The Musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra ratified a four-year agreement on Wednesday, December 7, 2016, thereby ending a strike that began on September 8, 2016. The musicians will return to work on December 26. It is a contract with clear growth and no cuts. This is a major victory, especially considering where negotiations started 18 months ago—in June of 2015, our management had requested overall cuts totaling over 10%.
There are many factors that have led to this outcome, but the most important was our long-term outreach plan designed to cultivate relationships with our audiences and the community at large. Through efforts such as creating a musicians’ brochure, greeting attendees before concerts and performing benefit concerts for other local organizations, the musicians have spent the last several years building goodwill with our supporters. It is thanks to these relationships that, in the last 18 months, we have seen a groundswell of support from the Fort Worth community, as well as the creation of the nonprofit Save Our Symphony Fort Worth, a grassroots community organization similar to SOS chapters in Detroit, Atlanta, Minnesota, and other locations in the U.S. and Canada.
Even more crucial, it was through these relationships that an anonymous donor was recently found who was willing to give a one-time donation for the sole purpose of ending the strike and bringing the musicians back to the stage. This money was presented specifically to cover the Association’s projected deficits during the first two years of the contract period, so that the musicians would not have to shoulder the burden of deep cuts to prevent those projected deficits. (The Association does not allow for debt to be carried over from year to year, and deficits are covered by a contingency fund at the end of each fiscal year; therefore there is currently no debt, only the threat of projected deficits.)
Although we knew we had the means to end the strike thanks to this donation alone, we also knew that we were embroiled in a very difficult and contentious negotiation process. Therefore, in order to ensure an effective end to the bargaining, we requested (and were assigned) Allison Beck, the head of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and FMCS mediator Richard Giacolone to bring the two sides together in mediation. After two days of talks, through a combination of the donation that was earmarked to end the labor dispute and the strong guidance of the mediators, we were finally able to convince the Association to abandon their plans—to cut musician salaries and increase health insurance premiums—and agree to a modest but progressive contract.
The settlement bulletin gives details, but in summary, this four-year contract consists of two years of status quo (including the rest of this season), a 2% wage increase in year three and a 2.5% wage increase in year four. In addition, there are no cuts to the number of weeks, and musician healthcare contributions will continue at 7% for the length of the contract. In other words, growth is slow, but it is there. Thanks to the overall progressive direction of this contract, we are confident that, in the long-term, we will be able to preserve and even enhance the musical integrity of our ensemble in the coming years. We also realize that our work does not end with ratification of this contract. As we are accountable for achieving the highest levels of music-making, we must hold our management and Board accountable for achieving the highest levels of organization-building, so that our orchestra can grow along with the city it calls home.
Words cannot adequately express the gratitude we feel for the financial support and words of encouragement from ICSOM orchestras, which were truly overwhelming. The Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony voted to send a sizable donation while on the first day of their own strike. We were particularly moved when Derek Hawkes, Vice-Chair of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra Committee, called about their donation from his car while evacuating from a hurricane. Our neighboring Dallas Symphony brass section performed alongside the Fort Worth Symphony brass section at an important rally. In addition, many orchestras hired our musicians, bought our green t-shirts, and wore green ribbons to acknowledge us! These and many other gestures of selfless support from our community of brothers and sisters throughout the U.S. and Canada have lifted our spirits and helped us get through a very difficult period in the lives of our Assembly members. We know that the orchestral world has been watching us, and we hope that we have helped to inspire others to be ready to stand up to protect the legacy and future of not just their own ensembles but our industry as a whole.
Note: the Authors would like to acknowledge assistance from Stewart Williams, President of AFM Local 72-147.