The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra was scheduled to perform Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” this weekend, but instead, orchestra musicians will be putting down their instruments and living out the words chanted in the Broadway musical Newsies:
“Strike! Strike! Strike!”
Orchestra musicians, represented by a union known as Local 72-147 of the American Federation of Musicians, called strike Sept. 8, forcing the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Association (FWSOA) to cancel performances from Sept. 9-11. The strike comes after the union rejected the FWSOA’s contract proposal that included cuts in musicians’ salaries.
“We regret having to cancel these concerts because of the musicians’ decision to strike,” FWSOA President and CEO Amy Adkins said in a statement. “Frankly we are baffled by their decision since the union’s own bargaining team agreed to a tentative contract last week during labor negotiations overseen by an independent federal mediator.”
According to a news release by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, the FWSOA’s final offer was a four-year contract that reduced the number of paid weeks from 46 to 43 in the first two years, then increased the number of paid weeks to 44 in the third and fourth years. Thus, musicians would experience an approximately 6.5 percent pay cut in the first year of the contract, then receive pay raises in the next three consecutive years. According to the release, musicians would earn about 3.5 percent more than their current wage by the fourth year, with principal players earning more than $70,000.
The union and the FWSOA have been negotiating a contract agreement for more than a year. An early version of the contract cut musicians’ salaries by about 8 percent. Back in January, orchestra musicians voted to authorize a strike but decided not to strike after management agreed to negotiate a new agreement. According to the orchestra’s news release, the FWSOA “conceded to more than 30 contract changes that the Union requested.”
"We applaud the courage of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra musicians who are striking today in response to an attempt by their employer to impose unjustified concessions—all made to compensate for inept management and to quench the thirst for additional rent and a larger cut of ticket sales by their landlord, the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall," said American Federation of Musicians International President Ray Hair in a statement.
"We are in full support of the talented members of the orchestra who have brought joy, happiness and superb musical performances to Fort Worth and across North Texas for generations. This strike is about fairness, and we commend the unity and collective spirit shown today by Fort Worth musicians, their friends and families. We call on the management and board of directors of the Fort Worth Symphony Association to immediately work with the musicians to achieve an acceptable agreement ."
On Sept. 1, the union and FWSOA announced that they had reached a tentative agreement but did not disclose the terms of the agreement.
According to the orchestra’s most recent news release, the FWSOA’s final offer “is identical to the terms of the tentative agreement reached last week.”
According to the FWSOA, the orchestra is facing an approximately $700,000 deficit for the 2016-2017 season, which has a $12 million budget. The FWSOA cites factors like low corporate, philanthropic and local government giving as reasons for the orchestra’s financial challenges.
The FWSOA is asking ticket holders to not discard their tickets for this weekend’s performances and instead wait for the orchestra to reach out with options for what to do with unused tickets.