Orchestra musicians on strike in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh


PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Musicians have been walking picket lines on both ends of Pennsylvania with strikes at orchestras in Pittsburgh and now Philadelphia, prompting cancellation of weekend concerts scheduled in both cities.

The Philadelphia Orchestra went on strike Friday night, canceling an opening night performance that about 1,000 people had come to hear. No new talks had been scheduled Saturday. The walkout came only hours after another one by musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Locally, Fort Worth musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra went on strike Sept. 8. Concerts are now cancelled through Nov. 3.

The Philadelphia Orchestra musicians, represented by the American Federation of Musicians Local 77, posted a statement on Facebook saying the walkout was aimed at reversing what they called “the shameful decline of our treasured institution.”

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The musicians said they had agreed in years past to “multiple cuts to our wages, pension, and working conditions” and last year agreed to a one-year contract pending an evaluation by a consultant, whose recommendations were made in April but which haven’t been adopted. Now, they said, their base salary was more than 18 percent less than that offered by the Boston Symphony and more than 24 percent less than that of San Francisco Symphony.

“In order for us to remain a great orchestra, we must be able to attract and retain the best players,” the musicians said. “If a talented musician has to decide between auditioning for Philadelphia or Boston or San Francisco, which orchestra will they choose?”

The Philadelphia Orchestra called the walkout “disappointing” but said officials said they hope to swiftly come to agreement with the musicians. Orchestra officials said the musicians rejected an offer of 2 percent base pay increases each year for the next three years, bringing their annual base pay to more than $135,000 by the third year, and establishment of an “appreciation fund” and addition of one more position to the orchestra. The base minimum for Boston Symphony Orchestra players will be $152,672 at the end of this season, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Orchestra officials characterized the walkout as coming at “the crest” of a turnaround since the orchestra filed for bankruptcy protection more than five years ago, citing a 28-percent increase in earned revenue and a 44-percent increase in contributed income. In a statement, they also cited the hiring of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, beginning his fifth season as music director, and efforts to increase community service and broaden audiences through new technology.

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After the cancellation of Friday night’s gala concert, one of the season’s biggest fundraisers, the orchestra association’s gala dinner for about 550 went on as planned in the lobby of the Kimmel Center as musicians picketed outside in a light rain, the Inquirer reported.

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians went on strike Friday after unanimously rejecting calls for a 15 percent pay cut. Symphony managers said the orchestra is running a $1.5 million annual deficit and faces more than $20 million in cumulative debt over the next five years, and the pension fund needs at least $10 million over the next five years to remain solvent. They proposed freezing pensions for musicians with less than 30 years’ experience and moving them into a 401(k) plan.