Pittsburgh, Fort Worth symphony strikes end with new contracts
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Michael Sahaida, photographer, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Long strikes at two major symphony orchestras, in Pittsburgh, PA and Fort Worth, TX, forced by management demands for huge pay and pension slashes, ended just after Thanksgiving and in early December. Players for both symphonies will get new contracts, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) union locals representing the players reported.

Terms of the Fort Worth contract, reached Dec. 4, were not disclosed, pending ratification by the musicians. 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 – in which employers contribute a defined amount based on the worker’s years of service and salary earned at the time of retirement — is converted to a defined-contribution plan which is more burdensome for workers, the pact also promises to hold current eligible players harmless. It also has a hiring freeze, with three vacant positions going unfilled. Management had 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.

“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 a tentative pact with mediators’ help, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director Allison Beck said. The union later confirmed Beck’s statement. “Canceling concerts is damaging to the community,” union President Stewart Williams said after management prompted that strike.

Beck called the Fort Worth pact “music to the ears of music lovers everywhere.” She praised both sides’ perseverance, “commitment to artistic excellence” and to collective bargaining. They “demonstrated their devotion to their community, their supporters, and their art.”

But, remembering the three forced orchestra strikes this fall—a 48-hour walkout in Philadelphia was the other – and the financial stresses facing orchestras, operas and other performing arts institutions, Beck said FMCS is now training its mediators on the special conditions facing those organizations, and how to help labor and management solve their difficulties.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.