includes a 15% cut in wages. This agreement followed a season-long attempt by the Nashville Symphony Association to get its “financial house in order” regarding the municipal bonds used to fund the Schermerhorn Symphony Center (SSC).
The previous agreement was negotiated the year after SSC opened. The Association had successfully raised $123 million in their “A Time for Greatness” campaign; It was financing $102 million in municipal bonds that were guaranteed by a group of five banks; and the orchestra had just won its first three Grammy awards. One year later, the endowment lost 25% of its value, which resulted in rewritten bond covenants and investment in swap transactions. A second endowment campaign, “Sustaining Greatness,” was launched but later put on hiatus. The 2009–2010 agreement was renegotiated twice, first freezing the orchestra’s salary for the season and then pushing all terms back one additional year.
Two months later, in May 2010, the SSC basement flooded. It took eight months and $42 million to repair and upgrade the building. There was flood insurance coupled with FEMA’s agreement to cover 90% of the rest of the damage, but the Association was unable to obtain a short-term loan and had to withdraw more than $30 million from the endowment just as stock markets were recovering.
Consultants were brought in to attempt to turn things around. Employer contributions to staff 403(b) accounts were terminated in March, and pay cuts followed a few months later. Staff salaries of $60,000 or more were cut by 11%, and the music director and president & CEO took salary cuts of 15%. Approximately 30 staff members were let go, including the entire catering staff and one of the orchestra personnel managers.
In March of this year, the NSA board announced they would not renew their letter of credit from the banks that guaranteed the bonds. In May the Symphony defaulted on the loan, leading to negotiations between the Association and banks for a settlement. In early June the banks announced they would put the SSC up for auction at the end of the month. Days before the threatened auction, the banks and the Association reached an agreement that nearly depleted the endowment. Musicians’ negotiations began just as that deal was finalized.
While musicians offered to freeze wages, management’s initial proposal was to cut the musicians budget of $6 million by $2.1 million, cut 8 weeks from the season, reduce the weekly salary to reflect a cut from 8 to 7 services, cut full-time salaries from $60,000 to $42,953, convert 16 positions from full time to part time at a salary of $25,000, and to freeze salaries for 4 years.
For years musicians had a good relationship with the board and administration because they supported artistic quality and understood that paying a livable wage would attract talented musicians who would want to stay in Nashville. While other orchestras were facing boards willing to lock their musicians out to obtain catastrophic concessions, we had been assured this would not happen in Nashville. Imagine the betrayal felt by musicians when presented with proposals that would reduce the orchestra to mere numbers and efficiency after the established policy had made the Nashville Symphony the impressive, Grammy-winning orchestra it had become. For two weeks negotiators tried to convince management that cutting concerts was short sighted. For example, free park concerts are valuable because they heighten the orchestra’s visibility and provide service to the community, even if they do not generate direct income. The committee also argued that education programming had been derailed and that the orchestra needed to be used more effectively. The committee even walked out of negotiations after being told our counter-proposal was not a good faith offer.
In the end, musicians were presented with a contract that cut wages by 15% and added education and community engagement services. It took 18 years to return to a 43-week season after our shutdown 25 years ago; the negotiating committee believed if weeks were cut from the season this time, they would never be restored. The committee also agreed that education services and putting orchestra musicians in the community was vitally important to sustain the orchestra long-term.
Musicians believe this must be a short-term solution; the board and management have a lot of work to do to raise additional funds after ignoring annual campaign fundraising in lieu of capital campaigns for a decade. The endowment fund was drained to buy the building, so it must be restored soon as well.
On September 18, 2013, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra ratified a two-year contract. Delegate Ann Marie Hudson reports that the agreement is retroactive to September 1, 2013, and runs through August 31, 2015. DSO musicians will receive a base salary increase of 1% in 2013 and a 2% increase in 2014. In addition, if other goals regarding donor pledges for major lead gifts are realized, musicians would receive an additional 2% increase in 2015, retroactive to the beginning of the 2014–2015 season. Each musician will also receive a one-time bonus of $750 in 2013.
Contract changes include a suspension of opt-off privileges for Bravo Vail Valley Music Festival residencies, the reinstatement of New Year’s Day as a paid holiday, slight increases in healthcare spending for the next two years (including a $200 contribution to the flexible spending accounts of musicians who participate in wellness screening), significant changes to the use of divided orchestra services, and the addition of audition committee reimbursement.
Negotiation committee members were Christopher Adkins, chair, Darren McHenry, Tom Demer, David Sywak, and Ann Marie Hudson. The negotiation committee would like to thank President Ken Krause and Secretary-Treasurer Stewart Williams of Local 72-147, as well as their legal counsel, Yona Rozen and Bill Baab.