Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pso Musicians Go on Strike Management Wanted to Cut Base $107,000 Salary by 15 Percent in First Year of 3-Year Pact

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pso Musicians Go on Strike Management Wanted to Cut Base $107,000 Salary by 15 Percent in First Year of 3-Year Pact

Article excerpt

The picket line formed quickly Friday morning, with dozens of musicians carrying signs, distributing fliers and making their case to the cars and pedestrians passing by Heinz Hall in Downtown Pittsburgh. Some were holding their instruments, and one showed off a sign that read, "What would Beethoven say?"

But neither Beethoven nor anyone else can foresee what the next few weeks will hold, after the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra went on strike for the second time in its 120-year history.

Members of Local 60-471 of the American Federation of Musicians and PSO management were unable to reach a new collective bargaining agreement after months of tense negotiations that were conducted in private. The musicians rejected management's last, best and final offer Thursday night and established a picket line outside of Heinz Hall on Friday morning.

This weekend's pops concerts, "The Music of John Williams," were canceled.

The strike is a stunning development for the PSO, which has long boasted a friendly relationship between musicians and management, even as other orchestras have gone through nasty labor strife in recent years.

Negotiations began in February, and the two sides differed in particular on the matter of players' salaries. Under the expired contract, the base salary was about $107,000 during the 2015-16 season.

Management's last proposal would have cut base salary 15 percent in the first year, followed by 2 percent and 3 percent raises in the second and third years; transitioned the musicians' pension, which already applies only to some musicians, to a defined contribution plan; and reduced the size of the 99-piece orchestra by at least three players.

"We hope to reach a new agreement," percussionist Jeremy Branson, vice chairman of the musicians committee, said. "The musicians have been bargaining in good faith, but management made their last, best and final offer."

Management said its offer "would have ensured that the members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra remained well compensated," while upholding benefits such as 10 weeks of paid vacation, 12 weeks of paid sick time, paid sabbaticals, additional compensation for overtime or seniority, comprehensive health insurance and a retirement plan.

The negotiations were the first under the PSO's new management team, led by president and CEO Melia Tourangeau and COO Christian Schornich, who both joined the organization in the past 15 months.

"When new leadership stepped in at the Pittsburgh Symphony, we undertook a diagnostic situation assessment that caused us to realize that we are facing an imminent financial crisis," said PSO board chairman Devin McGranahan. "That assessment showed that, due to a combination of forces, we would run out of cash and have to close the doors in May/June 2017."

Orchestra management believes such cost-cutting measures are necessary if the organization is to achieve financial sustainability. It said the PSO has a $1.5 million deficit on a $32 million budget and faces a $20.4 million cumulative cash deficit over the next five years, driven by debt obligations, necessary cash infusions for the musicians' pension plan, a reduction in state funding and a decrease in the number of revenue-generating Broadway shows presented at Heinz Hall by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Management said the organization is experiencing these shortfalls despite progress in the past year in overall ticket and subscription sales, along with upward trends in various fundraising efforts over the past few years.

The union argues that the organization's financial outlook is not nearly as bleak as management has stated and that the cuts would be devastating for the orchestra's ability to recruit and retain top-flight musicians.

"By management's own admission, the PSO is seeing strong growth in ticket sales, subscription sales and its annual fund - in fact, management acknowledges 'a record-breaking fundraising year,'" the musicians wrote in a statement. …

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