Pittsburgh, Fort Worth symphony strikes end with new contracts

Long strikes at two major symphony orchestras, in Pittsburgh and Fort Worth, forced by management demands for huge pay and pension slashes, ended just after Thanksgiving and in early December, with new contracts, the Musicians locals representing the players reported.

The musicians in Fort Worth ratified their new 4-year contract on Dec. 7. It calls for a 2-year wage freeze, then raises of 2 percent and 2.5 percent, and a cut in vacation days from 35 to 28 to give the symphony more opportunities to raise money. A major donor’s $700,000 gift helped lead to the settlement, both sides said.

The Pittsburgh pact calls for a 7.5 percent pay cut in its first year – half of what management demanded – to be made up in the succeeding four years.

And while Pittsburgh’s defined-benefit pension plan is converted to a defined-contribution plan, the pact also promises to hold current eligible players harmless. It also has a hiring freeze, with three vacant positions going unfilled. Management demanded actual job cuts.

Pittsburgh management forced the strike on Sept. 30 and settled with the musicians the day after Thanksgiving. When the orchestra returned to Heinz Hall the following night for the first of two free welcome-back concerts, the audience greeted the musicians with a thunderous and prolonged standing ovation, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The musicians didn’t really want to strike, but management demands forced them to do so. One, principal oboist Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida, walked the picket line carrying a sign saying “I’d rather be making oboe reeds,” the paper added.

Most web comments about the forced Pittsburgh strike backed the musicians. John DeLallo, who describes himself as a conservative, writing that “musicians are hardly stumble bums who walk in off the street with kazoos and mariachis.

“These are well educated professionals who deserve a decent wage. The public has clearly shown they are inclined to pay for the talent,” he added. Dissenter Shannon Nutt countered: “What is a decent wage?” Nutt claimed the players would have still been decently paid even with management’s 15 percent cut. Hers was a minority opinion, however.

Fort Worth Symphony management and AFM Local 72-147 reached their pact with mediators’ help. The strike lasted three months and concerts will start on New Year’s Eve. “We believed all along our community had the strength and desire to move forward with growth, not cuts,” added Local 72-147 President Stewart Williams.

But, remembering the three forced orchestra strikes this fall — a 48-hour walkout in Philadelphia was the other – and that financial stresses face orchestras, operas and other performing arts institutions, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director Allison Beck said her agency will now start training its mediators on the special conditions facing those organizations, and how to help labor and management solve their difficulties.

Source: PAI