Pittsburgh Symphony on strike after last, best offer declined

Written By Robert Berger

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The future of the current Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) is in question as musicians have been striking since Sept. 30 after not coming to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement with symphony management.

“This is something that will devastate this orchestra and the excellence that has stood in the city going on 121 years now. That’s why we are on strike today,” percussionist Jeremy Branson said.

In preparation of contract expirations on Sept. 5, members of the American Federation of Musicians, a federation that represents symphony musicians, began holding contract negotiation meetings in February with PSO management. On Sept. 4, musicians agreed to contract extensions that lasted until Sept. 18. At the last contract negotiation session Sept. 29, symphony management proposed their last, best and final offer in which PSO musicians declined.

According to a statement made by PSO management, the final proposal included a base salary of $107,000 with 10 weeks paid vacation per year, 12 weeks sick time per year, paid sabbaticals, overtime pay and health insurance. The offer also includes staff cuts, loss of pension and a large pay cut compared to previous years, according to a statement released on behalf of musicians.

“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 Board Chair Devin McGranahan in a statement released by PSO management. “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.”

In the statement, PSO management claim they are facing a $20.4 million cumulative cash deficit over the next five years and state that they will lose a $400,000 subsidy from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

On the other hand, the musicians of the PSO released a statement on their Facebook page where they claim these figures are fabricated. According to the document, ticket sales have increased 12.5 percent, and endowment net assets increased 11.4 percent.

“I saw them in concert not long ago, and I think they have a right to demand a certain amount of pay… They are such talented musicians that provide a lot to Pittsburgh’s cultural identity,” sophomore musical theatre major Ian Kelso said.

Pittsburgh is not the only orchestra to strike this month. Musicians from the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, Allentown Symphony Orchestra and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in Indiana have all went on strike this month.

According to a statement released from Philadelphia Orchestra Musicians, management came to terms with musicians settling on a three year contract with a base pay of $137,800 per year. Had the PSO accepted the final offer from management the base pay would be $91,000, a 15 percent cut.

Due to the strike, management has cancelled all orchestra performances through Oct 27. The Point Park honors program was planning on attending last weekend’s performance of the Music of John Williams.

Senior sports, arts and entertainment major and president of the honors student organization, Nicki Jones, was caught off guard when the performances were canceled.

“I didn’t expect [the strike],” Jones said. “I didn’t know they were working on negotiations. We bought tickets for a group of about 30 people a week before the performance, but they didn’t inform us at the time that there might be a strike happening.”

To raise awareness of the strike, symphony musicians have been picketing outside of Heinz Hall and around the city of Pittsburgh.

On Oct. 4, the musicians held a Day of Music where they spent the day performing for free across the city of Pittsburgh. Along with this the orchestra performed “Dvorak Symphony Number 9, New World” free of charge at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing arts School Sunday afternoon. This was the same performance they were scheduled to play at Heinz Hall throughout the weekend.

An agreement is still yet to be made, and symphony management is threatening to replace the entire orchestra with new and younger musicians. The musicians plan to keep picketing and raising awareness around Pittsburgh until a deal is made.

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